Daily Iowan: Reflecting on the Multifaceted Impact of Philanthropy

Following is a column by College of Engineering Dean Alec Scranton, published in the Daily Iowan on the role of philanthropy. The college is celebrating "We Are Phil" week on campus.  "We Are Phil" is the faculty/staff giving program at the University of Iowa, an annual effort to involve UI employees in advancing the university.  The program is a combined initiative of the University of Iowa, the University of Iowa Foundation, and a wide network of employees to provide ongoing support to the university by faculty and staff.

Philanthropy affects people in many different ways, and my understanding of this truth has evolved with my changing roles and experiences. When I was an undergraduate at the University of Iowa in the early 1980s, I received annual scholarships thanks to the generosity of alumni and corporate donors.

Each year, I opened a new scholarship letter with surprise and delight, and I was touched by the fact that donors who had never even met me were taking an enabling interest in my academic success. I remember when my father noted that the Archie Alexander Scholarship I received was created as a memorial to an Iowa engineering graduate and suggested that I learn about his life and write a thank-you letter to his heirs. As a result of his suggestion, I learned about an amazing student who had walked the same halls and studied in the same classrooms 70 years before me.

My most notable experience on the donor side of philanthropy happened when my wife and I created the James R. Scranton Scholarship in honor of my late father. It was then that I learned how incredibly meaningful it is to create opportunities for others in honor of a person whose life was dedicated to teaching and learning at the UI. This fact was not lost on my mother, who was touched beyond words when we told her how Iowa engineering students would benefit for generations to come.

Now, as the dean of the UI College of Engineering, it has been my pleasure and honor to meet so many of our alumni and friends, and to learn about the impact they have made since they graduated from Iowa. Our alumni are passionate about the College of Engineering and want to be part of the great things that are happening here. In some cases, that passion leads them to make philanthropic gifts that provide scholarships that enable the brightest students to pursue their studies. Our alumni and friends also endow professorships to help us attract the best faculty to Iowa — and they give to help us create new facilities that keep our teaching and research programs on the cutting edge.

I must say it is this aspect of the multifaceted impact of philanthropy that I find most rewarding. I am honored that I can be a meaningful part of the lives and careers of some of the amazing graduates who pass through the UI on their lives’ journeys — and that I can help them determine how they can give back to the generations yet to come.