Final senior gift options announced, voting starts Tuesday

Seniors will soon have a chance to decide what their legacy will be.

The options for the senior class gift were announced this week and include a tribute to President Steven B. Sample, a solar thermal energy system for the Lyon Center pool, a class of 2010 internship award and a class of 2010 Volunteer Center van.

“As a board, we looked into the preferences of the senior class and underfunded initiatives on campus and proposed a diverse list of gift options,” said Katherine Prendergast, the chair of the Senior Gift Advisory Board and a senior majoring in international relations and fine arts. “After we collected all our ideas, we had a meeting where we discussed our findings and ranked our favorite options that had been vetted through the university.”

The final gift ideas run the gamut, from environmental initiatives to a plaque in Sample’s honor.

If chosen as the senior gift, the plaque would be placed on Alumni Walk next to the new Ronald Tutor Campus Center.

Seniors hoping to leave an environmentally friendly impact can vote for a solar thermal energy system for the Lyon Center pool. Currently, the pool is heated with boilers that burn natural gas. If this gift is chosen, the senior class will donate money to the USC sustainability office to help accelerate the implementation of a solar energy system to heat the pool. USC will provide the rest of the money, and the project would likely start in summer 2010.

The class of 2010 internship award, if chosen, will create a fund to help students afford to take unpaid internships or volunteer opportunities. The fund would help students entering their senior year. The Office of Financial Aid has offered to match the senior class’s donation to the fund.

The final option for this year’s senior gift will provide the USC Volunteer Center with a van to shuttle students to volunteer opportunities around the city.

“It was important for us to select a variety of gifts but also ones that were both feasible, accessible to a bunch of students and most importantly approved by the university,” Prendergast said.

Seniors will have the chance to vote for their favorite option beginning Feb. 23.

Caitlyn Crisp, a senior majoring in communication and gender studies, said she thinks the gifts offer a good variety of choices.

“I’m going to vote for the solar panel because I think it’s the most beneficial for our university because it’s actually making progress,” Crisp said. “The tribute to President Sample was appealing, but as nice as that is he would even probably prefer we do something that’s more eco-friendly and making our campus more green.”

Crisp said she plans to donate regardless of which gift is chosen in the end.

Jamie Wolf, a senior majoring in occupational therapy, said she too will definitely donate because her program requires it.

She said she was pleased with the options.

“I like the tribute to President Sample because it’s nice to acknowledge all of the hard work he’s done for the school,” Wolf said.

Susie Phadke, a senior majoring in kinesiology, said she is leaning toward options that help the community.

“It’s important to give back to the school because it’s given so much to us, but it’s more important to give back to the community. I’ll eventually end up donating money to the school, but I would like for the senior gift to benefit the community,” Phadke said.

Regardless of which gift is voted the winner, Prendergast said she hopes everyone will donate.

“It’s a way for the class of 2010 to participate in this tradition collectively as a class, and it’s a way to give back to the university that has done so much for us,” she said.

The Senior Gift Advisory Board is hoping to reach at least 86 percent participation, slightly higher than last year’s 85.2 percent, the highest ever.

Some said the gift chosen might affect their decision to give money.

“I do think it’s important to participate, but I think I would only donate depending on what the gift is,” said Kelly Williams, a senior majoring in business and accounting.

Organizers are expecting the economy to have some effect on the total amount of donations, which is typically around $20,000.

But the focus is not as much the amount of money as the participation rate, according to Kim Newstadt, the assistant director at the USC Office of Annual Giving.

“The real objective is participation rather than dollar amount,” Newstadt said.

“As seniors are prepared to take the next step in their lives, we’re hoping that they want to make a lasting donation to USC. Even just a few dollars makes a difference.”

Previous senior gifts have ranged from a bench on campus to a history station or funding for specific initiatives or programs.

Last year’s class donated an endowment to restore the Von KleinSmid Center bell tower, and the class of 2008 donated a study alcove for the future Ronald Tutor Campus Center.

The advisory board hopes seniors recognize the importance of making a lasting connection to their alma mater.

“USC has given us so much: memories, a great education, friends for a lifetime,” said Prendergast.