When students attend the University of Arizona, they usually expect to get something out of their college experience: top-rated academics, a new social life, a sense of community. What they don’t always anticipate is how much they’ll want to give back.
In our annual 10 by 10 feature, we interview 10 alumni who graduated 10 years before and who have made financial gifts to the UA. This year, to celebrate the philanthropic commitment of outstanding UA alumni, we spoke with generous 2004 graduates who shared their motivations for saying “thank you.” Among them are stories of finding professors and advisers at the UA who changed their perspectives and catapulted their careers, of meeting lifelong friends, of becoming dedicated Wildcats sports fans, and even of meeting their spouses.
Influential professors and learning experiences that shaped their careers are what motivate many to become donors.
Francisco Aguilar says his interactions with fellow students and professors at the law school developed his thinking and prepared him for his work today as a corporate and communications counsel for the Agassi Graf Foundation. Aguilar also gives back to the UA with his time, having served for 12 years as a board member for the Marshall Foundation, which supports student scholarships.
Cameron Omoto, who oversees risk management at a property management and construction company in Phoenix, considers his gifts to the UA a direct thank you to the accounting department, where he earned his degree. “I was fortunate to be on scholarship and so I didn’t have to worry about how I was going to pay for school. If I’m in a position now to be able to give even a little bit of money back to help give someone else that same opportunity, I’m glad to do it.”
Ryan Harper, who earned a degree in molecular and cellular biology, says it was great professors such as Thomas Lindell who shaped his college experience and his subsequent career: “What he helped me understand about faith and about giving back to the community has really shaped my career moving forward. I had dreams of going to medical school, but Dr. Lindell taught me that I could help people in different ways.”
But maybe even more important than meeting Lindell was meeting another significant someone. “First and foremost, I met my wife at the UA,” says Harper, who now works as a lobbyist in Phoenix.
Josh Tor, a mechanical engineering major who now works as an engineer at Raytheon, had similar luck. “I got a wife out of going to school. That’s a good thing,” he says.
Becky Coyle, a music major who now works as an attorney in Michigan, not only met her husband through the UA marching band, but also met the biggest network of friends she could have imagined. “You’re a freshman and you show up and you immediately have 200 friends who accept you. Band people are never mean. They accept everyone.”
Other alumni shared similar stories of meeting friends for life at the UA and those bonds reinforce the gratitude that leads to giving back. When Mariah Reid, the program director of UhaulCarShare in Phoenix, got married, all of her bridesmaids were former UA classmates.
Sara Gerard, who now runs a daycare program in Seattle, met some of her best friends in the dorm her freshman year. “To this day I still hang out and talk with the girls who lived in my wing. We ended up living together all four years. We try to get together at least once a year,” Gerard says.
Others discovered new interests at the UA and have integrated them into their professional and personal lives. Finding a career and becoming successful motivates a desire to help someone else make a similar discovery. Christopher Karas is now a real estate agent for luxury homes. “I bought my first home while I was at the University of Arizona, for my 20th birthday. I rented it out to my friends. I always had a passion for real estate.”
Ann VerSteeg, a psychology major, developed a love of dance and social issues while attending the UA. She joined a church group that performed liturgical dances and collaborated with activists working for peace in the Middle East and humane treatment of immigrants to the United States. Today she is a pediatric physical therapist in Los Angeles and a loyal UA donor. “Knowing what some of the families I work with have been through helps me to help them in achieving their goals.”
No one knows how a decade will unfold. But if these alumni offer any clues, students who graduate from the UA can follow purposeful paths and set examples for others to do the same by giving back to their alma mater. We honor their spirit and determination in carving out meaningful and generous lives.