Every month or two, alumni from the Davidson College class of 1979 get an email update from Ryan Samuels '18. The sociology major and communications minor from the Miami, Fla., area tells them how classes are going, how he's managing his busy schedule as a football player and Bonner Scholar, and how he's taking advantage of everything Davidson has to offer.
This regular communication is a direct result of the close relationships Samuels has formed with supporters of the 1979 class scholarship, of which he is the first recipient.
Leading up to the class's 35th reunion, alumni volunteers held regular conference calls to discuss plans for Reunion Weekend and also the status of their fundraising efforts. They decided they wanted to create an endowed class scholarship, something that hadn't previously existed at Davidson.
"Our class couldn't do everything, but we wanted to do something to support the college's ongoing commitment to The Davidson Trust," said David Barnard '79, a current member of the Board of Trustees. "It was something we knew worked well at other schools, so why not at Davidson? And we decided it wasn't just going to be about the money. This was to be a commitment of time, talent and treasures."
To support the group's vision, the scholarship was created with an initial goal of providing scholarship support and an internship stipend to one student. In addition, the group was committed to providing mentoring, support and guidance; they wanted to build real relationships with the scholarship recipients.
The effort has taken off. To date, the scholarship has reached nearly $600,000, supporting two scholars on campus at a time, and the class set one final goal: to reach $1 million by their 40th reunion in 2019. Realizing this goal would mean having four scholars–one in each class–on campus at all times.
When Dave Pottenger '79, the class's fundraising lead, shared the grand aspirations for this project at the 35th reunion dinner in 2014, there were audible snickers from alumni who doubted one class could achieve this level of fundraising.
"No one's laughing now," said Barnard. "This is a realistic goal, and we've already had such great support."
More than 75 members of class of 1979 have made a gift or gifts to the scholarship so far.
Pottenger and his wife, Sara, also a member of the class of 1979 and the Board of Trustees, are thrilled to support the institution that has given so much to them and their two children–Tatum '14 and Megan '19.
"We're looking forward to learning how we can tweak our current efforts to make this as fulfilling for the students as it is for us," said Dave Pottenger. "This program has also allowed us to talk with classmates about giving in a different way. Meeting the students makes this very personal, and people want to be a part of it."
The first recipient of the 1979 scholarship, Samuels, is now a junior, and a second recipient was named this fall. The 1979 grads look forward to building a relationship with the newest scholar that is as mutually beneficial as the one they have built with Samuels.
"When I was considering Davidson, I loved the family atmosphere and hearing how connected alumni remained with the college and each other," said Samuels, who hopes to pursue a career working for an NFL team. "I'm experiencing those kinds of relationships first-hand, now, and I know these alumni want what's best for me. They make time to learn about my life, and they have been willing to connect me with others and find ways to support my career goals."
"This effort has been such a fun, joyful thing," said Barnard, who hopes, over the years, the recipients will represent the broad diversity of Davidson. "It's unbelievably energizing to meet current students and to know we have had even a modest impact in their lives."
"Our class is very special," said Sara Pottenger. "We are very grateful, and we are happy that we can participate in giving back."
"Davidson transformed my life," said Dave Pottenger. "I want that for as many kids as possible."
Since the launch of the 1979 class scholarship, the class of 1996 has also begun their own endowed class scholarship effort, aiming to support future Wildcats at Davidson College.