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Jessica Timmerman playing violin

Catalysts for change

Laurier launches $130-million fundraising campaign aiming to build on core values and prepare graduates to make a difference in the world

Story by Julia Thomson

Photography by John Ternan, Tomasz Adamski and Tae McIntosh

Jenifer Carter began her social work degree at Laurier in September. The first-year honours student hopes to take an option in Indigenous studies while minoring in criminology.

“I am very passionate about helping others and because of this many people in my life suggested going into social work," Carter says. "I hope to work with youth aged 15 to 22 when I graduate.”

Carter is one of 24 students who received a scholarship established last year by the Wilfrid Laurier University Alumni Association. The scholarship is an entrance award that recognizes students like Carter who apply to Laurier with an average of 85 per cent or higher and are involved in extra-curricular activities or volunteer work during high school.

Unlike many scholarships that support students for just one year, these new awards continue into the student’s second year - and throughout their whole time at Laurier - as long as they maintain a B+ average.

The scholarship is just one example of the new kinds of support that Laurier is creating to help students.

Student financial support is a key pillar of the university’s recently launched $130-million fundraising campaign, Catalyst: The Campaign for Wilfrid Laurier University. Catalyst aims to build on Laurier’s core values and strengthen its position as an institution that prepares people to improve communities, our country and the world.

Jennifer Carter standing at Brantford campus
Jenifer Carter is working toward her social work degree at Laurier as a means to help others.  

'Catalysts for Change'

The Catalyst name references some of the strongest aspects of the Laurier experience.

“In speaking with alumni, donors, students, faculty and staff, we hear again and again that people at Laurier aspire to be catalysts for change,” says Jana Gordon, assistant vice-president of development and Catalyst campaign director. “This may mean making a difference in their family, their work, their community or the broader world.

"There are thousands of examples of how Laurier inspires people to look beyond themselves and we want to use this campaign to enrich the Laurier experience and take the university to the next level.”

While alumni programs and fundraising are ongoing at Laurier, the campaign brings a new focus and intensity to the university’s activities. The goal of the campaign is to raise $130 million for projects across the university. Faculties and departments have categorized their priorities under five pillars: learning and study space, student financial support, research excellence, beyond the classroom, and academic excellence.

For Kyle Walker (BA ’11), donating to support students beyond the classroom was important because of his personal experience.

“When I started as a student at Laurier in 2006, I struggled with the transition to university, but I was given tremendous support and opportunities," Walker says. "I feel it is very important to support students who struggle with the increased stresses and financial burdens that come with university life. If I was not given the support I received, I would not have graduated and would not be where I am today.”

Walker, who now works with Procter & Gamble, is making his gift to support the university’s student affairs department, which provides health and wellness programming across Laurier’s campuses.

Walker is one of 3,242 donors who contributed to Laurier during the past year. Just over half – 53 per cent – of donors are alumni. The average individual donor gave $1,257 last year. In total, alumni, individuals, corporations and foundations gave more than $9.7 million to Laurier in 2015.

Catalyst is bringing earlier fundraising campaigns, including the Building Canada’s Best Business School campaign and the Laurier Brantford YMCA campaign, under one fundraising umbrella. With nearly $100 million already raised, Catalyst is well on its way to meeting its $130-million goal.

“We are extremely grateful for the support we receive from alumni and other donors,” Gordon says. “We know that people want to make a difference in the world. By giving to Laurier, they can support a cause that is important to them and have an impact on the university and its students, but also on their own communities.”

lecture class at Lazaridis Hall

International Impact

Master’s student Clara Greig's studies at Laurier are allowing her to make a difference in one of the most important ecological areas on the planet: the Brazilian rainforest.

Greig is studying bamboo, an invasive species that is decreasing biodiversity and threatening the overall health of this already vulnerable ecosystem.

Over the past century, the Atlantic Forest, a vast area that includes Brazil’s costal rainforest, has been reduced from an area of 1.5 million square kilometres to less than 100,000 square kilometres, approximately seven per cent of its original size. It is considered among the most devastated and threatened ecosystems in the world.

As a student in the Geography and Environmental Studies Department, Greig is working to combat this damage by advocating for new forest management strategies that will improve the area’s environmental health.

The scope and impact of research at Laurier has increased significantly during recent years and with that so have opportunities for students to participate in research. Creating more opportunities for students like Greig to become involved in research projects is an important priority of the Catalyst campaign.

“Funding would allow me to expand my current study sites and examine how bamboo is impacting other biomes within the Atlantic Forest,” Greig says. “Donations could help to buy costly imagery and image-processing software.”

For students like Greig, linking their research and academic studies to the wider world is a hallmark of their experience at Laurier.

“We want to support students throughout their scholarly development,” says Rob Gordon, vice-president of research. “Donors can create a platform for students - the next generation of leaders - to be exposed to things and to be much more inquisitive in their approach.”

How Catalyst Helps

By giving to Catalyst, donors will contribute to enhancing Laurier’s academic programs and developing new offerings. The impact of this support is two-fold. First, in the competitive post-secondary education environment it will help Laurier attract students. Second, it will ensure that Laurier’s programs address important issues facing the world today.

The spaces where students learn can also be a pivotal part of their university experience. Enhancing those spaces is another pillar of Catalyst, with a renovated and expanded music building being a major priority.

“It would be amazing to improve some of the practice rooms in the music building,” says fourth-year violin student Jessica Timmermans. “There are often lineups of people waiting for a room to become available and many of them are very small, which makes it hard for people with bigger instruments to utilize them well.”

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Research being undertaken by Clara Greig (right) and her lab mates Nick Wilson and Lauren Yee is making an international impact. 

Across the university, improved spaces for teaching, studying, performing and experimenting will enhance student learning.

Donor support can fund simple things like chairs and tables that can be moved around a room to foster greater student collaboration, or complex technology that allows instructors to bring experts from around the world into their classrooms at Laurier.

The vision for learning at Laurier is to create environments that inspire collaboration, comprehension, discovery and bold ideas.


Alumni Support

Fittingly, a donation from the Wilfrid Laurier University Alumni Association, which represents 96,180 Laurier alumni around the world, was one of the first gifts to fall under the Catalyst label.

“Alumni are an important part of this campaign,” says Bridget McMahon (BBA ’00, MBA ’09), assistant vice-president of alumni relations, annual giving and stewardship at Laurier. “The campaign is about helping take the university to the next level, which means raising money, but it also means helping people connect to Laurier in other ways.

"We’re increasing programming for alumni, providing new opportunities for them to connect with each other and with students, offering new services that will help them in their careers and giving them more ways to be involved with Laurier.”

The dictionary defines catalyst as “a person or event that causes change or action.” In its simplest terms, that is what a university must be and what Laurier aspires to be every day — a catalyst for change and action to improve the world around us.

Through Catalyst: The Campaign for Wilfrid Laurier University, alumni and donors will be important catalysts to enrich the experience that is Laurier.

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