Homecoming parades wouldn’t be the same without their signature green-and-white striped jerseys, decorated tandem bicycles, omnipresent balloons and school spirit, and Baylor wouldn’t be the same without their desire to serve fellow students, past, present and future.
For 50 years, Student Foundation members have found joy in giving back to the University through scholarship fundraising, student recruitment and iconic campus traditions such as Bear Downs, Bearathon, Freshman Follies, intramurals and campus tours.
Since its founding in 1969, Student Foundation has changed the lives of
nearly 7,000 students through scholarships created by the fundraising efforts of its members.
Today, Student Foundation’s 87 endowed scholarship funds are valued at $4.5 million. The first Student Foundation scholarships ($250 each) were given to two students after the organization’s inaugural year. Last year, the organization awarded 93 scholarships totaling $270,000, at $3,000 per scholarship or $1,500 per semester.
One of those 7,000 students is Susan Russell Ligon, BA ’85, who owns the literary consulting firm Ligon Group. She paid her good fortune forward by becoming a member of Student Foundation, serving as vice president of the steering committee and returning as the organization’s director for three years from 1986 to 1989.
“As a sophomore, I applied and received a Student Foundation scholarship,” Ligon says. “Finances were tough for my family, so it was a huge blessing. Student Foundation was one of the most formative experiences for me, and I received so much more than what I gave.”
Student Foundation, from its beginnings, is a distinctive organization that trusts students to be leaders and gives them the tools to be successful at leading.
“That’s what drew me to it, both as a student and to return as director,” Missy Yeary Wells, BSHE ’88, says. “Here is a University that trusts students enough to give them real responsibilities to do real work for the University. Not only that, but to help develop them to be lifelong leaders, lifelong philanthropists.”
Wells served as Student Foundation director for eight years from 1989 to 1997, making her the longest-serving director to date. She points to Student Foundation’s symbol — a stylized circle of eight people holding hands — with the motto “students serving students.”
“That is what it is about,” Wells says. “Student Foundation is about working together to go out and tell other people, ‘Hey, here is what our students are all about. Here is what Baylor is.’ It is really letting Baylor shine in every aspect through students.
“I am thankful for the administrators who believed that it’s not just about the faculty; it’s not just about the facilities; it’s not just about the statistics; it’s about the students, so let’s empower them to really be Baylor.”
Empower is exactly what Student Foundation has done for 50 years, giving students the power to realize their own worth as representatives of Baylor. Being selected as a Student Foundation member is an honor for 100 juniors and seniors selected annually. Additionally, there is a steering committee made up of co-presidents and co-chairs for the organization’s three committees: alumni relations, campus promotions and student recruitment.
Members are divided equally among the committees with responsibilities for those committees. For example, members of the alumni relations committee are tasked to meet with alumni, companies and potential donors to solicit scholarship donations; campus promotions committee members organize the traditional events such as Freshmen Follies, Bearathon and Fall Festival; and student recruitment committee members represent Baylor at high school college nights and special events held by Baylor Admissions throughout the school year. While assigned or serving on specific committees, every member assists with all Student Foundation work.
Current co-presidents Caroline Capili, a senior political science major from Beaumont, Texas, and Henry Nagengast, a senior in health and science studies from Avoca, Iowa, are proud to carry on the organization’s mission while looking to its future.
“I love knowing that our mission has transcended the test of time,” Capili says. “I know it will continue in the future, serving the same purpose.”
One of this year’s steering committee goals was to challenge Student Foundation members to raise scholarship money among themselves.
“We thought that if we are reaching out to donors, why can’t we give a little ourselves and see what we can raise,” Nagengast says. The group raised $3,000 to help another fellow student stay at Baylor.
Jordan Hannah, BA ’10, associate director of student activities and The Troy and Betty Mays Director of Student Foundation, says everything the organization does is a learning experience.
“Whether that is interacting with alumni, donors or friends, it is helping our members know what it means to support a place like Baylor,” Hannah says. “It puts them in situations where they get to tell not only our story but their own.
“We make sure they can authentically share about their own experience, so they are not just spouting off talking points. We empower them to tell their own story, because that is the most powerful tool we have. They have the experience and the tenacity; we simply provide them with the opportunity to showcase it.”
Student Foundation members are a true representation of the campus with its members coming from a variety of backgrounds, majors and interests. Members must be juniors and seniors who have been on campus for a few years; yet, it often is in Student Foundation when they first meet and then begin to know each other. Lifelong friendships are made over shared Baylor stories and experiences.
A few friendships have resulted in lifelong partnerships, like Wells, who met her husband Steve Wells, BA ’90, MDiv ’97, DMin ’03, through Student Foundation. They recall the day they met at Student Foundation, then located in a two-story white wood-framed house across Eighth Street from Collins Hall.
“Of course, my favorite memory of Student Foundation is getting engaged to Missy,” says Steve, pastor of South Main Baptist Church in Houston. “I was going by to get an application. I didn’t know I was applying to get married.”
The revered Student Foundation house, however, was destroyed in a fire leading to the group’s next phase. Part of Student Foundation’s charm for decades was traveling through various University buildings while looking for a place to call home on campus.
The search ended when Ed Crenshaw, BBA ’73, who served as Student Foundation president from 1972 to 1973, and his wife Denise provided the naming gift for the Ed Crenshaw Student Foundation Building, which was dedicated in 2006. Now, generations of Student Foundation members have a place to gather, work and reminisce.
Crenshaw has given back to Baylor with many generous gifts. He recalls his experience with Student Foundation as one that helped shape him, specifically noting the importance of learning to serve others. As president of one of the earliest steering committees, Crenshaw made lifelong friendships, too. One of those friends was Larry Smith, BBA ’73, Baylor assistant vice president for gift planning, who is quick to credit the organization’s founders for its success.
Three men are attributed to establishing Student Foundation in 1969, modeling it after an organization at Indiana University: Bill Harlan, BBA ’55, who served as the director of administrative services in the development department; Tom Parrish, who was director of development; and Baylor President Abner McCall, JD ’38, BA ’42.
“I think with any successful organization, it starts with the top,” Smith says. “We must remember those who went before us, because they are the reason we are here now. They did so much more than what they had to do. They gave of themselves, and that is what Baylor is all about. We can all name professors and administrators we know who did this for us, incredible people who we have had the privilege to know at Baylor.”
Baylor’s Student Foundation was formed during a time in America’s history when civil unrest and anti-war sentiments led to protests around the country, particularly on college campuses. It was a period of escalating violence that included the shooting deaths of four students at Kent State University in Ohio and two students at Jackson State University in Mississippi.
“Student Foundation was born in a moment in time when our nation was tearing itself apart because it was so polarized, and Baylor believed that the way you build a better future was to trust your students,” Steve Wells says. “I’m hard pressed to think of a time since then that’s more like that than now, which means the mission of Student Foundation to build leaders by trusting students with real responsibilities on consequential matters is as timely as it’s ever been.
“How visionary for Baylor that they looked at that cultural situation and said, ‘How do we help our students become the leaders we are going to need in the future?’ The answer was to create Student Foundation, an organization which empowers students, knowing that they will become the kind of people who will always step up and become great leaders for the future.”
Today, Student Foundation members are building on that same message of service and extending the message to promote generosity and share the joy of giving back with fellow students.
“We are the champions of generosity on campus,” Hannah says. “We define generosity as the free giving of time, talent and treasure with the expectation of nothing in return.”
This, of course, is the foundation of Student Foundation, “students still serving students,” says Ligon, who now serves on the Student Foundation Leadership Council with Hannah. “It’s really simple, and 50 years later, it is still happening.”
The Student Foundation Leadership Council is planning a 50th Anniversary Celebration weekend Sept. 27-28 when Baylor hosts Iowa State in football. All Student Foundation alumni are invited to attend. The festivities will include an open house at the Ed Crenshaw Student Foundation Building and a banquet Friday with a pre-game tailgate party Saturday. Further details and information will be distributed.
Writer’s note: For a small-town girl from Munday, Texas, Student Foundation was an opportunity to tell my unique Baylor story to high school students who didn’t know if Baylor was right for them; to give countless campus tours; to make new friends; to be in the Homecoming parade; and to have fun; but most of all, it was an honor to represent Baylor — side by side with my fellow classmates. Thank you, Student Foundation for believing in me.