Senior Slugs pay it forward with student-to-student philanthropy project

Enterprising seniors launch fundraising campaign to help the Class of 2012

Brenda Lawrence and Cortney Kammerer of Class Council 2011 have a pay-it-forward philosophy. (Photo by Carolyn Lagattuta)

UC Santa Cruz students have a long history of digging into their wallets to sidestep bureaucracy, fund initiatives, and take action, even during economic slumps.

In the past few years they preserved McHenry Library’s operating hours when threatened with reduction, paid for environmentally friendly building materials at the campus health center, and instituted a carbon fund to reduce UCSC's environmental impact.

Now, 21 seniors are asking classmates to help fellow undergraduates pay for their education.

Members of Class Council 2011 are asking students in their graduating class to contribute $20.11 each. Council members hope to inspire 15 percent of the class to contribute, and expect to raise about $10,000. The council will give the money to the Class of 2012 to distribute in scholarships.

Scholarship contenders must submit essays about the importance of "spirit, legacy, unity, and giving." Not coincidentally, the first letters of those four words spell "SLUG," a reference to UCSC’s banana slug mascot, which turns 25 this year.

The first round of scholarships is modest--$500 each. But even that is significant, said Brittany Arvizu, 23 (Oakes, marine biology). "That much money can pay for books for a quarter of study,"  Arvizu said. "For students with jobs, it could mean one less day of work every week. It might not seem like a lot of money but it makes a big difference.”

A student-to-student philanthropy project may sound counterintuitive and risky during these uncertain budget times. The University of California faces cutbacks amounting to a half-billion dollars. But the group insists budget cuts and concerns about student access to education add urgency to their campaign.

The newly minted group is getting strong responses. An alumna, who prefers to remain anonymous, heard a Class Council presentation this quarter. She was so impressed that she decided to match all gifts to the council up to $10,000.

These students are part of the first senior-class fundraising drive in UCSC history.

But the group has more on its mind than building a pool of money for future graduates, said Cortney Kammerer, 21 (College Eight, business management economics), Class Council 2011's co-president.

Aside from fundraising, the Class Council is creating a social movement to strengthen bonds between future UCSC graduates and the campus, while giving fellow students a stronger sense of identity, pride, and place, Kammerer said.

"There is no big sports team to rally around, so we have to figure out a way to rally around ourselves," Kammerer said.  "Why not make it a positive experience instead of worrying about the budget cuts 24-7? Why not rally around the fact that future graduates will be the next generation of innovators? We’re proud of them. We need to create lasting ties with them.

"The point is not to advertise school spirit in an artificial way but to change the student body’s attitude," Kammerer said. "The banana slug mascot sets our campus apart, but it’s much more than that. It also represents a way of life on campus."

The group created an anchor event called UCSC Slug Pride Week, designed to "instill a legacy fueled by proud Slugs" with student-run activities. The week will include a scavenger hunt and a Zero Reunion Barbecue (a reunion for graduating seniors) along with a "Sip, Snack, and Slug" event. See below for a full list of upcoming Class Council-related events. The Student Council will also take part in the Day by the Bay festivities set for April 30 from 12 to 3 p.m.

The ultimate goal is to create an engaged young alumni base. "By teaching students the impact philanthropy has on the campus, and instilling a sense of Slug pride, we are cultivating the next generation of philanthropic leaders who will stay connected and continue to give back after they graduate," said UCSC outreach coordinator Shayna Kent.

"Students at UCSC are already very philanthropic," Kent continued. "Stand in front of the [Baytree] Bookstore. You'll see five or six organizations fundraising for different causes. It’s great to see that student groups are raising money for their own community, too."

As part of its campaign, the group is handing out temporary tattoos showing a banana slug in a frilly red bathing suit, next to the logo: “GIVING IS SEXY.”

“We want to unite the school and raise more spirit,” Michael Wan, 21 (College Ten, business management), said. "When people have more school pride, they are more likely to give back to the university. Having a big alumni base is important for any university to grow.”

The group has been approaching fellow students through face-to-face contact, e-mail solicitations, group presentations, and tabling. They plan to run a phone pool soon.

The task can be scary at first, especially with student attitudes about tuition hikes and the state of the budget.

"It can be intimidating to ask people, especially with the attitude going around the campus because of tuition hikes and the budget," said council member Sandra Drago, 23 (College Ten, literature). "Sometimes at first I get a negative vibe. That changes quickly when they hear this is something that students are doing for other students."

All of the student volunteers are passionate about social issues and access to education.

Suzi Stocken, 31 (College Ten, politics), is active in LGBT causes and hopes to pursue a career in anti-discrimination law. Stocken was vice president of her high school's first gay-straight alliance in 1995. Instead of heading directly to a four-year university after high school, she attended community college classes. She spent time as a photographer for a portrait company, working in sales for AT&T, waiting tables, and bartending. Now that she is back in school, she sympathizes with students having trouble paying for their education.

"I come from a lower-middle-income family--strictly working class," Stocken said. "In these tough economic times, it’s so important to be there for each other. Small donations of $10, $20, $30--that’s a night out at the movies. It is not a big sacrifice. Every little bit counts.”

Through her volunteer work on the Class Council, Stocken hopes to make the path to college less bumpy for other young scholars. "Going back to college was a long time coming for me," she explained. "I’ve had to do it largely on my own. I’ve always felt that ‘philanthropist’ is the ultimate occupation--to be able to give back to my fellow man."

Upcoming Slug Pride Week Events:

Hunt for the Golden Slug

Senior Zero Reunion BBQ

Day by the Bay (Reunion Weekend)

Sip, Snack & Slug Community Fundraiser