Student projects, community networks spur UMSL crowdfunding

by | Mar 3, 2015

The UMSL initiative emphasizes personal networks, and nearly 300 people donated to the various campaigns in the site's first week.
Community garden group

A handful of UMSL students from diverse fields share a passion for the community garden they envision on campus. They’ve joined with other campus partners on a 30-day crowdfunding campaign under way at the newly launched site Pictured (from left) are Abdul-Kariem Matteuzzi, Carolyn Kuenzel, Adela Redzic, sustainability coordinator Katy Mike Smaistrla, Alieu Sanneh, David McGraw and the Office of Alumni Engagement’s James Page. (Photo by August Jennewein)

David McGraw scrolls through a page on the newly launched site while several of his fellow University of Missouri–St. Louis students eye it on the projection screen.

“That’s my mom, and that’s a coworker,” he says, pointing out a few names among a list of donors. As the group brainstorms strategies for reaching a fundraising goal of $5,500, someone else pipes up to suggest incorporating in-kind gifts, such as shovels.

“I used to work at a hardware store,” McGraw responds. “Maybe I could reach out to them, too.”

For McGraw and the others in the room, it’s Day 11 of a 30-day student-driven campaign to bring to fruition a specific, tangible idea: a campus community garden. Their project is one of a handful made possible through a unique crowdfunding platform recently launched by UMSL’s Office of Alumni Engagement.

“With all of these, it’s not about mass emails – it’s individualized asks,” says James Page, assistant director of student and new graduate engagement. “And it really is about getting students to understand philanthropy and stewardship.”

Each campaign at features a video and social-media-friendly page. This one aims to send members of Ad Core, UMSL’s student advertising club, to the Mosaic Career Fair in Chicago later this month.

Each campaign at features a video and social-media-friendly page. This one aims to send members of Ad Core, UMSL’s student advertising club, to the Mosaic Career Fair in Chicago later this month. (Click screenshot to enlarge.)

Along with the crew spearheading the UMSL Community Garden, Page has been coaching and coordinating with several other student groups this semester. Long before the UMSL crowdfunding site went live on Feb. 16, the students were busy developing videos, pages and networks to make their campaigns a success.

“He (Page) set up a pretty strict schedule for us,” says Kim Berry, a senior nursing major and co-organizer of fundraising efforts toward a planned service trip to Nicaragua with the Catholic Newman Center at UMSL. “I think I’ve learned a lot about communication through this process.”

In keeping with the spirit of – a popular platform for funding efforts through small amounts of money from a large number of people in a limited period of time – the UMSL initiative emphasizes personal networks. Page notes that during the site’s first week live, nearly 300 people donated to the various campaigns. In addition to alumni and friends, that included 70 students and many faculty and staff, with an average gift amount of $30.

The eight candidates for UMSL Homecoming 2015 king and queen collectively raised more than $8,000 toward scholarships in just seven days, with their presentation of a giant check at the homecoming dinner and dance Feb. 21 drawing wild applause.

But “creating a crowd,” Page says, requires a lot of committed leadership and energy – it’s no easy task. Sophomore biochemistry major Adela Redzic, one of the students behind the community-garden effort, agrees.

“It’s definitely a process,” she says. “You think that you can easily make a video and get it together and raise money, but just getting everything organized takes some doing.”

Alieu Sanneh, a first-semester graduate student who grew up in the farmland of Gambia, Africa, says that while the group’s plan for creating and operating a 12-bed organic garden on campus is detailed and concrete, it’s about something more than the garden itself.

“We as students want to contribute to sustaining the environment,” Sanneh says. “It’s something we value.”

A similar passion motivates Berry’s work with fellow Newman Center students and alumni as they prepare to head to Nicaragua in July and help build homes for families in poverty.

“Service is such a big part of the Newman community,” says fellow organizer and junior psychology major Mo Leahy, noting that this year marks the 50th anniversary of the Newman Center at UMSL. “We always do a service project, but this is our first international one.”

The first round of student-driven crowdfunding efforts wraps up March 17. Additional campaign launches are in the works for the fall, Page says.

“Crowdfunding websites are a relatively new phenomenon, and I think it says a lot about UMSL and our students that we are the first university in the region to launch something like this,” he adds. “Our students are resourceful and our community is very supportive, and we hope to see great things come from this platform.”

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