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Renée Chu

Renée ChuWhen she was still in high school Renée Chu promised herself she’d make an impact wherever she went.

That’s why giving as a UT student was important to her.

“This is just a way to leave a small imprint,” says Chu, who graduated with a BBA in 2010. “You’re leaving a piece of yourself and making the school a better place.”

Giving was important enough to Chu that she decided to encourage other students to do the same. Chu was one of two students who led the 2010 Business Honors Program Make-A-Mark Campaign, which raised $8,875 in student, faculty, and staff pledges and garnered a whopping 70 percent student participation rate. The campaign also raised an additional $17,350 in matching funds from UT alumnus and accounting lecturer Will O’Hara and his wife, Beverly.

“I’ve had a very well-rounded experience at McCombs,” Chu says. “I don’t think I could have been any more prepared at any other educational institution.”

Chu said she wanted to make sure that students who came after her had the same opportunities she had.

Those opportunities included participating in case competitions — where businesses come to the school with real-world problems and ask teams of students to solve them. Private funding helps fund the competitions, which in addition to giving students practical experience help show off McCombs to national and international audiences.

The school’s reputation was evident when it came time to look for jobs. Chu was able to compete on equal footing with applicants from Ivy League schools.

“Coming from UT definitely worked in my favor,” she says.

Chu has landed a job in sales and commodities trading at Citibank in Houston.

Chu likes that the University makes giving easy — it’s possible to break down your gift into small monthly amounts — so that even struggling students can give by forgoing a latte or two per month.

Sometimes students find that the best gift they can give is themselves.

Andrea Richeson

Andrea RichesonAndrea Richeson was one of dozens of School of Information students who learned that firsthand. In 2010 when the iSchool called for community volunteers in conjunction with the University’s ongoing capital campaign, she was one of 63 graduate students heeding the call.

“Students at the iSchool have big hearts, if not always deep pockets,” she says.

Along with 10 hours a month as a web designer and developer at the Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders, Richeson served as a virtual reference desk volunteer for West Texas College.

Volunteering makes a lot of sense for students, Richeson says. They gain knowledge, experience, and professional contacts.

“That’s golden,” she says.

What’s more, volunteering is personally rewarding.

“It feels great,” she says. “You’re doing something for projects you care about. That’s a huge bonus.”

Give back any way you can — and know that your time is a valuable gift, too, Richeson says. In fact, it may have a ripple effect.

“Giving money to the University is important, and after graduation, when jobs are secured, that is much easier to do,” she says. “The University and the iSchool need more financial support, especially in this challenging economy.

“That said, the time offered by students in various volunteer projects might serve the University community even more than their direct financial contributions. Community organizations and businesses touched by student giving may turn into long-term supporters of the University through their hiring practices and their own charitable giving.”

In 2009 Richeson completed the iSchool’s Certificate of Advanced Study program in Usability, Information Architecture, and Design. She now works for the Texas Treasury Safekeeping Trust Co. as a web designer and manager.

Richeson appreciates that she was able to work on real-world projects as a student. She had the chance to work on a usability review for the McCombs School of Business website, and she worked on websites for businesses and government entities.

“That’s the thing about UT — you just get these tremendous opportunities,” she says.

Lee Bagan

Lee Bagan’s campaign to help students with disabilities began about as small as you can get: with a cup and a cardboard sign on the Drag.

Bagan, M.A. ’07 Middle Eastern studies, was working to ensure that students with cognitive disabilities got the help they needed to succeed in college.

“I was expecting to get change and a couple of dollars here and there,” he says.

But the fund drive quickly became more sophisticated. Bagan launched a letter-writing campaign and spoke to student organizations. Before long the Students with Disabilities Agency had raised $10,000, then $15,000, then $18,000. The effort hit $25,000, and the Lee Bagan Endowment was born.

Bagan knows firsthand how difficult school can be for someone facing a learning disability, as he has since age 5. Income from the Bagan Endowment will provide scholarships for students facing cognitive disabilities. The scholarship will help underprivileged students pay for the psychological testing that would give them access to federal educational benefits.

“Through this experience, I saw firsthand the kindness, devotion, and generosity of the UT student body,” Bagan says. “I am completely convinced that there are very few places on this earth where a random guy can sit with a cup and raise $26,000. This could never have happened if UT students did not love this university and care about the well-being of their colleagues.”

Erik Garza

Erik GarzaErik Garza is the guy at the gym who all the kids call “Texas.”

That’s Texas as in The University of Texas. When Garza isn’t dressed for his job as an account executive for TechRadium in Sugar Land, Texas, he’s usually wearing workout gear that heralds his alma mater.

“That’s what I live in,” says Garza, B.A. ’05 economics.

When he plays pickup games with the high school- and college-age kids at the gym, they’ll ask him whether he played basketball for the University. His standard answer: “No. I wish.”

Garza uses their questions to steer the conversation toward UT, his college days, and the value of higher education.

“We don’t have enough mentors out there,” he says. “I feel like it’s my calling.”

Grants and scholarships helped Garza attend UT, so he knows what giving can do. He’s the first in his family to go to college.

“I want everyone to have that right,” he says.

He’s doing his part to make that happen. During his senior year he worked for the University’s Annual Giving program, calling alumni, hearing their stories, and letting them know that giving anything is important.

“It’s not about the amount of the gift,” he says. “The opportunity we have to give back is a gift itself.”

Garza didn’t ask alumni to do something he wasn’t willing to do himself. He gave then and continues to give to his own UT college, Liberal Arts.

“There are lots of success stories, but the real success is when you share it,” he says.

Geo Tu

Geo TuGeoffrey Tu, BS ’08 — Geo to his family and friends — had his pick of electrical engineering graduate programs to choose from as a senior in the Cockrell School of Engineering. He knew the quality of his UT education was a big factor.

The Houston native decided to donate through Thank You, Alec!, a student-led offshoot of the Friends of Alec annual giving program that channels donations back to engineering students. “It just felt right,” he says.

“People in the Cockrell School are like a family, so it definitely provides a good feeling to improve the experience for future students who may be our younger siblings and friends. I’m on my way to a good career. Why wait until then to give?”

Since earning his degree, Tu has finished his first year of grad school at USC and is currently enjoying a summer internship with Texas Instruments in California. After completing his master’s degree he will begin his career. Returning to school for an MBA a few years down the road is part of his plan, as is marrying his girlfriend, fellow engineering graduate Heidi Gensler, BA ’08, BS ’08.

Geo Tu may not fit the profile of the average UT donor. But who wants to be average? Giving is not unlike saving, says the 24-year-old, and starting young is a great way to make it a habit. “The earlier you start saving, the better you get at it. It’s the same with giving to the things that are important to you.”

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