CHAMPAIGN — Two-and-a-quarter billion. As in dollars.
That’s the target for the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s newest and most ambitious fundraising drive, launched Friday night in a showcase of music, performance and innovation at the State Farm Center.
The campaign is almost halfway to its $2.25 billion goal, announced by Chancellor Robert Jones at the end of the program at the State Farm Center. It has raised $1.01 billion, including the $25 million lead gift from the Thomas and Stacey Siebel Foundation to establish the Siebel Center for Design.
“I know we’ll achieve that goal, and together we will change the world,” Jones told the crowd of donors and supporters.
The “With Illinois” campaign has been in a quiet phase since 2014. Friday’s event, which coincided with the UI Foundation’s annual donor weekend, kicked off the public phase, which will run through 2022.
The drive will raise money for students, faculty, research and infrastructure, Jones said.
The UI’s last campaign, “Brilliant Futures,” raised $2.43 billion for all three UI campuses before concluding in 2012. The Urbana campus goal was $1.5 billion, and it eventually raised $1.7 billion.
The new fund drive has separate goals for each campus. The UI Springfield announced its goal of $40 million on Tuesday. The UI Chicago is scheduled to kick off its campaign and release its fundraising target on Oct. 27.
Billed as “one part Ted Talk and one part Cirque de Soleil,” Friday’s event highlighted the UI’s achievements and impact through live performances, video, storytelling and speakers.
It spotlighted distinguished faculty, students, alumni and major benefactors, from physics professor and Nobel Laureate Sir Anthony Leggett to undergraduate Violeta Montanez, who received scholarships to attend the UI from her Chicago neighborhood of Pilsen and plans to work in public health.
Montanez, a first-generation college student, said she didn’t expect to be able to go to Illinois and is grateful to be “living my family’s aspirations … propelled by those who believe accessibility to education should be for all.”
“One life transformed may transform countless more,” she said. “Thank you for believing in opportunity, and giving students like me the chance for an education so that we can give back.”
Leggett said he came to Illinois because it was where cutting-edge research in his field was being done. He was attracted by the chance to collaborate with top researchers and was impressed by the collegial atmosphere. “I am now proud to call Illinois home for myself and my family.”
Engineering graduate student Sai Kalyan, who received a fellowship to help finance his studies, said he expected to get a world-class education at the UI. “What I did not expect was the welcome. In the heart of Illinois are open fields, open minds and boundless opportunities,” he said.
Among the faculty highlighted was Ruby Mendenhall, professor of sociology and African-American studies. She is partnering with Gene Robinson, director of the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology, and mothers in Chicago’s Engelwood neighborhood who have lost children to gun violence to examine the health impact on those left behind.
“A student once told me she didn’t know research could look like this,” she said, emphasizing the UI’s responsibility to apply its research for the betterment of the community.
Alumnus Aadeel Akhtar appeared with graduate student and Army veteran Garrett Anderson, 29, to demonstrate the high-tech, affordable prosthetic limb Akhtar developed to help millions of amputees around the world who can’t afford prosthetics.
Anderson, who works at the Chez Family Center for Wounded Veterans, was injured in Iraq and lost part of his arm.
“It’s sensitive enough for me to feel my daughter’s hand,” Anderson said.
The two ended their presentation with a fist bump.
The program also included dance groups, violinists and DJs, as well as an a cappella choir and the Marching Illini.
An appearance by five Illinois members of the U.S. Paralympic Team — who together won 16 gold medals, 11 silvers and 14 bronze medals at the last three Paralympic games — drew a standing ovation from the crowd.
Also drawing applause were images of Roger Ebert, the first film critic to win a Pulitzer Prize; Professor Nick Holonyak, inventor of the first visible light-emitting diode; his mentor, John Bardeen, who won two Nobels; and Tim Nugent, the pioneer of accessibility for those with disabilities.
Among notable alumni giving testimonials was NASA astronaut Mike Hopkins, who talked about the opportunities provided by the university — and the obligation of graduates to give back.
“With the right opportunities … there are no limits to what one can achieve or how far someone can go,” Hopkins said. “I come from a small town in Missouri and ultimately ended up in outer space.”
Maryka Baraka, a senior analyst at Applied Research Associates and a graduate of University High School, urged support for the high school to keep it accessible to all as a place where “students are challenged intellectually and more.”
The presentations featured some high-profile fundraising targets, including the Carle-Illinois College of Medicine and UI athletics.
Carl Allegretti, managing partner of Deloitte’s Chicago office, said his family has pledged to donate to the new football performance center, and Deloitte has given $5 million to the College of Business Deloitte Center for Business Analytics. Deloitte hires many of its employees from the UI, he said. His wife and oldest son are UI alumni, and his son Nick is a guard on the UI football team.
“It’s incumbent on us to remember that chance you were given and foster it for the next generation,” he said.
Before the program, as pop music played, three giant screens set up above a stage bathed in orange and blue light showed scenes from campus life past and present — students in research labs, playing pool at the Illini Union, walking through the Quad, cheering at football games, registering at the Armory, moving into residence halls or playing wheelchair basketball. Invited guests were seated in front while hundreds of spectators filled in upper rows.
“The breadth of the good to come from Illinois is nothing short of remarkable,” UI President Tim Killeen told donors and others in the audience. “We have made the world is undeniable and indelible. You are what makes our university a place of singular creation and discovery.”
Jones said the university brings brilliant minds together to create innovation “every single day,” from curing diseases to relieving hunger to revolutionizing health care to reimagining education.
“Tomorrow, we will change the world, with you, with Illinois.”