“We thought our experience at the school was something that everybody ought to have,” said Jane Sokolow ’80 M.F.S., who is now an independent consultant and sits on the F&ES Alumni Board. “We thought that every student should not only have an opportunity to take advantage of all that Yale had to offer but to also give something back in return.
“One way we thought we could give back was this fund.”
The project fund has grown significantly over the years as alumni have been able to contribute more — and a couple of “angels” have stepped up quietly to make major contributions, said Thomas McHenry ’77 B.A. ’80 M.F.S., now a partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher in Los Angeles, who has helped coordinate the fund, and solicit annual donations to the fund from his classmates.
Likewise, the scholarship fund, which helps support two or three students per year, has grown to more than $300,000. (The scholarship recipients this year are Victoria Montanez ’13 B.A. ’14 M.E.M., and Timothy Brown ’15 M.E.Sc.)
“The reason it has been so successful is because of the leadership that different people in the class have shown over the years,” McHenry said. “And that has made it really fun for everybody. In my opinion, it’s one of the great things we’ve ever done. It has our class tied to the school in ways that I would never have imagined.”
It all started with the project fund. After controlling the money directly for several years, class members decided in the late 1980s to have Yale University manage it as an endowment. But in many ways, McHenry said, the project fund hasn’t changed much in three decades. Students still submit short proposals that are voted on by all members of the class. The alumni usually support a handful of projects each year, with a $4,000 cap for each project.
And the class members still tend to support projects that will benefit as many people as possible.
Last year, the fund supported eight student projects, including the Environmental Film Festival at Yale; an aquaculture microfarm for research; a conservation field trip to Yellowstone; a symposium for high school girls, Green Careers, Women Leaders; improvement projects for Yale-Myers Forest Camp; and a student research photo installation for the School’s newly renovated Greeley Laboratory.
"The Class of 1980, through their generous student project and scholarship funds, has had a significant, ongoing impact on the quality of our students' educational experience at F&ES,” said Tim Northrop, director of the F&ES Office of Development & Alumni Services. “Our hope is that other alumni classes and affiliated groups will be inspired to begin similar initiatives and grow them over time.”
During a recent conference, Jane Sokolow was introduced to a recent F&ES graduate by a mutual acquaintance. “He asked me, ‘What class were you in?’ I said ‘1980,’ and he said, ‘Oh, my God! You guys funded a project for me and that’s how I got this job!’”
Early on, Sokolow remembers, some members of the class were skeptical that the fund would ever work. “And then the projects started to roll in and we saw the fruits of what our money was doing,” she said. “And suddenly it was a lot easier to raise money. Because people thought, oh wait, we actually are making a difference.”