Pride in Maize and Blue supports U-M community and beyond


For undergraduate student Chelsea Graham, attending the University of Michigan has been a dream since she was 10 years old.

Her mother and former Facilities & Operations staff member, Julia Graham, strengthened her connection to the university and inspired her to work hard to achieve that dream.

Then tragedy struck during Graham’s senior year in high school. Her mother was diagnosed with lung cancer and died eight months later never knowing whether her daughter’s dream would come true.

“When I started college, I had a hard time transitioning with both the family and academic changes. With my mom gone, I had no one to inspire me to continue working toward my dream career,” says Graham, now an LSA junior who aspires to be a doctor in the U.S. Air Force.

Chelsea Graham, an LSA student and recipient of the U-M Faculty Undergraduate Scholarship Fund with Assistant Professor Sara Soderstrom, a monthly donor to the fund. (Photo by Scott Soderberg, Michigan Photography)

Graham is one of three U-M students who receive aid from a need-based scholarship known as the U-M Faculty Undergraduate Scholarship Fund Endowment.

Created in 2007, the undergraduate scholarship fund has received more than $69,000 and has grown to $72,800 through investments, all while providing ongoing support to students. 

“Whenever I have a rough day, a poor exam grade, or any doubt about being here, I always think of my scholarship,” says Graham. “There are other faculty and staff, just like my mom, helping me to get through college.”

She says the scholarship allows her to participate in U-M clubs, as well as play in the Dexter Community Orchestra and serve in the Civil Air Patrol, a nonprofit volunteer organization that operates as the auxiliary of the Air Force.  

The scholarship fund is among many funds serving the U-M community that are made possible through gifts from university faculty, staff and retirees.

Since 2011, more than 16,800 faculty, staff and retirees from U-M’s three campuses have donated nearly $111 million to the university’s fundraising campaign, Victors for Michigan. Retired faculty members are the biggest contributors of the group with two-thirds having made gifts to the campaign.

The Victors for Michigan campaign has raised $3 billion to date — three-fourths of its $4 billion goal.

“What this represents is more than fundraising. It’s the U-M community helping make a difference each in their own individual way,” says Ken Fischer, co-chair of the faculty, staff and retiree giving committee, and president of the University Musical Society.

Fischer, a donor to the university since 1987, has served on the giving committee for two years.

“Our job is to connect our donors to what will bring joy to their lives. To find out what their passion is, and connect them to the places in the university where they believe their gift will have the greatest impact, ” he adds.

And the gifts — big and small — have impact within the university community.

More than 30 percent of campaign contributions from faculty, staff and retirees go to student support. That’s more than $32 million set aside for students, like Chelsea Graham, that helps remove the burden of financial stress so they can experience the most possible during their time at U-M.

“What I love about U-M is it’s a public university, and part of that mission is the broad support for students that makes their education accessible,” says Sara Soderstrom, assistant professor of organizational studies and Program in the Environment, and a supporter of the undergraduate scholarship fund.

“This is my personal way of supporting that mission that goes beyond the work with students in the classroom.”

The greatest amount of support, nearly $42 million, is generated for programs, which goes toward projects that implement educational, research and service goals.

Gifts to programs can support students and faculty members in their research or educational projects beyond the classroom. They also make possible the many culturally enriching performances, lectures and exhibits available on campus. 

Examples of programs range widely, from Alternative Spring Break and Semester in Detroit to the Och Initiative for Women in Finance and the University Library Enrichment Fund. 

Program gifts also provide support to those in the university community during the most critical of times.

The Employee Emergency Hardship Program provides one-time, financial assistance up to $800 to university employees experiencing financial emergencies due to unexpected situations such as natural disaster, family crisis, threat of eviction or other crises.

Nearly 200 emergency hardship grants have been awarded since 2009, and more than 1,350 employees have been connected to local community resources or financial management services through the program.

Program support also reaches far beyond members of the U-M community. Gifts to the Family Hope Fund and the Teddy Bear Gift Fund serve patients of C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital and their families.

“I spent about four years in the Pediatric Hematology/Oncology and Bone Marrow Transplant area. I saw firsthand the recipients of the Family Hope Fund and decided that if I ever had the chance I would donate to help make a difference,” says Amy Anderson, a registered nurse at the children’s hospital who contributes monthly to the fund through payroll deduction.

Amy Anderson, a registered nurse at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, contributes monthly to the Family Hope Fund. (Photo by Scott Soderberg, Michigan Photography)

The funds not only help to put a cuddly teddy bear in the hands of a child receiving treatment at the hospital, they support medical research and provide need-based financial assistance to help cover transportation, meal and lodging expenses for families during a patient’s hospitalization.

“There’s so much to be proud of at this institution,” Fischer says. “Sharing that pride in the institution is something we can all do.”

The university’s Victors for Michigan campaign runs through 2018.


  1. Gail Estes
    on December 8, 2015 at 4:40 pm

    I am so proud of you Chelsea! You are one incredible young lady that has always strived to be the best at everything you do. Keep on working hard Chelsea – you are definitely making your Mom proud just like you have always done. She is with you every single day! Love & miss her every single day. Hugs to you & Congratulations! You are the best! Go Blue!

  2. Nancy Bylica
    on December 9, 2015 at 4:13 pm

    Way to go Chelsea! You are an inspiration to your family and we are so happy that you are living your dream of attending UM. We are very proud of you ~ .

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