Alumni House:

Providing Opportunities to 'Excel'

The 2016 Gift to Tech helps the Institute offer students with intellectual and developmental disabilities a chance for a real college experience.

Summer 2016 | by Melissa Fralick

Georgia Tech’s Excel program now has $40,000 to improve programming for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities, thanks to the Student Alumni Association’s 2016 Gift to Tech. Each year, many students make a $10 donation to join SAA. Of that, $5 goes to Roll Call and $5 goes toward the Gift to Tech, which benefits a different campus initiative selected by members.

This year's winner, Excel, is a four-year certificate program at Georgia Tech that provides students with intellectual and developmental disabilities with the opportunity to experience college in full. They take college courses, participate in campus activities and form friendships that will no doubt last a lifetime.

Excel’s first eight students have just completed their freshman year at Tech. They’ve taken courses modified to their individual abilities, and they’ve had access to many of Tech’s campus services and activities—including the Campus Recreation Center, sporting events and the library.

“In our first year, students have attended courses in psychology, film, servant leadership, Spanish and GT 1000,” Excel’s Director Kenneth Surdin says. “They have shown their school spirit at football and basketball games; joined various clubs and organizations, including wrestling club, Campus Christian Fellowship, Hillel and WREK radio; and volunteered serving the homeless, in after school programs and in nursing homes.”

After completing the program, Excel students receive certificates in social growth, academic enrichment and career exploration. The funding from SAA will support the growth of Excel’s career development program, in which students participate in campus jobs, internships and other employment opportunities.

"We seek to create a culture that embraces diverse learners and employees in order to maximize inclusion on our campuses and create inclusive opportunities in our communities," Surdin says.

Excel uses a peer mentoring and support system to enhance students’ classroom and social experiences. A peer mentor, typically an undergraduate Georgia Tech student, assists students who may still be developing the skills for independence.

“Our students are pursuing their passions and fully participating in the college experience,” Surdin says.

SAA’s gift not only provides much needed funding, but validates the importance of Excel and ensures students will be able to contribute their gifts to society, Surdin says.

“The recognition among people at Georgia Tech is what is really huge and impactful. I can’t tell you how grateful we are,” Surdin says.

The 2016 Gift to Tech was the largest in SAA’s six-year history, a testament to the success of the organization that was founded to develop the next generation of alumni leaders. “Our hope is that every student gives back after they graduate,” says SAA’s vice president of philanthropy Vikrant Jain. “It’s not about the $10 you give now. It’s about building the tradition of giving back to this institution that has given us so much.”

As SAA continues to grow, so too does the organization’s philanthropic reach on campus. SAA is now the largest student organization at Tech, enabling the annual Gift to Tech to double from just over $20,000 in 2011 to $40,000 this year. Past recipients include student mental health services; Klemis Kitchen, a food pantry for Tech students in need; the Georgia Tech band; the Dean Dull Ramblin' Reck Endowment; and the Office of Solid Waste and Recycling.

“This year, SAA started out with 16 possible project ideas, which our leadership team then narrowed down to eight options,” says SAA President Daisy Smith. “These eight were voted on by the entire student body and then SAA members were eligible to vote for the final winner.”

Each year, the Gift to Tech is augmented by a matching gift from a Yellow Jacket alumnus. This year, Joe Evans, IM 71, the chairman and CEO of State Bank & Trust Co., provided $10,000 of the $40,000 gift, matching $10 from the first 1,000 students to join SAA.

What’s more, the Student Government Association was so impressed by this year’s top three finalists that the organization stepped up to fund the second and third place projects, donating $20,000 to both the Housing Homeless Tech Student Initiative and the Campus Victim Survivor Program.

The Housing Homeless Tech Students Initiative will provide an emergency fund for students who find themselves lacking resources or financial support that could lead to a loss of housing. This program will also receive a $20,000 gift from Georgia Tech’s Residence Hall Association, which will fully fund the program.

The Campus Victim Survivor Program is part of Georgia Tech’s VOICE initiative for sexual violence prevention and education. The program will use the funds to provide emergency resources after a trauma, hire staff and create a stipend for student volunteers to operate an on-call response system.

In total, SAA’s Gift To Tech has inspired students and alumni to donate $100,000 for three campus initiatives in 2016.

“You have put older alumni to shame by the degree to which you have embraced philanthropy,” Joe Evans, the matching donor, told Tech students. “I am absolutely confident that 45 years from now, Georgia Tech will be in just as good of hands as it is today.”