Spartan Fund leader connects alumni with their passions for helping MSU succeed and thrive

Rebecca Surian will lead the Spartan Fund as senior director of development within MSU Athletics.

Unknown Speaker 0:00
Welcome to MSU. Today I'm Bill Beekman, Vice President and athletic director here at Michigan State University. And today we've got a very exciting guest, Rebecca Surian, our new director of the Spartan Fund within MSU athletics and Rebecca has a long and storied career at Michigan State, both as a student and for many, many years in our central advancement office and, and most recently within the College of Music where she was the principal fundraiser for the billman music pavilion, a truly spectacular facility that sits in the in the center part of campus adjacent to the the College of Music. So, Rebecca, welcome to the program. Thank you so much. I'm excited to be here. Tell us I I sort of went over it very quickly. But, but tell us about your MSU experience and, and how you how you've come to us in athletics. Wow, that

Unknown Speaker 1:02
sounds great. I'm happy to do that. So I always like to surprise people and tell them that it came to MSU in 1969. My father was a French professor at Michigan State. And he and my mother came to campus when my twin sister and I were three years old. So I've been on campus pretty much my entire life. We lived in the faculty bricks, they're now raised, so they're not there anymore. But I remember well playing in Cherry Lane and playing around the Quonset huts where Breslin center and Munn Ice Arena are now and MSU was my playground. And then I attended Michigan State. I was a student telemarketer in the late 80s and graduated from Michigan State in 1990. I actually met my husband in the telemarketing programs, we're both fundraisers, he's a fundraiser at in the College of Osteopathic Medicine. And we met fell in love got married at the alumni chapel. And I was actually groomed to take over a position in our annual giving program running the telemarketing program. So we moved from a what we would call a smile and dial manual calling program. And I helped to put our first predictive telemarketing program together. So we were one of the first in the country to use the predictive dialer and a computer automated system to call our MSU alumni and that's when I realized my joy and passion for raising money from Michigan State alumni,

Unknown Speaker 2:35
you have an uninteresting background in that you're, you spent many years as the as the lead fundraiser in the College of Music. And now you've joined us in athletics, which would be sort of a seemingly kind of 180 degree flip. But, but but my sense also is, is that we we probably could tease out some real similarities between those two units and in terms of their, their external focus and, and focus on performance and some of those kinds of kinds of aspects. So how do you see this transition? You know, I

Unknown Speaker 3:14
see it and that's funny that you say that because I've had that asked many times. So people were very surprised when they learned that I moved from the College of Music to athletics and thought really, arts, fundraising, and now athletic fundraising. And frankly, I think it's it's very similar. I'm talking with alumni who are passionate about Michigan State University. They're passionate about this university having great opportunities for our faculty and students. And so, in music, I spoke with individuals who wanted very much to support the College of Music and have an opportunity for students to improve their educational experience, as you had indicated with the building and music pavilion, and I see the same opportunity frankly, in athletics, we're talking to MSU alumni of all colleges, you know, there aren't alumni of athletics necessarily and frankly, and music. I typically spoke more to alumni across colleges and not necessarily music alumni. They weren't really typically our top prospects to visit with about major gifts support for the College of Music. So I I see an easy transition. We I know a number of alumni who have supported the College of Music over the years as well as athletics. So I actually see it as a very, very logical and easy next step in my career path. It's just visiting with people and talking about their passions and wanting to support MSU and see both our academic and the university as a whole, exceed and do well in thrive.

Unknown Speaker 4:51
So Rebecca, you're, I believe the first professional fundraiser that we've we've had on our program. And I can imagine many people thinking, Oh, my goodness, that's got to be the hardest job in the world. You're asking someone for money. And I could never do that that seems so intimidating. How is it that, that you've made this a career that that you that you really enjoy doing for so many years? What are the what are the parts that the person that might think that way would be missing,

Unknown Speaker 5:30
being a fundraiser is just about developing relationships with people and understanding what their passions are, and understanding what excites them about Michigan State University, and just building that understanding more. And really getting to a point where you have an opportunity to talk with them about the the experience that they get the joy that they get when they make a gift to university. So it's really about letting donors understand the experience. And the joy that they get when they make a significant gift to the university. It's really all about building relationships. So the Ask comes naturally, when you talk about passion when you talk about how people want to invest in their university, and when it gets to the point where you talk about a gift. It's actually it's actually remarkably easy. I mean, I've developed a relationship with one of my donors in music, who's actually also an athletic donor. And he came to MSU. In the 70s, he was a basketball manager. He actually before that was a member of the smart marching band, he played tuba. And he loved music. But that was not going to be his career that he was going to study in at Michigan State. And he joined the band, he was super excited about it, and quit after a week, because he just couldn't take the commitment of being in the smart marching band, having fun as a student freshmen and also studying. So he ended up putting the smart marching band and being a best football manager. And many years later, I was connected with him. He's a California alum, and learned about his passion and interest in music, he married a jazz singer. And after years of getting to know this couple really well, they ended up making a very significant gift to our built in music Pavilion. And he's been a very significant supporter of athletics as well. So it's, again, developing relationships. And then you get to an easy point in your relationship. When you say, what, what would you like to do? What would you like to support that would be meaningful to you and your family at Michigan State University, and then it's natural, it's an easy process.

Unknown Speaker 7:58
So as we think about funding, fundraising, and you know, and certainly here in athletics, it's it's one of the the, one of the key sources of revenue that helps us drive the athletic department forward, is that support we receive from, from our many, many very generous and kind donors. And it may come as a surprise to some that that our department doesn't receive any money from from us tuition. We don't receive anything from the state appropriation, we really keep a fairly bright line distinction between the athletics budget and the budget of the university. And, and I think that that's very important, so that academic resources go towards academics, and then the money that we're able to fundraise can can support athletic enterprises. And so in that context, yeah, share with us some of the the projects that that you're working on, on helping us support in athletics. And now in the future,

Unknown Speaker 9:03
our Spartan fund team, a group of really terrific and committed development officers with their work and guidance, and some folks from our central development office. our priorities are certainly number one, I would say as the one Ice Arena addition, there's a goal for us to raise $22.5 million for this facilities campaign, and we've raised about 16 million and have about $6.5 million dollars to go to reach our target goal. Construction on this project, as likely this audience may know was halted during the covid 19 pandemic and we just recently received word as you know, Bell, that we're able to begin construction again on that so really, our first priority is to hit the ground running and continue to reach out to our closest supporters so we can wrap up that campaign and finish that facilities project so coach Cole can get to recruiting top recruits for our hockey team. And moving that, that program forward. So it's one of the best facilities in the country for ice hockey. And then certainly after that, we are really excited about mat SBS, very significant gift to Michigan State University, obviously the largest gift the MSU has received and the most significant gift to athletics. And we are really excited, especially about the $20 million gift that he's allocated to improve football facilities. And so we are definitely going to get moving on that project as soon as possible, understand what the parameters are for it understand costs, and finalize plans and get moving to put assets out there to name key spaces in that facility and get that project off the ground. But then, of course, along with facilities, we always have a need for endowed support for students, you know, travel funds for our coaches and their programs. We just have, you know, they're always areas that you can find that need support for students, athletes, their coaches and programmatic support so they can put together travel opportunities for their students in the best light possible.

Unknown Speaker 11:19
Certainly the last as you as you mentioned, the the MN project was was halted for a time as a result of the pandemic. How has the the pandemic affected our university fundraising program? So what what, obviously, we've we haven't been able to communicate in the same ways, reach out and talk to people on have personal conversations face to face quite as much, how has it infect? How has it affected the work that you do?

Unknown Speaker 11:48
Gosh, it's been a year and a half. I mean, we're just so happy to start to get into our new normal. Thankfully, the good about the pandemic I'd say is that my colleagues and advancement, we've had the opportunity to meet more people, perhaps some we would have or could have, I mean, we've had opportunities to have virtual conversations with Spartans, who we may not have been able to connect with in person, folks from all over the world, frankly, and that's been fantastic. We're, it really has been an opportunity to meet more people in some aspects than we would have in person. But of course, the drawback is that this was all done virtually for the most part or over the phone. And, you know, folks are getting tired of the virtual experience and virtual environment and we just want to be able to meet with Spartans and you know, get together on campus and visit each other and walk on campus and go to the state room and have lunch or go to Brody Hall. And I totally miss going to Brody Hall and having lunch and taking donors there and having them see what our students get to eat for to warm food these days. Oops, I'm supposed to say residential college, not dorms, but it's just a great experience when you can be with Spartans and connect with them personally, and I really have missed that. I've just missed that opportunity to engage with folks and shake their hands and sit in front of them and, you know, Share, share our common experiences, so I cannot wait to get back to in person events, games and that fabulous excitement that you get, like on football, home games when you just have crowds of people cheering on our Spartans, so really looking forward to that. So it's been rough. It's been it's been a challenging year for fundraising because we just haven't been able to connect as deeply with with Spartans who want to support our university as possible. There have been some good successes, but it's been a challenge, that's for

Unknown Speaker 13:57
sure. One thing you said that certainly resonates with me. I take great joy in wedding when an alum comes onto campus and we're we're going to get together for lunch. Going over to Brody particularly those folks that remember the Brody of the 70s and 60s and it certainly is a very very different place than it was back when we were in school and and people are to see the look on their face when they they see a salad bar that's 30 foot long or the the sushi station or the vegetarian station and the the the dairy store ice cream and and on and on it goes and and so that is certainly at any of our residence hall dining facilities are are spectacular, but Brody just for its size and scope is is pretty unique and you know and open to the public. So you know individuals can can go in and have a have a great meal. So hey, In your many years on campus and your your many experiences across the music school and other areas, you know, share with us a, you know, your your, maybe a fond memory or something that that maybe that was a little out of the ordinary an interesting experience that you've had in your fundraising career.

Unknown Speaker 15:25
Well, I guess my most exciting experience was my conversation and work securing the lead gift for the music bill, the building music pavilion campaign. So College of Music is a 1939 WPA building on campus in the heart of campus and the facilities there as we frequently talk about an athletics we need to have top notch facilities for our student athletes. Well, a 1939 WPA building does not provide top notch acoustical appropriate space for our student musicians. So you know, my my greatest pride and joy for gift received was the one that that Dr. James k billman gave for the Music Building when we we got to secure that lead gift and then he ended up turning it into a naming gift for the building and music pavilion, it was just my greatest joy. I mean, the opportunity to have had that campaign be successful, we needed to raise 17 point 5 million we raised 17.8. with Jim forger Dean of the College and my colleagues in the college advancement office leading the way what what an incredible experience and joy it was to see the students and faculty in the spaces that are so beautiful and acoustically sound and spacious and state of the art with air conditioning, I mean, the Music Building doesn't have air conditioning. So it has an H back system that, you know, exchanges on the quarter hour, it's just so beautiful. It's top notch, it's world class, it's truly transformational. So that's, that's my greatest experience is having that campaign succeed. And then seeing the joy and appreciation on our students faces and the faculty. It was just an incredible experience. So that that's my favorite, I would say and in

Unknown Speaker 17:26
many ways that resonates with what we do in athletics trying to provide our students with the tools they need to be as successful as they can be. And in, in the case of a musician, that's a room with the right acoustics, perhaps the right humidity level for the instrument, all those kinds of details. And in athletics, it's things like weight rooms and nutrition stations, and different but but in so many respects, very similar. And so far as you're trying to get your your faculty or in our case coaches and your students with the you know, equipping them with the tools they need to be as successful as they could be.

Unknown Speaker 18:10
You bet it's it's fantastic. I'm really looking forward to this opportunity in athletics and, and having the opportunity to work with our coaches and all of our sports and getting to know our student athletes and providing those transformational moments for them as well. I'm just really looking forward to this experience and opportunity. So

Unknown Speaker 18:31
Rebecca, you also have the distinction of being the first female to lead our Spartan fund. And yeah, and it is a profession that that probably is largely male dominated. And, and yet, you you taken this on with gusto and passion and and what is it? What does that mean to you?

Unknown Speaker 19:00
You know, I'm honored. That's the first thing that I would say, but it also makes a great deal of sense, in my opinion. I mean, 50% of the athletic scholarships are awarded to female athletes, right? Women love athletic competition just as much as men do, as far as I'm concerned. I mean, in my 30 years of experience, women have in fundraising women have typically been as engaged if not more so than their male counterparts. So, in my opinion, it makes perfect logical sense to have a woman in this position or working with their male counterparts and our alumni who loves sports. Makes perfect sense to me. I mean, I look at the experiences, frankly, through my my daughter's eyes. I have two daughters. They're both Spartans. My eldest Victoria graduated in May of 2019. My youngest is going into her senior year at MSU. And you know, they have such an Incredible Spartan experiences, they were both high level soccer players in high school and considered playing athletics when they were and figuring out what their next step career move was when they were considering college. And they decided, you know, I love soccer, but I love Michigan State University more, and I want to go to MSU. So they, they were super excited about the opportunity to come to Michigan State. And there's so many women and men who have that experience. And we all want to support different areas of Michigan State and athletics is certainly one of them. I mean, my daughter, Catherine was home for a long weekend when I had my interview for this position. When I visited with Mel Tucker, it was over zoom. And my daughter was so incredibly excited that Mel Tucker was talking to her mom at that moment in time. I mean, she was literally sitting outside of my office door while I was having this interview, eavesdropping on our call. And so I actually said something to coach Tucker. And he said, Really, you think she's right outside your door? And I said, Oh, I'm absolutely certain know that she sees stropping driving me nuts. And he said, invite her in. And I said, Hey, cat, and she's like, yeah, I mean, she literally was right outside my door, I said, Coach Tucker wants you to come in and say hi. I mean, I just could not have orchestrated it any better. She walked in with her Puppy was extra large, green MSU football sweatshirt on, I kid you not. And she was just googly eyed over the opportunity to talk with Coach Tucker, and have a few moments with him. And she shared with her the experiences that she's had on campus and how such a huge part of her college experience is going to football games with her friends and cheering for her Spartans and cheering for Spartans for football games. And I mean, whatever sport that we're doing fluellen frankly, they get so excited and want to support their fellow student athletes. So you know, that experience is multiplied, it's, it's so many alumni have that experience, and they want to be a part of the excitement, they want to be a part of the transformation on campus, and we want to be a part of the opportunity to help our student athletes be the best that they can. So I just think that being a woman, it's exciting that I'm the first one to have the Spartan fund. But I don't think it's particularly unusual or strange. I mean, we're just all people trying to figure out how to make our university better. And I just happen to be a female leading the Spartan fund.

Unknown Speaker 22:47
No, I couldn't agree more. And we're thrilled to have you. So we usually wrap up these conversations with, with a couple of questions that may be a little off beat or off the wall. And so given your your many, many years in the College of Music, but but since since you're leaving the college, maybe this is a little bit more of a fair question than it would have been if you were there. What's your What's your favorite kind of music?

Unknown Speaker 23:19
Oh, well, I guess I'd say I have to so I love chamber music. I have actually grown to love chamber music because of my experience in the College of Music. And my other one would be jazz I Rodney Whitaker and the professors of jazz are just so outstanding. I love going to jazz concerts. I love the improvisation that they do in the talking that they have in the relationship that they build while they're on stage playing their instrument. And so I guess I'd say jazz and, and chamber music. Those are my favorites.

Unknown Speaker 23:54
Well, and two areas in which we we certainly excel at Michigan State and anybody that hasn't heard Rodney and his jazz group is really, really missing something. That's an extraordinary part of our community saw me and in the same sort of context. Is there a Is there a sport that you that you like to participate in or a particular sport you like to watch?

Unknown Speaker 24:20
Well, a sport I like to participate in. It used to be racquetball but I don't really play that anymore. I'm, I have for the last couple of years I've been involved with the orange theory fitness area, so I try and go and get my workout in at the East Lansing orange theory fitness. I love the coaches over there. They're fabulous. Liz is my girl. And I love watching MSU football. I mean, I've watched MSU football pretty much my entire life. Like as I said, My father was professor at MSU and I remember going to football games all the time. I mean, I'm talking we got in at halftime for free when I was a kid Times have changed a lot. I remember Do you remember the little, the little bags of Carmel corn and they used to be in the wax paper. Oh my god, I love that my sister and I used to carry in bags and bags, huge bags of toilet paper. And we always watch the games from the upper deck. And whenever we'd score a big touchdown to you know, go ahead in the game, we would throw toilet paper over the the bow of the upper deck into the lower bowl. Do you remember that at all? I mean, we did that all night. We did that. We do that all the time. With there's no way you could do that today. Right? So remember that. I remember that. I remember. The Smart marching band playing the fago song like no one knows the fago song anymore. I love that that was so cool. I remember one game in particular, my sister and I my twin sister loosened up. We were at a game with my father. He went all the time every home football game, and it was freezing out. And we probably wish that we hadn't gone to this game. Right. So so called. And we always set me up for debt because my dad could get a better view of the game. He always wanted to be in the upper deck. And we were begging him to go home early. I actually shared this with Mel Tucker also on he said, Wait, you want to leave the game early. You're supposed to leave the game early and like we were in the third grade, right? We were freezing. We wanted to go home. So my father was like, you know, Adam, and I'm not leaving the game early and my mom wasn't there. And he finally walked us up to the very tippy top of the bleachers pointed in the directions of the faculty bricks, where we lived on campus and said if you want to go home, that's where we live, walk. And we live with each other my sister and I did we held hands and said we're out of here and figured out our way home. That was a part of my childhood. We love going to football games. I still do. I love basketball games, love going to hockey games. I've been to many soccer games because my kids were soccer. athletes and volleyball, super fun. And there's there's all sorts there's also I mean, anything Spartan is super fun. So

Unknown Speaker 27:18
well Rebecca, thanks so much for joining us today. Another great edition of MSU today and we so much appreciate you taking the time to be with us and we'll look forward to great things to come within the department of athletics. Thanks so much. Thank you. I appreciate it. Go Green. Go white.

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