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Philanthropy Impacts Students

April 17, 2018
woman with papers
Heather Baker has benefitted from philanthropy to UW and plans to give back by joining the Peace Corps or Teach For America. (Photo by Adam Herrera)

Senior communication major Heather Baker epitomizes how philanthropy helps students—and how students aid in philanthropy. 

By Tamara Linse 

Heather Baker, a University of Wyoming senior from Cheyenne, loves talking to people. “I talk a lot,” she says with a grin. Which makes sense—Baker is a communication major at the UW, and she is good at what she does. 

Articulate and vivacious, Baker has been a Cowboy Caller for the UW Foundation, a marketing coordinator and an Alternative Spring Break leader for SLCE (Service, Leadership and Community Engagement), a tutor for the TRIO program and the Oral Communication Center, and a “brother” for the business fraternity Alpha Kappa Psi.

She also has completed an internship at Disney in Florida and has been on a number of education-abroad and service trips—to Puerto Rico, India, Northern Ireland and the Wyoming Women’s Center. “(The trip to Puerto Rico) was one of the first times I realized what a privilege education is,” she says.

Baker has dedicated her life to doing good in the world, and education is the area that will have the biggest impact, she believes: “People have to have education. If people don’t know their rights, they don’t know what they deserve. They can’t protect themselves from abuse.”

Giving back is a tradition in her family. Her parents met in Wyoming while working as U.S. Forest Service range and forestry technicians and fighting fires. Her dad and sister are nurses, and her mom has worked for Head Start and in public relations at the Cheyenne Regional Medical Center. Her uncle and aunt were in the Peace Corps in Africa.

Baker is an excellent example of how donors’ gifts impact UW students and how students give back to the university they love. 


Approximately 95 percent of UW’s first-time, full-time students receive scholarships and/or financial aid—over a $110-million-a-year total from federal support, the state and the state block grant, scholarships and other sources.

UW offers scholarships based on merit, on financial need or to specific student populations, and students are automatically considered for scholarships they qualify for that don’t require applications. These include the Hathaway, the Trustees’ Scholars and the Alumni Association Scholarship.

Named for former Gov. Stan Hathaway, the Hathaway was established by the state Legislature and offers three tiers of support, depending on merit and need. It’s available to all Wyoming residents.

While the Hathaway was created by the state, many scholarships are created by donors—donors love to support students directly through scholarships. 

The Alumni Association Scholarship is an example of a donor-supported scholarship. It goes to undergraduates and graduate students, in-state and out-of-state students, community college transfers, nontraditional students, veterans and multicultural students. Recipients are selected based on academic excellence, leadership and extracurricular activities. This past year, 145 students received this award.

Over the years, more than 900 UW endowments that provide scholarships and other student support have been created by donors, and countless students have benefited from this generosity. Last year alone, donor philanthropy resulted in more than $17 million in scholarship support for students.

In her four years at UW, Baker has benefited from the Hathaway, Wyoming Scholars Award, ASUW Service Exchange Endowment Scholarship, Dick and Lynne Cheney Study-Abroad Scholarship, Honors Program Scholarship, UW Gold Awards and RSO Discretionary Fund, as well as the Amy and Eric Burger Fund, which supports students in communication and journalism.

“Those scholarships make it so my money can go toward traveling because my education is covered by them,” she says. 


In addition to scholarships, students benefit from fellowships, which offer vital support for graduate students and their research. 

These fellowships are important for a number of reasons. First, their support allows students to focus on their education, rather than putting food on the table. Second, through their graduate work, students are able to network with other professionals, gain much-needed job experience and advance their careers in other ways, such as being published and presenting papers at conferences.

Third, in order for science and technology to advance, professors and researchers need graduate students to help them with everything from teaching classes to working in the lab. Research takes time, and graduate students are often the ones who perform the most time-consuming tasks. 

Education Abroad

Donor funds support students in their extra-academic experiences, which augment their educations and give them a leg up in their careers. These include attending conferences, faculty-led expeditions and education-abroad opportunities. 

Baker has taken full advantage of education abroad, which she hopes to continue throughout her life: “I love traveling. I like going places that challenge my thought process and that make me think about what is right and what is wrong.”

All three of Baker’s education-abroad trips were supported by the Dick and Lynne Cheney Study-Abroad endowment. Thanks to the Cheneys, UW has one of the largest land-grant university study-abroad scholarship endowments in the nation, as well as the Cheney International Center. 

Former Vice President Dick Cheney said at the center’s grand opening: “We hope that the center will provide the kind of support for Wyoming students to travel overseas and study internationally and to learn a lot of the lessons we’ve learned over the years—that it will be the kind of facility that will add a significant dimension to education here at UW.”

“Philanthropy helps us connect with other countries because it encourages us to learn about them from their own perspective, instead of from our perspective,” Baker says. “Philanthropy encourages you to care about people.” 

Other Support

There are many other ways donors impact students. Donors support professors and their research, and often it’s corporations and foundations that step up with larger gifts that go toward programs, research, facilities and faculty—which benefits students. Such laboratories include the Shell 3D Visualization Center, the Encana Research Laboratory and the planned Drilling Systems Simulation Laboratory. These provide venues for students to network and hone their skills for their future careers.

UW also partners with corporations for cutting-edge research that creates programs and builds facilities from the ground up. Recently, the Energy Innovation Center, the Michael B. Enzi STEM Facility and the High Bay Research Facility were created through partnerships, as well as the upcoming Engineering Education and Research Building.

Donor philanthropy comes in many forms. Every year, donors give annual gifts that provide expendable funds that go directly to the colleges or programs of their choice. They may establish an endowment that provides funds in perpetuity, supporting many students year after year. They may decide to include UW in their estate plans, which is a particularly thoughtful way to impact Wyoming’s university.

Donors often give through Cowboy Call. A student voice of UW, Cowboy Call plays a vital role in establishing, maintaining and reconnecting alumni, parents and friends who generously support UW through annual giving.

Enthusiastic and proud UW students such as Baker gather to offer UW supporters the opportunity to share college memories, to find out what’s new on campus and to offer gifts in direct support of UW’s colleges, departments and programs. Each year, thousands of generous donors provide gifts through Cowboy Call alone.

“Cowboy Call spoke to me because I think it’s a very important skill to be able to cold call individuals you’ve never talked to and to hold a nice conversation with them,” Baker says. “I love the job. It’s been a 98 percent positive experience, and 2 percent learning how to deal with people who don’t want to talk with you.”

Students like Baker give back to the university in so many ways. They support Wyoming’s university by attending. They contribute their energy and their time as student workers. Once they graduate, they stay connected to their alma mater, even giving back by becoming donors themselves. And they go out and make the world a better place.

“I was born in a beautiful place,” Baker says. “I was born into a family that has enough money and privilege (for me) to get an education, so I really want to help others be able to do that if that’s what they desire.”

Help she will. After graduation this spring, Baker hopes to work for the Peace Corps in either Peru, Costa Rica or Guatemala. If that doesn’t work out, her backup plan is Teach for America. After that, she hopes to work in the nonprofit sector.

Baker believes in the power of philanthropy: “Philanthropy and your career are the two ways you can help people. What you do to make money and what you do with your free time are two ways to divide your life, and so philanthropy can be 25 percent of that if you’re lucky. Philanthropy is 25 percent of giving your life to other people.”

You Can Study Abroad

Heather Baker, who has studied abroad multiple times, wants other students to know that education abroad is possible for everyone, even if you have limited means: “With the funds that donors give to the university and the willingness of the university to help students travel, it’s possible. You can do it.” She urges those who are interested to contact the Cheney International Center or another student who has experienced study abroad. Visit to learn more.

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