The Western Washington University Annual Fund conducted its first-ever crowdfunding campaign recently to raise money for a cutting-edge microscope for WWU biology students.
When Biology Department chair Joann Otto told University Advancement in December that she had been raising money to get a Leica DMi6000 microscope at a massive $50,000 discount (it normally retails for $113,184), Advancement added up donor and department contributions and realized it was $20,000 short. To meet the seller’s deadline, the WWU Annual Fund implemented a crowdfunding campaign via GoFundMe to complement email solicitations.
Crowdfunding is gaining momentum, particularly among young philanthropists. The ability to send an appeal to a specific population – in this instance, all WWU biology alumni and as well as selected other science graduates – using a recognized social media platform, made this the perfect pilot project. The results were resoundingly successful as the goal was met and the microscope purchased within one week.
“It was a very effective, very cool effort, and we made a priceless investment,” Otto said. “This microscope strengthens our student training in modern instrumentation and will immediately impact 20 to 30 students each year in teaching and research labs. It will also impact several hundred students in Introductory Cell and Molecular Biology who will use the images and videos produced by upper division students.”
Danielle Bowley, a junior and molecular and cell biology major ,and senior Graeme Campbell, a biology major, used the microscope recently to study mice fibroblast cells as part of their work in Biology 484.
“Having this microscope, which provides such vivid imagery, lets us really visualize the cells we’re learning about," Campbell said. "And one of the cool things about the microscope being hooked to the computer is that you can take as many shots as you want in 3D. It’s such a difference to looking through the eyepiece at a grey image.”
“It’s just so easy to use,” she said. “It’s the first time I’ve ever come across a microscope like this, and it’s incredibly user-friendly – it makes me want to stay here all day and look at cells. I love it.”
The state-of-the-art purchase means that WWU has the most cutting-edge, highly-efficient technology for looking at cells with different kinds of optics: on a regular microscope, you have to manually reset everything; this microscope does it automatically.
“We can do experiments that we simply did not have the capacity to do,” Otto said. “It’s allowing us to see the cell in multiple ways with one piece of equipment and doing it in real time, in multiple dimensions. This kind of opportunity provides Western students with the skills and professional preparedness that leads directly to coveted biotech jobs.”
And the impact, Otto added, extends beyond Western walls.
“With this kind of support, and this kind of equipment, WWU continues not just to give our students the experiential education that they deserve, we also continue to support the advancement of scientific research and the improvement of STEM education for Washington state.”
University Advancement and the WWU Annual Fund plans to continuing utilizing crowdfunding for appropriate university projects to augment existing methods for securing support for students, faculty and programs. During fiscal year 2015, the WWU Annual Fund generated more than 14,000 gifts from 9,450 donors. This effort raised a total of $2.62 million, marking a 3-percent increase over the previous year and the highest annual fund total since 2008.