August 24, 2011

Unity College receives $10 million gift

Anonymous donation touches off big celebration at school

UNITY -- Sustainable education at Unity College just became a whole lot more sustainable.

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HUGE NEWS: Unity College instructor Jeremy Cass raises his arms and cheers as other students and faculty react to the announcement that the college will receive $10 million from an anonymous donor. President Stephen Mulkey delivered the news at the school on Tuesday.

Staff photo by David Leaming

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BIG ANNOUNCEMENT: Unity College President Dr. Stephen Mulkey was pleased to announce a gift of $10 million for unrestricted endowment from an anonymous donor on Tuesday at the Unity Centre for the Performing Arts.

Staff photo by David Leaming

Last week a lawyer called college President Stephen Mulkey and asked if he was sitting down. The attorney told Mulkey that a Mainer who believes in the school's mission of sustainability was donating $10 million to the college.

Mulkey, who has been on the job about six weeks, announced the gift during his first state of the college address Tuesday morning at the Unity College Centre for the Performing Arts.

A moment of stunned silence, then gasps, cheers and applause erupted from staff, community members and students packed into the 250-seat auditorium.

The gift is unprecedented in the 500-student college's 45-year history and, according to Robert J. Constantine, Unity's vice president for college advancement, will more than triple its existing endowment of $2.8 million and create $500,000 in additional annual operating revenue.

The anonymous donor is not a graduate of the college but does have a connection to it and is interested in higher education for Maine students, Constantine said.

Jen Olin, the school's community-based learning coordinator, said the college has been a well-kept secret in western Waldo County for a long time and that the timely gift gives viability to the vision of sustainability and will allow the college to realize more of its goals.

The gift could also thrust the school into the spotlight.

"Folks, Unity College has truly arrived," said Mulkey.

"The publicity associated with this gift will raise the profile of Unity College nationally and, more importantly, among our students and their parents," he said.

Larry Sterrs, chairman and chief operating officer of the Unity Foundation, said not having to constantly worry about paying bills allows educators the opportunity to focus on academic pursuits.

"Money doesn't buy happiness, but it can be a down payment," Sterrs said.

Gary Zane, dean of student affairs and a former coach and athletic director, said the announcement gave him goose bumps.

"I think it's a tribute to the past hard work and it bodes well for the future," he said.

Jean English, an adjunct professor of horticulture, agreed that the gift is recognition and validation for what a lot of people have believed in and worked toward for the past four decades.

The opportunity to join Unity College's community was a logical extension of Mulkey's life's work in ecology and climate change.

"Indeed, I can think of no better definition of meaningful work than the ongoing mission of Unity College," he said. "Sustainability is the fiber of our being,"

He added, "I don't have to sell the environmental mission here. People here embrace it."

Climate change and resource depletion, said Mulkey in his address, "Sustainability for the 21st Century," are grave challenges and students at Unity "know in their bones that the world that they are inheriting is not well, and that fixing the environment is, in the broadest sense, the cure."

Toward that end, Mulkey said the donation will allow Unity to hone its curriculum and educate students for sustainability professions of the 21st century.

"The silver lining in what seems to be a dark cloud on the horizon is that the green economy continues to grow," he said. "The rise of the green economy is the ticket to the future."

Unity College, which bills itself as "America's environmental college," was founded in 1965 on 225 acres of farmland overlooking Unity Pond. It has about 60 faculty. Majors include adventure education leadership, aquaculture and fisheries, wildlife care, conservation law enforcement, ecology, environmental policy and law, forestry, marine biology and sustainable design and technology.

Beth Staples -- 861-9252

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