Two SU alums, Dave Madsen, associate professor of history, and Gayatri Eassey, interim director of Career Services, are the co-chairs of this year’s Faculty and Staff Giving Campaign. Last year, an impressive 40 percent of SU’s faculty and staff gave to the campaign, yet Madsen and Eassey believe we can do even better this year. “We’re getting giving up this year,” Eassey says confidently. The co-chairs recently spoke about why faculty and staff giving is important, what brought them to SU as students and what keeps them coming back each day as employees. They even shared a few things about themselves that their colleagues might not know.
The Commons: Why did you both agree to take on this role?
Gayatri Eassey: The primary reason I agreed to do this is I think it’s the right thing to do because this institution continually invests and reinvest not only in our students, but in our faculty and staff. So as an employee, it’s just my small way of being able to give back for what I’ve been given, both as a member of the staff community, but also as an alum. The tradition of giving back began when I graduated and it’s been reinforced by my opportunity to be here as a staff member.
Dave Madsen: I was also a student here and was a recipient of scholarship assistance. A lot of my giving to the university is directed. I pick programs that I believe in very strongly and probably the majority of my giving goes to the library, because I believe the library is the heart and soul of a university.
The Commons: If you were trying to convince a colleague to contribute to the faculty and staff giving campaign, what would you say?
Madsen: In a year like this, I think it’s somewhat easier. To be perfectly honest, for reasons known only to God, despite the fact that we’ve got a huge deficit issue in this country, they’ve seen fit to reduce the Social Security taxes, and so there’s some extra cash out there that is not going to be a regular part of your income. So if you’ve learned to live with your salary as it is, this is sort of manna from heaven. This is an opportunity to develop a sense of giving back. The other part of it is there’s something special about Seattle University that I want to celebrate.
Eassey: One of the things that started when I joined Career Services three years ago is our office got more engaged in supporting students in finding part-time jobs while they’re going to school as well as full-time jobs after graduation, so I’m often on the other side of a conversation with a student that’s not about thousands and millions of dollars. It’s about how do I find a couple hundred extra dollars in a given quarter to get me through so that I can have a holistic experience at this institution. These conversations constantly remind me that every dollar counts.
I don’t think that the goal or the purpose of faculty and staff giving is to close a budget gap. We’re not the university’s largest donors, but we’re the university’s most important donors, because if we don’t believe and invest in what we see every day, I’m not sure why anyone else should.
I think the other thing I like to point out to my colleagues is, “How many free lunches did you get last quarter?” (Laughs) I just can’t help myself. We also have so many employees here who receive the tuition benefit. I’m one of those—I’m an MBA student about six classes away from completion—and that gift, the gift of tuition, is an indescribable opportunity that wouldn’t be provided to me otherwise.
The Commons: Let’s shift gears a little bit here. Since, as you mentioned, you were both students here, what made you decide to enroll at SU in the first place?
Madsen: (Laughs) I was going to major in a rather esoteric field, and SU offered it, and not only did they offer it but they offered me scholarship aid. I couldn’t believe that, having abandoned the seminary, someone was actually going to support my choice to study Latin and Greek. It was kind of a no-brainer. I also have to admit that I had applied to the University of Washington, which would’ve been significantly cheaper. But going from a graduating high school class of 19, I thought SU would be a better transition for where I was coming from because of its size.
Eassey: I actually transferred to Seattle University. I came in as a sophomore student and moved from California. Similarly, I applied to Seattle University and the University of Washington. I remember getting financial aid letters from both schools on the same day, and while I still had to pay a decent amount for my education at Seattle University, the whole package was arranged for me. I got a lot of scholarship support and I got some government loans that Seattle U set up. When I think back about that decision, I just feel like Seattle U, before I even accepted as a student, invested in me and was encouraging me to succeed. It immediately felt like Seattle University was the right place for me to be, and I have never for a second regretted that decision. I think Seattle University found me more than I found it.
Madsen: The other thing for me is that when I was leaving Seattle University as a graduate, I don’t think I could’ve named it but I knew I had experienced something here that I really liked. And therefore, when I was thinking about teaching as a career, I knew this was the kind of place at which I wanted to teach. So when it comes to supporting the institution, it’s very natural. This is a place that impressed me then and there are a lot of things that continue to impress me now.
The Commons: So what keeps you coming back here every day as faculty and staff members?
Madsen: Tenure. (Laughter)
Eassey: I think for me it’s a cycle of continued reinvest of both me and my skill set into this institution, but also a reciprocation of that investment. Personally, that manifests itself in the opportunity to be an MBA student at night, and that’s an opportunity that just wasn’t in the cards before I was a staff member here. And I know that’s the story for so many of my colleagues—that doors open for you here, whether you are a student, faculty member or staff member. This institution is continuously investing in you.
What keeps me here is I feel invested as a member of this community and, in turn, I’m able to invest in our students in a way that I know matters. To see an SU student get a job they thought one day they might get is a really cool thing to be a part of, or to see them get into the grad school they’d been dreaming about, or connect the dots—to see a student change majors and feel really excited about that decision. Those processes of discernment around a student’s career are, for me, so fulfilling.
The Commons: How about you, Dr. Madsen? What keeps you here—besides tenure, of course?
Madsen: Students, students, students—that’s what it’s all about. First of all, they keep me young. But quite apart from that, I love working with our students. And I’m a little spoiled in the sense that I get to work with the Naef Scholars. I get to work with the kids in the Honors Program. People don’t take Latin for fun, so most of my students are very strong, very committed and increasingly very active people on campus. They’re energetic, they’re alive, they’re bright, they ask good questions, and I can’t think of a better way to spend your time. You don’t pay me to teach. That’s the fun part. You pay me to grade papers.
Eassey: We survey students after they’ve left the institution about where they are, what they’re doing and how they feel they’re carrying forward the mission of the university. One of my favorite aspects of working in the Career Center is getting to do the analysis of that. So, for me, it’s a combination of the student experience while those students are here, but just as much if not more so, it’s the impact our students continue to make in communities across the globe. When I invest my own dollars in the students of this institution, my reach is endless. Our alumni do incredible things, and it’s because they started here. Yes, they are incredible people, but it was the combination of those incredible people coming to this incredible campus that creates the level of impact you see, not just in Seattle but literally all over the globe. I run into our alumni all the time, and the first thing they say is, “Seattle University changed my life and here’s how.” I know people are often moved by their college experience and it’s a formative time, but I think Seattle U moves our students in a particularly unique way.
The Commons: So how about some fun facts. What do you like to do in your spare time?
Madsen: I’m the vice president and trail master for a walking club here in Seattle, so I walk at least five kilometers a day, Monday to Friday. I walk at least 10 kilometers a day on Saturday and Sunday. The club helps organize these walks. The other thing I do is read. Read, read, read.
The Commons: What are you reading now?
Madsen: I’m reading a book called Illustrado that won the Man Asian Literary Prize. It’s about the last 150 years of Philippines history and culture. The New York Times, every November, the Sunday after Thanksgiving, publishes in its Book Review a list of the most notable books of the year. So I go through and, in batches of 10, I reserve them at the library, so I’m now on number eight of the first batch of 10. I’ve read some that are very good. I just finished one that I thought was appallingly bad. But this Illustrado is looking very, very interesting.
Eassey: Well, in all my spare time of working and being a student here, I serve as a trustee for Seattle Community Colleges. It’s a really interesting way to see higher education and an interesting lens back on this institution. So that takes up a decent amount of time. I also work with the YWCA and co-chair a committee that’s working to get younger women engaged in philanthropy to the YWCA. The ideal way for me to spend time is traveling. I travel whenever I can, whether it’s a weekend trip to Walla Walla or Spokane, or a couple weeks off to India or Thailand. I love to travel. And boy, do I love to read. There just hasn’t been a lot of leisure reading taking place lately. I’m currently reading about how to write a business plan, which is obviously for class. It doesn’t sound nearly as much fun as Dr. Madsen’s book.
Madsen: Another thing is my wife and I do a lot of drama around town. We’ve been attending the Intiman and the Seattle Rep for about 20 years. In the evening, because my wife goes to bed at 7 o’clock, I take a lot of students to concerts. If it was written before 1800, I’m all over it.
The Commons: Is there anything about you that your colleagues would be surprised to know?
Eassey: I am an amateur of amateurs aspiring Bollywood dancer. I am taking a class and I have the videos at home, but it’s going to be a while before that skill is really cemented.
The Commons: We’ll be sure to keep an eye on your ballroom dancing career.
Eassey: The other thing people might be surprised to know because I know a lot folks love to do it is that aside from Indian food, I cannot cook. But I own that…I own that. I can make a wonderful Indian meal, great Indian curries, but send me into the kitchen to make lasagna or some eggs and it just never turns out right.
The Commons: Dr. Madsen?
DM: I collect Northwest landscape art. We have about 15 or 16 paintings. My wife tells me we have no room in the house for art. I tell her that when you go to a gallery, you don’t ask where it goes. You ask if you like it and then after you’ve bought it, then you worry about where there’s room for it. I know absolutely nothing about art—and music for that matter—but I know what I like, so I’m a collector.