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Seattle University


Giving Back

Written by Mike Thee
March 26, 2012

A record-shattering 44 percent of Seattle University's employees contributed to last year's Faculty and Staff Giving Campaign. Can this staggeringly generous mark possibly be topped? This year's co-chairs, Phil Thompson and Penny Koch-Patterson, think so. Earlier this month they shared their aspirations for the campaign, what they value most about Seattle University, what their very first summer jobs were and more.

The Commons:  Can you tell us a little about your roles here at SU?

Phil Thompson:  I've been here for 15 years. I'm a professor and chair in civil and environmental engineering . I teach courses in environmental engineering and engineering economics and serve as the faculty advisor for Engineers Without Borders and World Water Partners.

Penny Koch-Patterson: I'm the associate director in the Center for Leadership Formation in Albers, and we run all the Executive Leadership programs-the Executive Leadership certificate, the Leadership EMBA and the new Health Leadership EMBA program. I work on the operational and business side of those programs. In addition to that, I'm in my second year as the faculty director for the Millie (Bown Russell Leadership) Living-Learning Community in Campion. I also teach business communication in Albers to sophomores and juniors.

The Commons:  So you're both very busy people-what made you say "yes" to being co-chairs of the Faculty and Staff Giving Campaign?

Penny Koch-Patterson:  I've been the Albers representative for the last two years on the faculty/staff campaign and in that role I've had an opportunity to really get to understand the importance of this effort. Even though I'm busy, I know it's such an important thing to be engaged with.

The Commons:  Phil, how about you-why'd you agree to take on this additional role?

Phil Thompson:  (Laughing) I can't say no to people. Seriously, though, it's something that I think is important. I've been donating to the university for a while now because I believe in it, and so maybe in some small way I can help.

The Commons:  As co-chairs, what are your aspirations for the campaign?

Phil Thompson:  If we could say as a university that 100 percent of our faculty and staff give to SU in some way, that would be a really powerful statement to our external donors. And it wouldn't be that hard to achieve it. Even if you just gave $10, it would be meaningful. I think it would be a great goal. I just think if I'm someone on the outside looking in and I see that 100 percent of faculty and staff are giving to Seattle University, "Wow, they must be doing something good there and I want to help contribute to that!"

Penny Koch-Patterson:  I like that…Ditto! (Laughs) And the message (having 100 percent of our faculty and staff donate) that would send to our students, not just undergraduate, but graduate students, too. Sometimes students don't fully see what faculty and staff do, but to know that everyone cares because they've given at least $10 or $15 to support student learning-I think that would be a really cool thing.

The Commons:  So if you were talking to someone who was reluctant to support the campaign and really pressed you on why they should be involved, what would you say?

Penny Koch-Patterson:  I'd ask why they were reluctant and if I knew something about them, I might explore other avenues. We had one staff person who wasn't very keen about  giving money to the campaign but this person is also very talented. So I asked "Can you give in other ways, like through your talents? Can you give that way?" So now this person has given gifts in kind for the past two years as their donation. A lot of our staff have great talents and could also give in this way. 

Phil Thompson:  I think a lot of people haven't considered giving. I've said this before, but I feel really fortunate to have the job that I have. And I'm not sucking up-it's true. I don't know that everybody feels that way, so how do you convince that person to give. That's a really hard question. I guess I would ask them if they could make something better at the university, what would it be and to make it better would they be willing to put a few dollars toward it to get the ball rolling.

The Commons:  What brought you here to SU-or what keeps you coming back day after day?

Phil Thompson:  When I was applying for jobs, this one was particularly appealing because it had a strong emphasis on undergraduate teaching. It's pretty rare when you look at all the jobs out there, not that many have that focus, and for some reason I really wanted to teach undergraduates in environmental engineering because I had an experience as a teaching assistant in graduate school that I really enjoyed-I mean I enjoyed it to the point that I couldn't stop talking about it. So that's what drew me to Seattle U, and since I've been here, it's been a very supportive work environment. I hope I'm able to carry that on through my role as department chair by supporting my faculty and students as much as I can.

The Commons:  Penny, what brought you here to SU-or what keeps you here?

Penny Koch-Patterson:  Well, I'm going to answer that more from what keeps me here because it was kind of random how I got here. (Laughs) Earlier this month we had an event for alumni of the Center for Leadership Formation. We had about 45 people show up out of the 370 total alumni we have, so it was a great turnout for us. We had a panel of four alumni and we asked them what they've done with their education what it's meant for them and what they would tell the generation following them. It was just inspiring to have an alumna say, "Because of my education here, I feel whole." Having that statement come unscripted means so much. And I hear that a lot; maybe not necessarily daily, but at least weekly, from my students and from alumni-be that the Millie students, the undergraduate students or the executive students I work with-and that makes every day worthwhile.

The Commons:  All right, how about some fun questions…what was your first job ever?

Penny Koch-Patterson:  Selling sweet corn off my front porch as a four-year-old. I'm not kidding! We had a small family farm in western New York.

The Commons:  Any experiences you remember from that?

Penny Koch-Patterson:  The one thing I remember, and I was probably a little older by this point, but people trying to pull the wool over my eyes because I was a kid and didn't think I'd be able to do math or give them the correct change or count the ears of corn correctly, and giving me a hard time about it. And I just learned how to hold my own and give them a hard time right back…in a very respectful manner.

The Commons:  Phil, how about you…your first job?

Phil Thompson:  My first official job was working for the McDonald's corporation at the busiest corporately owned store in Chicago. Started at the bottom; ended up at the bottom.

Penny Koch Patterson:  Making fries?

Phil Thompson:  I started working in the lobby-that's the first job, so all your friends can watch you sweep and mop. And then I went back into the grill area and washed dishes. Eventually I did everything. They wound up asking me to be a shift manager, so that's flipping a burger with a tie on.

The Commons:  Well, it seems like these early careers-Penny, your entrepreneurial sweet corn operation and, Phil, your restaurant management experience-have prepared you well for your newest roles as co-chairs of the campaign.

Phil Thompson:  (Laughs) Of course.

The Commons:  What do you like to do in your free time? Or, phrased another way, what would you like to do more of if you had the time?

Penny Koch-Patterson:  I'd like to spend more time with my husband and three-year-old, Henry. I'd also like to ski more-downhill-hiking…all those kinds of outdoorsy things. I am starting to read for pleasure for the first time in five years. I'm reading The Hunger Games-it's really thought-provoking.

The Commons:  What do you like to do in your free time, Phil?

Phil Thompson:  Hit the golf ball.

The Commons:  You just need one?

Phil Thompson:  Per hole.

The Commons:  Are you reading anything recreationally at the moment?

Phil Thompson:  I am. It's called Above All, Be Kind, and it's about raising kind children in this day and age and getting them off the computer. Teaching them values and what's really important in life.