Gusties Raise $500K for First-Generation Students in One Evening 

Royal Affair Gala also added $150,000 to the Gustavus Library Associates Endowment Fund
Posted on November 15th, 2022 by

First-generation Gusties Brenna Germscheid ’23, Anahi Rubalcava Ortiz ’23, and Cristina Sirbu ’24 with Gus

In a welcome return to in-person philanthropy, A Royal Affair—the Gustie Gala raised more than $500,000 on Saturday, Nov. 12 to support scholarships for first-generation Gustavus students, and another $150,000 for the Gustavus Library Associates (GLA) Endowment Fund. The Folke Bernadotte Library is celebrating its golden anniversary in 2022 and has long been acknowledged as a foundation of academic excellence for the College. The funds raised by A Royal Affair contribute 25 percent to the Library’s acquisition budget.

Approximately 600 alumni, faculty, parents and other benefactors donned their festive finest to celebrate at the Bloomington JW Marriott for the first time since 2019. They were joined by almost 100 volunteers, including dozens of students, who helped organize and run the silent auction and make the evening a first-class success for the Library and for the first-generation students who currently comprise about 10 percent of the College’s total enrollment. Gustie mom Belinda Jensen, KARE 11 TV’s chief meteorologist, emceed the proceedings and shared her own rewarding experience as a parent of current Gustie student and baseball player Tanner Hopkins ‘25, and local party band Big Toe and the Jam provided the rousing musical entertainment with alum Matt Bergman ’07 on saxophone. (His Gustie mom is President Rebecca Bergman.)

The overall amount of $660,350 was the most this benefit has raised since it started in 1978, and it underlined the Gustavus commitment to attracting and supporting first-generation college students with high academic ability and significant economic need. The College’s First Forward Network provides sustained and intentional support for first-generation student scholars at Gustavus. The guidance and resources are designed to help these students transition from high school to college, and as they continue to navigate their journey through Gustavus.

Even though the College has a long history of retaining and graduating first-generation college students within four years, it has only been in the last several years that the school has been more intentional about building better support systems for these students. In addition to leveraging A Royal Affair toward these scholarships, this past spring, Gustavus inducted its first class of members into Alpha, Alpha, Alpha, a national honor society for first-generation college students. 

The evening’s highlight was the stirring presentation from Brenna Germscheid ’23, Cristina Sirbu ’24, and Anahi Rubalcava Ortiz ’23, who shared their moving accounts of clearing significant financial and emotional hurdles to become the first members of their respective families to attend college. In introducing the students’ presentation, President Rebecca Bergman said, “Gustavus students are caring and compassionate. They are driven and dynamic. They passionately seek justice, and they tirelessly advocate for others. They are heart-and-soul-determined to make the world a better place, and through their determination, they inspire me to do more every day.”

The three women seamlessly related their personal stories of having encountered and overcome numerous obstacles to become accomplished undergrads. “Before thinking about what I would say to you tonight, I didn’t think I had a story to tell. But I do,” Anahi said. “[When I first arrived at Gustavus], I had doubts, like maybe I wasn’t as smart as other students since my family can’t relate to my academic struggles. I felt insecure about participating in class. But I have been surrounded with support by my Gustavus friends and the faculty.” The honor student, a double major in sociology/anthropology and individualized public health, told the crowd how she’s paid forward this support by recruiting two high school friends, also first-generation students, to Gustavus.

Cristina’s family came to the U.S. from Moldova, and she didn’t speak English when they arrived. She recounted how the universal language of music gave her the foundation and confidence to work toward becoming a successful double major in philosophy and Russian Eastern European Studies—as well as an active theater participant and member of the Gustavus Philharmonic Orchestra—all of which serve her future goals as a social justice-focused attorney. “I have seen the struggles of those living in lower-income countries like Moldova, and I want to find a way to use my education to help those with fewer resources,” she said. “I know I can’t change the whole world, but I believe I can help a small portion of it.”

Brenna calls herself the “quintessential choir kid” from Minnesota. The biology and environmental studies double major has embraced the entire Gustie experience through her sorority, her work in the Campus Safety Office and as a tour guide—and, of course, as an alto in the Gustavus Choir. Although she won’t graduate until next spring, Brenna has already leveraged an internship at 3M into a full-time job as a product engineer of medical devices once she’s finished school. “As first-gen students, we have different kinds of pressure from our families,” Brenna said. “We have pressures we put on ourselves to make our families proud. We have pressures to be the best we can be because we know we are the model for others. The biggest thing my family worried about was our financial ability to have me go here to school. When I was told that it was a possibility because of scholarships and because of donors like you who truly care about the students, I was amazed.”

All three women agreed that without scholarships such as the funds raised by A Royal Affair, their Gustavus experience would have been impossible. “Your willingness to help us and future first-gen students is more than giving money. It is giving an opportunity for us and future generations of students to follow their dream,” Cristina said. “And you just wait, we are going to change the world.”

 

 

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Media Contact: Director of Media Relations and Internal Communication Luc Hatlestad
luch@gustavus.edu
507-933-7510

 

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