During department Chapel on Tuesday, Dr. Cheryl Bacon, professor and chair of the department of journalism and mass communication, announced that the JMC department received a donation of $500,000.
Elise Smith Mitchell, ACU alum and president and CEO of Mitchell Communications Group in Fayetteville, Ark., said she chose to make a donation to the JMC department because it changed her life and prepared her for her career in public relations.
“Supporting their work to prepare the next generation of leaders in my field is a great honor and just one small way I can try to repay the department for all they did to help me succeed,” Mitchell said. “I am particularity passionate about the student-run advertising and public relations agency, Morris & Mitchell, and wanted to ensure it would grow and thrive for many years to come.”
Mitchell called Bacon before Thanksgiving last year to offer the donation. Bacon informed the faculty of the donation the next week.
“I wanted to involve the faculty in thinking through priorities because she specifically wanted to help us address some unmet needs; things that we didn’t already have underway or didn’t already have fundraising underway for,” Bacon said.
She said the faculty brainstormed and established priorities, then she discussed the ideas with Mitchell. Bacon said the faculty were “thrilled.”
“It’s just such an amazing gift to an academic department,” Bacon said. “For an academic department to receive an unsolicited gift of that size is remarkable. It has never happened to us before.”
Bacon said half of the donated money will be used to create an endowment for Morris & Mitchell, the student-run advertising and public relations agency. She said the rest of the money will be used for three purposes.
“One, it’ll create a fund to help us better focus on diversity issues in curriculum and in instruction,” Bacon said. “That’s an important standard for accreditation. It’s one we have struggled with, and Elise is very passionate about diversity issues, so she has designated a portion of it for that.”
Bacon said a portion of the money will be used to create a new multimedia student entity for the multimedia majors. She said the money will also support Morris & Mitchell until the endowment “kicks in.”
She said when she made the announcement during Chapel, the students clearly recognized the magnitude of the gift.
Bacon said while she was researching Mitchell Communications Group she found a story about employees who were given the opportunity to give back to their community in Arkansas. She decided the JMC department should do something similar as a way of saying “thank you.”
“I just felt like, to honor her and thank her, but to do it in a way that would be meaningful to her, not just waving a banner or something, it should be something she would appreciate and that she would do. And she was elated,” Bacon said.
In response to the donation, students from three branches of the department found ways to give back to their community during an event called “Pay it Forward.”
After receiving the news of the donation, the students present at Chapel divided into three teams: Morris & Mitchell, KACU and the JMC Network/the Optimist. Each team received $200 cash and were instructed to go into the Abilene community and “pay it forward.” The groups left immediately after Chapel and were instructed to return by 1:30 p.m. to share their experiences.
Hailey Thompson, senior Ad/PR major from Allen and Morris & Mitchell account director, helped organize the Chapel and led the Morris & Mitchell group. Her group drove to Books-a-Million and bought bargain books to be donated to the “Alliance for Women and Children.” The books would be distributed among elementary schools in Abilene.
“The woman at the front desk was so sweet and so excited,” Thompson said. “She wanted to know all about what we were doing today and what the other groups were doing. She wanted our contact information so that she could send a thank you note.”
The KACU group drove to Hendrick Medical Center and met a woman in the emergency room who needed help paying her rent. They donated their $200 to pay for half of her rent.
The group from the JMC Network/the Optimist spent half of their money on five $20 Walmart gift cards, which they distributed to individuals in need throughout the store. They donated the remainder of their money to Meals on Wheels Plus.
Bacon said she sent Mitchell a text message later that day to explain what each group had done with their money.
“I was incredibly touched to hear from Cheryl about the ‘Pay it Forward’ event,” Mitchell said. “Giving is a priceless experience, and I am so glad that the department is showing students why it is important to be a leader who gives. It changes you for the good, and for good.”
Melany Cox and Kirsten Holman contributed to this report.
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