The Illinois Engineering family includes more than 80,000 alumni around the world who continue to impact humanity in ways beyond measure. Many alumni choose to give back to the College to support our enduring legacy as leaders of innovation and discovery in research and scholarship. Here, we are pleased to share their stories.
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Katherine Coles Electrical Engineering '09
When Katherine Coles (BS Electrical Engineering, ’09) chose to make her first gift to her alma mater, she knew she wanted to give back to the scholarship that helped her. She received the Kirkwood Scholarship for Women in Engineering during her junior and senior years at Illinois.
Before receiving a Kirkwood Scholarship, Katherine faced circumstances that made her ineligible for financial aid. To save money, she dropped to part-time enrollment and worked two jobs to pay for tuition, fees, and living expenses. Her graduation timeline seemed out of sight.
One of Katherine’s favorite memories as a student is the afternoon she learned about her scholarship. “I was in Engineering Hall turning in my time card for working in the research lab, and an advisor asked me if I would like to receive a scholarship. I pretty much walked on air for about a week after that. It was an answered prayer in so many ways,” she said.
After receiving the news, she changed from a part-time to full-time student the same week and cut her hours at her jobs. The scholarship enabled her to take on more hours doing undergraduate research. “Receiving the Kirkwood Scholarship allowed me to finish school in a reasonable timeline, almost debt free,” Katherine explained.
Katherine graduated with a BS in Electrical Engineering from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in 2009 and an MS in Electrical Engineering from the University of Illinois Chicago in 2014. Since graduating, one of her financial goals was to contribute back to the Kirkwood Scholarship. Not only did this scholarship help her financially, but also the benefactors of the scholarship, Bruce and Linda Koe, have been incredible mentors and friends to Katherine both personally and professionally.
Recently, Katherine had dinner with Bruce and Linda Koe where they discussed Katherine’s desires to give back to the scholarship fund. The Koe’s explained the benefits of The Grainger Matching Challenge. This planted the seed that she could use this challenge to make her contribution have a more significant impact.
This past November, Katherine made her first gift to Illinois. "I knew about The Grainger Matching Challenge and knew I wanted to take advantage of it. What tipped me over the edge was that my employer, Motorola, participated in Giving Tuesday and offered an additional 50% matching opportunity. Combining everything tripled what my contribution would have been alone, and that felt so meaningful,” she shared.
Katherine hopes that her story inspires others to take advantage of tools like company matching and The Grainger Matching Challenge to maximize their impact.
Bruce and Linda Koe Mechanical Science and Engineering '66
"Since we have retired Linda and I have focused our efforts on supporting three of our passions: women in engineering, feeding the hungry, and helping immigrants to sustainability. We decided that rather than go on cruises or such that we wanted to give back. And we hope to be an example of giving back to our children, grandchildren and others … and inspire them to reach out and help others."
"We feel that each of us is called to give as we are able out of the many blessings we have received. In many ways it is we who have been blessed. It gives us a great deal of personal satisfaction to help immigrants, see the number of families we feed, and witness the accomplishments of the women engineers we have supported over the years … many of whom are the first in their families to attend college. Some of the graduates are already giving back to the University and some are now helping their siblings receive a college education. So the circle of giving goes on."
Education is a value that Larry (CEE '64, '65) and Rosalie Sur hold near and dear to their hearts. They also know that attending college does not come easily to many people because of the expense. It's an issue all too familiar to the couple because they both needed financial assistance to go to college.
Larry and Rosalie Sur both grew up in Effingham, Illinois. Larry wanted to become an engineer, so he applied to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and was admitted to the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. Rosalie received a teaching scholarship and attended Eastern Illinois University.
Larry received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Civil Engineering at Illinois. While he worked on his master’s, Rosalie taught elementary school in Champaign. Once Larry finished school, they moved to Michigan, where Larry took a job with the Whirlpool Corporation. Rosalie continued teaching in Michigan until the couple decided to start a family.
Their family has since grown to 16 members in their immediate family. Of the 16 people, there are five engineers. Two of their daughters are engineers, their son in law is an engineer, and their grandson just started college for engineering computing systems. Larry proudly shared, “I guess you can say it runs deep in our family.”
Larry and Rosalie are both retired now. They live in Wisconsin and escape the bitter winters to Florida. Although they do not live in the state, they hold the Illinois campus in their hearts. “I spent so much time while I was on campus working in the Department. When you spend so much time with a community, especially when you’re young, you develop a deep connection,” Larry shared.
The deep connection the couple feels to Engineering at Illinois inspired them to make a gift to the Engineering Visionary Scholarship Initiative. Since the Engineering Visionary Scholarship Initiative spans across the College, the couple was able to direct their gift to multiple areas of importance to them.
“We decided to direct our scholarship to Civil Engineering because that is the department I graduated from and I feel so much a part of,” said Larry. “We also give to the Department of Bioengineering because we feel this is a great program for the future. The combination of engineering and medicine is a wonderful thing.”
Bioengineering research holds a special place in Larry’s heart—literally. Larry’s heart has beat close to 500 million times over the last 15 years because of an artificial aortic heart valve. He also has an artificial knee. Both of these innovations allow him to enjoy his life to fullest and are products of the bioengineering industry. “It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you combine engineering and medicine,” said Larry.
The couple finds joy in supporting the next generation of Civil Engineers and Bioengineers through scholarships. “The engineering students are delightful. Through our discussions, I can see how much it means to them to earn their degrees. I think scholarships help motivate students. It makes them feel like they’re worth it and they are inspired to work as hard as they can,” shared Rosalie.
“For those that much has been given, much is expected. We give back to encourage the best and brightest to come to Engineering at Illinois,” Larry shared.
Nick Rivera Nuclear, Plasma, and Radiological Engineering '14
Nick Rivera (NPRE ’14) credits Illinois for giving him a strong foundation for success as a first-generation, Hispanic college student. The leadership skills he gained as a student have stuck with him as he entered the workforce.
Nick was actively involved in several student organizations on campus, including the Society of Professional Hispanic Engineers, the American Nuclear Society, Engineering Open House, and Engineering Council. He also received several meritorious honors on campus and was a member of the Undergraduate Scholars Program, the Morrill Engineering Program, and the Hoeft Technology and Management Minor.
One of Nick’s most noteworthy accomplishments was receiving an Engineering Visionary Scholarship. Although Nick paid for most of his education on his own through loans, savings and campus employment, he said the Engineering Visionary Scholarship gave him new opportunities.
“Receiving scholarships eliminated many of the financial obstacles and allowed me to focus more on academics and leadership roles,” he said.
Although he continues to pay toward his student loans, he has given back to Illinois. He doubled the impact of his gift by taking advantage of his company’s matching gift opportunity. Nick’s company matched his gift to Illinois dollar-for-dollar.
After benefiting from the Engineering Visionary Scholarship, Nick knows how important private support is, and hopes his story will inspire others to give and to look into their organization’s matching gift policy. “Every action you make contributes to the story of a student,” he said. “If you have the opportunity to visit the Illinois campus, take the time to hear those stories and further discover how your contributions are materialized.”