Campus and Community

OU kicks off comprehensive campaign with Malcolm Gladwell visit

University leaders announce goal to raise $150 million over six years

Malcolm Gladwell

Journalist and author Malcolm Gladwell keynoted the gala kicking off OU's comprehensive campaign, "Aspire. Advance. Achieve."

icon of a calendarNovember 19, 2018

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OU kicks off comprehensive campaign with Malcolm Gladwell visit
Malcolm Gladwell

On Saturday, November 17, Oakland University staff, faculty and supporters gathered in the Founders Ballrooms of the Oakland Center to celebrate the public launch of the university’s largest-ever comprehensive campaign, “Aspire. Advance. Achieve.”   

Over the past two years, the university has raised more than $50 million in the “quiet phase” of the campaign. OU leaders have announced the goal of raising $150 million by the year 2024.  

Ora Pescovitz

OU President Ora Hirsch Pescovitz outlined the university's vision for its largest-ever comprehensive campaign, "Aspire. Advance. Achieve."

'We will reach for the stars'

“(OU founder) Matilda Dodge Wilson never shied away from a challenge,” said OU President Ora Hirsch Pescovitz, M.D. “Matilda liked to say that Oakland is a place where the aspiring will rise. With your help, we will not only rise, but we will reach for the stars.”

The black-tie gala was keynoted by journalist and bestselling author Malcolm Gladwell, who spoke about the importance of investing in higher education to benefit society. He brought up the story of education philanthropist Hank Rowan as an example of the profound impacts that philanthropic giving can have on institutions, particularly those with high growth potential.

Rowan's $100 million gift to what was then known as Glassboro State College – a small school with an endowment under $1 million – had a transformational effect not only on the lives of students, but on the entire community. Gladwell's keynote reflected his staunch belief in supporting the “broad middle,” rather than the elite.

“When we are faced with the issue of how we build a better and stronger society, what strategy do we take?” Gladwell asked attendees. “Do we think about the few? Or do we think about the many? Do we spend our time and attention on the narrow sliver at the top? Or do we spend our time and attention on the broad middle by making investments in the lives and training and expertise of the many people who collectively work to make this country better and stronger?” 

'Every dollar here is maximized'

President Pescovitz highlighted OU as an institution that, like Glassboro, has greatly benefited from generous donors and aspires to reach greater heights with continued philanthropic support. She pointed out that about 66 percent of OU's full-time undergraduates receive scholarships and grants and that almost all students work one or more jobs to make ends meet.

She also noted that nearly 30 percent of OU undergraduate students are the first in their families to attend college. Tony Sharpe, a senior musical theatre major, told the audience how he overcame a tumultuous childhood and embarked on a mission to become the first person in his family to earn a college degree. 

Tony Sharpe

Musical Theatre major Tony Sharpe explained how philanthropic giving helps students achieve their dreams.

“When I came here I was in a growth phase, needing assistance to go to the next level,” he said. “Oakland University is also currently going through a growth phase. We all know that it takes a village and then some to raise a child. Oakland is that child, eager to learn, hungry for growth and purpose.” 

Students like Sharpe are among the reasons why philanthropic support makes such a tangible and immediate impact at Oakland.

As President Pescovitz explained, “Every dollar here is maximized. Every dollar here goes further and faster, and every dollar here is put to work immediately. Investments in Oakland benefit not only our students, and not only our university but also our community. About 93 percent of our graduates stay right here in Southeastern Michigan. As Oakland University grows stronger and richer and more diverse through excellence in education, so does our community and so do we.”

She added, “Just as Glassboro needed Hank, we need you. We need you to be our friends, we need you to be our heroes, and we need you to be our champions. Your support will be the spark that ignites a transformation for Oakland, unlocking the talents of our students, elevating the talents of our faculty, creating opportunities for world-class research, and enhancing the community that all of us call home and changing the lives of all of us for the better. There simply is no more noble mission than that.”

The campaign is focused on five key areas:

  • Student success
  • Teaching, research and discovery
  • Community collaboration
  • Campus expansion
  • Innovative programs

During the gala, President Pescovitz announced several major gifts in support of the campaign. The event was sponsored by Presenting sponsor Oakland University Credit Union. Other sponsors included Achieve sponsors Beaumont Health and TIAA; Advance sponsor PwC; and Aspire sponsors Henry Ford Health System, Aptiv Foundation, Pino Insurance Agency, President Ora Hirsch Pescovitz and Dr. Daniel Gerard Walsh, and W. David and Reneé Tull and Richard L. DeVore.  

An Afternoon with Malcolm Gladwell 

Earlier in the day, Gladwell spoke to an audience of OU students in Dodge Hall. Honors College Dean Graeme Harper interviewed Gladwell about his life and career, with particular focus on topics presented in his books, articles and podcasts. 

Gladwell urged students to step out of their comfort zones and embrace challenges.

“Don't restrict yourself to things you think you'll be good at,” he said. “Learn stuff that's hard. Have the courage to experiment. Often, you will discover that what you thought you were mediocre at, you're not mediocre at. Our self-assessments are insanely inaccurate.”

Harper noted that Gladwell's message of exploration is very much in line with the spirit of intellectual growth fostered in The Honors College and throughout the university. 

“Oakland University is a place where students can pursue all sorts of paths, from research, to artistic endeavors, to study abroad and so much more.” Harper said. “When you think about the university's motto to 'seek virtue and knowledge,' there's no limits on that. There’s no limits on what our students can achieve.”

The event also included a question-and-answer session, book signing and an announcement of the winner and runners-up in the Big Ideas Oakland competition. The competition was sponsored by TIAA and invited Honors College students to submit 300-word essays on an idea that would benefit society. The competition was inspired by the Next Big Idea Club, which Gladwell co-founded with fellow authors Susan Cain, Adam Grant and Daniel Pink.

The runners-up were Olivia Bales (progressive brake lights for automobiles), Tyler Dixon (food allergy mobile app) and Erica Palise (virtual reality occupational therapy).

The winner was Marina Cox for her idea of a copper detector to protect people with Wilson’s Disease, a rare inherited disorder that causes copper to accumulate in the liver, brain and other vital organs. The toothpick-like copper detector would allow users to test foods for copper content. 

Looking ahead, the Aspire. Advance. Achieve. Student Celebration will take place from 11 a.m.–1 p.m. on Tuesday, November 27, next to the food court in the Oakland Center.

Learn more about the university’s comprehensive campaign at

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