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Committee drums up financial aid support

Students' e-mail inboxes, normally diluted with invitations and advertisements for low mortgage rates, have recently included requests of a different sort.

An e-mail signed by Johnny Dawkins, assistant head coach for men's basketball, was sent to all students encouraging support for the Duke Financial Aid Initiative via online petition.

The Nov. 23 request was followed by a second e-mail six days later.

"Financial aid can change people's lives," Dawkins, Trinity '86, wrote, noting that he would not have been able to attend Duke without it.

The petition was sponsored by the Financial Aid Initiative Student Advisory Council, a newly formed group of 22 undergraduates that was organized this semester.

A much-heralded new fundraising project, the Financial Aid Initiative is the first large-scale fundraising campaign President Richard Brodhead has undertaken since coming to Duke in July 2004.

"The idea is to make sure Duke never has to close its doors to students with talent because of family circumstances," Brodhead told The Chronicle in September.

FAISAC Co-Chair Mary Ervin, a junior, said the petition is meant to act as a message to the administration that the Council is willing to help in any way it can.

"We just want to show the donors that the student body really supports this Initiative," she said.

Susan Ross, director of financial aid development, said the petition is part of a larger effort to increase the campus visibility of financial aid, both from the perspectives of students and potential donors. The petition will be presented to President Richard Brodhead tonight, at a gala dinner that will officially launch the Initiative, she said.

Called "A Celebration of Duke Scholarships," the evening will be moderated by former CNN anchor Judy Woodruff, Trinity '68, and attended by some 330 Board of Trustees' members, potential donors and current students.

Even with the pair of e-mails and the Council's production of buttons to promote its cause, less than half of the undergraduate student body has signed the petition.

Ervin said many students still may not know enough about it to feel comfortable signing.

"We didn't really have a set goal. This is just something we tried," she explained, adding that the students from the Council will be tabling outside the West Union Building for the remainder of the week to raise awareness.

Ross has been working on the Initiative since January 1.

"We've been delighted by the response," she said, although she declined to reveal specific monetary goals in advance of tonight's launch.

Ross said undergraduate financial aid represents the fastest growing part of the operating budget.

The University spent $48.6 million on it last year alone, and "resources have been strained by the increased need," she added.

All money from the Initiative will be invested as "permanent endowment," she said, and only earnings from the principal will be spent.

Ross noted that less than 10 percent of funds from the "Campaign for Duke"-which raised almost $2.4 billion-went toward financial aid.

"In the past we have not pushed as hard exclusively for financial aid," she said.