SGA co-presidents Christine Baer (left) and Carissa Harnish are leading a student campaign to benefit renovations to the Suter Science Center. At 1 p.m. on Saturday, April 5, pictured items from the science center's past will be auctioned off to raise money for the project. (Photo by Lindsey Kolb)

Student-led auction on April 5 will benefit science center campaign

EMU’s Thomas Plaza will be buzzing with activity on Saturday, April 5, when the Student Government Association (SGA) hosts an auction to benefit the Suter Science Center Campaign.

The auction, which begins at 1 p.m. on Thomas Plaza in front of the Campus Center, has been organized “in the spirit of the 1969 student library drive,” when the entire campus community, galvanized by student enthusiasm, raised $111,000 in four days. By doing so, they protected a major construction grant for the Hartzler Library, still in use today, and won glowing national headlines ($111,000 in 1969 would be worth well over $700,000 today).

Equipment from the Science Center, including eight microscopes (both full-size and miniature; most in their original wooden cases), will headline the auction, led by local auctioneer John Bowman.

One unique item will entitle the new owner to tell a funny story: Years ago, the planners of a donor appreciation dinner purchased what they assumed were “rosebud glasses” to garnish each table, emblazed with the blue seal of Eastern Mennonite College and Seminary. As it turned out, they had actually bought shot glasses.

Other items up for auction from the science center include ten of the greenhouse’s best plants, assorted science glassware (perfect for flower vases), two Margaret Gehman paintings, a hand thrown ceramic bowl by Jerry Lapp, an Esther Augsburger statue entiteld Robe of God and an astronomy course packet, including star charts, from the M.T. Brackbill era.

“It’s been great having the support of the development office, Science Center faculty and staff,” said SGA co-president Christine Baer, one of the auction’s organizers.

Organizers hope drive becomes template for future

Co-president Carissa Harnish said planners have been inspired by the 1969 campus-wide library fund drive since last fall.

“Organizing this drive has been a learning process,” Harnish said. “We’ve never done an auction on this scale before. Hopefully, this can be a template for student campaigns of the future.”

Also to be auctioned are donated items, including two nights’ lodging at a “tranquility guest suite” east of Harrisonburg and a copy of professor Howard Zehr’s recent book, Pickups, a Love Story. A “marketplace” of other items, including baked goods, will be for sale as well.

A matching grant will magnify the SGA’s fundraising efforts. For every $2 raised, an additional $1 will be added by the Marietta McNeill Morgan and Samuel Tate Morgan Foundation. A personalized letter has been sent to parents and families of students, announcing the student-initiated campaign and the matching grant.

“We’re delighted that SGA has taken the lead in mobilizing student support for the Suter Science Campaign,” says Kirk Shisler, vice president for advancement. “Students have expressed keen interest in this campaign since its inception, and it’s great that the student government leaders have stepped up to engage the larger student body in the effort.”

Fundraising efforts focus on west wing of science center

The Suter Science Center Campaign has reached and exceeded its initial $7 million goal to modernize the laboratory section of the building, built in the late 1960s.

Bringing the west wing into the 21st century is the focus of current fundraising efforts. This involves demolishing and replacing S-104 (known as the “head room” for its array of antlered trophies) and upgrading ancient HVAC systems.

“During our student years, this is our home,” says Baer. “When we learned from development that we could designate how the funds are used, that really injected additional energy into the campaign.”

Replacing all the chairs in the large auditorium S-106 with more comfortable seating is one idea, albeit an ambitious one. Other possibilities have been discussed, including an outdoor amphitheater classroom, equipment purchase or front entrance landscaping.

As part of this discussion, “the students are interested in how buildings change the campus,” Harnish says. “We’re here for a few short years. It’s good to know that people are thinking and planning for the future.”

In the ramp-up for the auction weekend, SGA launched several student awareness events. Before the latest Hunger Games movie screened in S-106 in early March, students were treated to a “fun science” culinary experiment – ice cream made using liquid nitrogen instead of ice.

Updates on the student science center campaign can be found on its webpage, as well as a link to a secure online form for making a financial gift to the student campaign. For more information on remote bidding on the day of the auction, call Phil Helmuth, executive director of development, at 540-746-2068.

If it rains, the auction will move inside to the upper level of University Commons.