The USD Foundation had one of its strongest years on record in 2021. From ending the fiscal year with an endowment exceeding $328 million to attracting almost 600 new donors during Unite for USD, it was a year of new milestones that allowed the foundation to have a transformational impact on USD’s campus and the Coyote community.

As the university and foundation set their sights on even more ambitious goals for the year ahead, here are some highlights from the past 12 months:

From the 2021 USD Foundation Endowment Report

Endowment reaches highest level

The USD Foundation endowment ended the 2021 fiscal year at a significant mark – $328.5 million – and more than double its value just one decade ago. This milestone occurred during a year in which $38 million was raised through more than 9,000 gifts from generous alumni, friends and supporters.

The foundation utilizes a pooled endowment – through which each endowment established by our donors owns individual units in the unitized investment pool – to ensure long-term, perpetual support of USD and designated purposes. The principal amount remains intact, with a portion of the investment earnings utilized annually to support the ongoing needs of the university while the remaining earnings continue to be invested – allowing the fund to grow over time.

According to the National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO)-TIAA Study of Endowments, the foundation’s pooled investment portfolio’s 10-year returns have consistently met or exceeded the average returns of all cohorts, including foundations managing more than $1 billion. This year was no different as the USD Foundation boasted a 10-year return of 9.38%.

As a result of this generous giving, the USD Foundation distributed more than $9.2 million from endowed funds to support the university’s priorities. This support makes a difference in the lives of USD students by reducing the financial burden of a college degree through scholarship support, attracting and retaining world-class faculty and enhancing educational experiences in and out of the classroom.

Panel at Women in Philanthropy
USD Director of Development for Women in Philanthropy Abuk Jiel (left) talks with former South Dakota Supreme Court Justice Judith Meierhenry about future lawyer leader opportunities through the Knudson School of Law during this year's Women in Philanthropy event. Photo by Aaron Packard for USD.

Unite for USD inspires new giving

In February, USD held its annual giving day – Unite for USD – which reflects the strength of the Coyote community and the culture of philanthropy that’s been established on campus. Over the course of 1,862 minutes, recognizing the year the state’s flagship university was founded, more than 1,500 donors raised $1,635,272. What’s impressive about the 2021 Unite for USD? For 584 donors – almost 40% of all donors – it was their first gift to USD.

Money raised during Unite for USD goes to bolster key campus initiatives that support students’ access to resources and opportunities for experiential learning, research, health and wellness, cultural awareness and more. Two of the initiatives spearheaded by USD Women in Philanthropy – mental health and Charlie’s Cupboard – were among the top 10 most supported causes.

In fall 2021, Charlie’s Cupboard, which provides grocery and other essential items to in-need students, expanded into a new space on campus – three times the size of its original location – to meet the growing need of students. It now has access to a refrigerator and freezer to offer fresh items, like milk and eggs, and frozen meals to students, and it also partners with other local Vermillion organizations to accept donations, from fresh produce to professional clothing.

USD and the USD Foundation are gearing up for the 2022 Unite for USD, which is set for Feb. 16-17. During the 1,862 minutes of giving, the university plans to break even more records as the Coyote community unites to raise funds for more than a dozen initiatives.

Campus renovations unveiled

As the oldest university in the state, and South Dakota’s only public liberal arts university, USD is committed to its tradition of excellence. To uphold that tradition, USD and the USD Foundation prioritize investments to student scholarships, program enhancements, faculty recruitment and campus upgrades. In 2021, USD made progress on a number of building projects that will enhance the university’s reputation and serve as important recruitment and retention tools for the region’s brightest students:

  • School of Health Sciences: Thanks to public and private investments, the university broke ground on its new, contemporary Health Sciences building in the spring. This new facility will provide hands-on experiences in simulation, modern classroom and lab spaces, and will distinguish USD as the state’s leading educator of experts in medicine, health and wellness. It will also be directly connected to the Lee Medicine & Science Building, enhancing USD’s interprofessional education where students from different disciplines learn collaboratively to acquire competencies in team-based care and prepare effectively for real-world working environments.
  • DakotaDome: This fall, USD was able to host fans in-person in the DakotaDome and finally unveil the $26 million renovation to the west side of the facility. The two-phase renovation added two entrances to the facility, a new football locker room – plus coaches’ offices, meeting spaces, a new equipment room and athletic training space – and permanent seating with exclusive loge boxes and suites. To further enhance the gameday experience, new lighting and sound systems were also installed. Additional work on the DakotaDome is planned to modernize the east-side concourses and fan amenities and, once the Wellness Center expansion to add an aquatic center is completed, renovate the basement where the pool is currently housed.
  • College of Fine Arts: Through the Take Your Seat Campaign, more than 160 supporters of USD’s College of Fine Arts helped raise $120,000 in 2021 to fund improvements to the college and program enhancements to benefit students. The college hosted a grand reopening this fall to highlight renovations to the Wayne S. Knutson Theatre and Colton Recital Hall, as well as a new sculpture yard that will allow artists to do large scale metal pours and better exhibit wood and stone sculptures.
  • National Music Museum: The National Music Museum held a ribbon cutting ceremony in September to celebrate the opening of the 16,000 square-foot Lillibridge Expansion – made possible by a generous donation from a USD alumna. This new wing includes a museum store, the Janet L. Wanzek Performance Hall, the Groves Gallery for Special Exhibitions and the Wohlenberg Administrative Suite. The inaugural exhibition in the Groves Gallery explored the history of electric and amplified stringed instruments; it will continue to feature pieces and topics not covered in the museum’s permanent exhibitions.
Crowd at the 2021 Unleash Your Legacy: Alumni Achievement Awards
Crowd at the 2021 Unleash Your Legacy: Alumni Achievement Awards, held during Dakota Days. Photo by Aaron Packard for USD.

USD programs, students and young alumni recognized for excellence

USD and its students were recognized for excellence throughout the year. The Knudson School of Law rose seven spots in the U.S. News & World Report’s “Best Law Schools” rankings and the Sanford School of Medicine ranked No. 6 in the publication’s leading schools for rural physicians. Several current students and recent graduates received competitive scholarships, internships and awards.

As USD looks to enhance its offerings to meet growing workforce and industry demands in South Dakota, the university announced a new Doctor of Nurse Anesthesia Practice (DNAP) degree. Set to admit students in summer 2023, USD will be the only public university in the state to offer this degree. DNAP degrees prepare registered nurses to become Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists (CRNAs), which are the sole provider of anesthesia care in 83% of South Dakota’s counties.

Topping the list of accolades came as USD was ranked the highest of all South Dakota and North Dakota universities for the second year in a row, rising 10 spots from last year’s ranking. Additional achievements and progress are highlighted on We Are South Dakota.

Among students and young alumni, USD alumnus Frank Leibfarth, Ph.D. (’08), was included in Popular Science’s “The Brilliant 10: The most Innovative Up-And-Coming Minds in Science.” USD Beacom School of Business student Haley Duffield earned a $10,000 scholarship from the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board for her accounting aptitude and ethical standards. Jerica Muzik, Sanford School of Medicine student, received the prestigious Avera Health American Indian Scholarship as she works toward her medical degree with plans to practice on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Countless students received scholarships, awards and other recognitions throughout the year; visit USD’s website to explore.

Meaningful gifts make a big impact

The progress and accomplishments seen on campus wouldn’t be possible without the continued support of alumni and friends. Here are a few more notable gifts and fundraising efforts from this year:

  • After being hosted virtually and postponed amid the coronavirus pandemic, the 8th annual Calling All Coyotes auction brought more than 550 attendees together in August to celebrate Coyote athletics. This year’s event raised more than $308,000, which supports the Howling Pack and scholarship needs for USD student-athletes, bringing its eight-year total to more than $2.3 million. Scholarships are critical to the academic and athletic success of student-athletes: USD provides more than $5.5 million to 440 student-athletes each year to help cover tuition, room and board, books and other expenses.
  • An anonymous donor gave $3.5 million to support the Sanford School of Medicine through student scholarships and program enhancements. This is the donor’s second gift in as many years, bringing their total support of SSOM to $5.5 million. Through the investment of these dollars in the foundation's pooled investment portfolio, the market value of this gift has grown to $6.1 million. While the coronavirus pandemic hit the medical community hard, it has also inspired service: The Sanford School of Medicine saw increased applicants last year – from 700 to more than 1,000 – and students stepped up their volunteerism to support local health care workers. Because of donors like this, USD can recruit and effectively train the next generation of health care leaders for our state.
  • USD is committed to strengthening its collaboration with and support of Native Americans and Tribal Nations in our state. Furthering this mission is a $1.46 million estate gift to provide scholarships to Native American students through the Institute of American Indian Studies (IAIS), which was revitalized in 2020. In addition to the IAIS, there are several campus initiatives underway to create supportive living environments for Native American and Indigenous students and educational opportunities for all students on the history, culture and language of Tribal Nations in South Dakota. Paired with scholarship opportunities like this, USD hopes to improve retention and graduation rates of Native American and Indigenous students.
  • Resulting from a $1 million gift from TikTok’s Health Heroes initiative, USD’s TikTok Scholarship Fund provided 10 students with financial support to pursue their health education goals. The scholarship enables USD to better support Native American students, students from underrepresented communities and students with financial need to become the state’s future health care leaders.

New leadership outline priorities

After such a strong year, USD and the USD Foundation have high expectations for 2022 and beyond.

USD is prioritizing the infrastructure and education available in Sioux Falls to further support research, business innovation, health care training and student opportunities. The USD Discovery District, a corporate and academic research park under development, is advancing its mission to foster innovation-focused economic development under the leadership of former USD President James W. Abbott. Abbott’s vision while president was instrumental in the district’s initial development, and he will oversee its progress to establish 26 privately developed buildings with nearly 2,800 people working for companies housed within the district.

Along with the vision and leadership of USD President Sheila K. Gestring (see the full 2020-2026 strategic plan here), the foundation and Alumni Association have new board chairs – Ryan Taylor (’93, ’99) and Tyler Tordsen (’15), respectively – who are committed to increasing engagement, diversity, pride and support among USD alumni and friends to champion the university’s priorities. There are also several new board members for each organization who bring new perspectives and ideas.

Steve Brown and family
Steve Brown, wife Anna and daughter Daisy listen to stories during his retirement celebration at the 2021 Dakota Days. Photo by Aaron Packard for USD.

Steve Brown, the USD Foundation President and CEO, announced he will retire following a national search for his successor. Brown served USD in this role for nearly a decade, reshaping USD philanthropy and alumni engagement, and, under his leadership, the foundation raised more than $350 million in support of the university, including through the successful completion of the largest comprehensive campaign in USD’s history – "Onward: The Campaign for South Dakota" – which raised over $270 million. The foundation expects to name a new president and CEO early in the new year, who will continue Brown and the foundation’s legacy of serving USD and boosting its national reputation.

USD and the USD Foundation are thankful for the ongoing support of students, parents, faculty and staff, alumni and friends who made the 2021 successes possible.