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Student Philanthropy Programs (SPP) is dedicated to philanthropy and the importance of working with community groups. This Valparaiso University (VU) Office seeks to do this by providing opportunities in and out of classes to learn about philanthropic causes and interacting with student organizations.

“The Student Philanthropy Programs is a program to help cultivate a culture of generosity on campus and help students understand what it means to be philanthropic throughout life both here on campus and as they graduate,” said Ryan Cole, the Mark and Kathleen Helge Director of SPP. “Too often, we think philanthropy is something the rich do. But each person, through their actions, does small philanthropic things all the time. And I want to help share the different narratives of philanthropy so that there's philanthropy of all ages and all demographics.”

The program was developed in 2018 by two alumni, Rev. Mark ’71 and Kathleen Koepp ’71 Helge. In doing this, they donated a $2 million endowment to establish the Mark and Kathleen Helge Endowed Program for Students and Philanthropy. They wanted to establish an “integrated, holistic and student-focused program in philanthropy,” according to the Valpo News press release on the endowment. 

Student Philanthropy Programs then moved to the Department for Student Life in Nov. 2020 to be more involved with campus.

“So, in 2018, the University received a gift from the Helge Family to endow a director for Student Philanthropy Programs, so Ryan Cole serves in that role. The purpose of that position is to really embed concepts of generosity. That position moved over to Student Life in an effort to be more directly connected to things like the Fraternity and Sorority community, all of our student organizations who are involved with philanthropic initiatives and to create some more campus-wide initiatives,” said Carolyn Whittier, assistant vice president for Student Life. 

One of the main goals of the office is to help students realize what issues they are passionate about and find ways they can give back to their local communities, both during and after their time at VU.

“I want students to understand when they graduate, how to engage with a nonprofit community wherever they live, that local community,” Cole said.

One of the goals is that students are able to engage with the nonprofit community during their time at Valpo.

“Helping students understand the community more, partnering with nonprofits, helping them learn about the nonprofit community around. My hope is that by the end of the four years, that they'll have at least one engagement with the nonprofit community,” Cole said.

This year, Student Philanthropy Programs is hosting a “Pop-Up Giving Circle,” each month. At a Pop-Up Giving Circle, students hear from an alumni who has experience in a specific field and learn about a few nonprofits that do work in that area. The students then debate values to choose one organization (out of a few highlighted) to which a grant will be donated. Student Philanthropy Programs provides a base donation of $400-$500 and those in attendance can donate as well.

The most recent Pop-Up Giving Circle was held on Oct. 9, as part of We Matter Week. $625 was collected for ASW Foundation, a nonprofit located in Northwest Indiana that focuses on youth development and ending gun violence.

“They'll hear from an alumni or speaker on that issue area, and then we'll discuss values a little bit - so, individual values and group values. And they’ll have the opportunity to learn about a few regional nonprofits that do that work. And we’ll discuss that, and by the end of the event, they decide what are the local nonprofits they would like to grant a small donation,” Cole said. 

In addition, as the university already has a large amount of philanthropic involvement from the Fraternity and Sorority Life (FSL) community and various student organizations, Student Philanthropy Programs offers optional reflection services for any interested groups to help them understand the “why” of their work.

“So, any student organization, or fraternity or sorority that hosts a philanthropy event will be offered an opportunity to participate in a reflection activity afterward, asking some key questions about why that agency was selected, what the impact of the dollars raised or goods raised is doing and how students can continue to be involved in philanthropic initiatives after their time here to a university. So, Ryan [Cole] is leading all of those,” Whittier said.

Overall, the primary goal of the Student Philanthropy Programs office is to help students find their passions and discover the meaning of generosity.

“I think everyone's involved with philanthropy already to some extent, whether they're helping a neighbor, they're listening to a friend. There's many ways to be philanthropic, but I think it's important, because at the root of it, ‘philanthropy’ means ‘love of humanity.’ And it's how we can care for others. And understanding the other allows you to make those connections and connect what you're passionate about with the needs of the world, so you can help make an impact,” Cole said.

The Student Philanthropy Programs office is located in the Career Center. To contact the office, email Anyone interested can also follow @valpostudentlife on Instagram to get updates on philanthropy events and view their “Philanthropy Friday” posts.


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