Alumni give back to SIU students with ‘BEER’ scholarship

By Isabel Miller, Photography and Multimedia Editor

At Southern, beer isn’t just for drinking.

The ‘BEER,’ or the Balancing Education, Experience and Reality Scholarship is a product of an 1980’s to 1990’s SIU alumni Facebook group wanting to give back to their university.

The group, created by Craig Wilson, has 13,917 members on Facebook. Wilson created the group to research a book project and connect old friends. 

“The experience of being in the ‘Dale during peak enrollment was very exciting; there was more live music than I could keep up with, people were hosting open mics in cafes and having d.i.y. music shows in their basements,” Wilson said. “Some of this is still going on here, of course, but back then it was like someone had turned the volume up. As a musician and writer in town I got to take part in a lot of the commotion and meet a lot of great folks that I remain in contact with today.”

The organizers hope to fundraise for the scholarship with a big push on the Day of Giving, an annual fundraising campaign held by the university.

Dan Giedeman, an SIU alumnus, says his job as a professor at Grand Valley State University in Michigan gives him a first hand view on how students struggle with college tuition.

“I realize that college is a lot more expensive than it is for [students today] than it was for us,” Giedeman said. “It’s financially hard.”

Madison Miller, a junior studying elementary education from Marion, applied for scholarships last semester but said she has not received any. She said she is happy alumni are putting scholarships like the “BEER” scholarship together.

“I think it’s nice that SIU is having this day and that alumni are participating to give scholarships to students,” Miller said.

Seeing that college students had a financial need, Giedeman decided to see if other alumni felt the same way and wanted to give back to SIU.

“Everybody seems so enthusiastic about SIU and their time at Carbondale. I thought there might be interest in people giving back a little bit,” Giedeman said.

Giedeman posted about starting a scholarship in a secret Facebook group dedicated to SIU students from the 1980’s and 1990’s — his post generated interest and he reached out to the university.

“It’s not my scholarship,” Giedeman said. “It’s the group’s scholarship.”

Giedeman says that the name of the scholarship, decided by a vote, is tongue-in-cheek. He says he still is not sure if the name is going to be approved by the SIU Foundation.

“In the past, SIU has had the reputation of being a party college and the administration never seemed to like that,” Giedeman said.

Giedeman said the majority of the interactions in the Facebook group have been about the people they met in college, the places in Southern Illinois that they went and the experiences they had.

“When people were talking with the group, people talked about the teachers, the professors, but mostly about the activities they did,” Giedeman said.

Group member Ann Norris-Price remembers the memories of her time as a student at SIU. Norris-Price says the ‘Balancing’ part of the scholarship is supposed to encourage students to enjoy the Southern Illinois area while they are students.

“We have so much here: the Shawnee National Forest, our lakes, state parks, and also so much great food and music and art in town too, we have it all, plus all the food and art and music out at the wineries and breweries we have here in Southern Illinois,” Norris-Price said. “I really hope students are taking advantage of everything that is here. SIUC is a great academic experience in a beautiful, natural setting. A whole, balanced college experience needs all of it.”

Giedeman attended SIU from 1991 to 1994, where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in history and economics and later received a master’s degree in economics.

“[SIU] seemed like a place where I could go and have a good experience with education and non-classroom activities,” Giedeman said.

Sara Bross-Novak, a member of the group and an SIU alumna, attended SIU in 1994 to 1997. She said she donated to the “BEER” Scholarship because of her memories of her time in Carbondale.

“It meant so much to me that I returned almost 20 years later to make sure my degree was from SIU,” Bross-Novak said. “If I can help a current student, even in the smallest of ways, to have the true SIU experience, then this is definitely my way of paying it forward.”

As of Friday, the scholarship has raised close to $5,000 and has had nearly 75 donors contribute, according to Giedeman.

“In order for the scholarship to be endowed, we have to raise $25,000. If we don’t raise that, we would give $1,000 until the money runs out,” Giedeman said.

Giedeman said he wants students to focus on books and studying but realizes this is an important time in student’s lives where they can branch out.

“Be serious with your studies but also know that the world is not just books,” Giedeman said.

The requirements for the “BEER” scholarship are a student must be a junior or senior attending SIU, they must be in good academic standing and they must write a essay of one page or less describing why they came to love SIU.

Giedeman wants SIU students to know alumni are thinking of them.

“We’re thinking about our own memories, but we’re also thinking about the students making their own,” Giedeman said. “Even though it’s the name of the scholarship, the abbreviation is kind of funny, we hope it is a serious thing and we hope that it helps students.”

To donate to the “BEER” scholarship, go to the SIU Foundation’s web site to make a gift. Enter the Balancing Education, Experience and Reality Scholarship and check the box to apply the donation to the Day of Giving.