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Class of 2017 Test Prep Endowment

The 2017 McDermott Class dressed in business attire and standing in three rows in front of a reflecting pool. Soft grass and magnolia trees flank the reflecting pool, and decorative rock benches mark the edge of the grass. The scholars stand on a mall of blue-gray brick.
A photo of the 2017 McDermott Class taken in front of the reflecting pools on the Margaret McDermott Mall during their freshman orientation. (Photo from the UT Dallas New Center)

Among the many traditions of the McDermott Scholars Program, the class gift to the UT Dallas community is one of the most significant in impact. Ambitious as always, the 2017s quickly realized the utility of setting up regular giving throughout their time as Scholars. By their second semester, they began setting aside $15 per month each with the end goal of raising $15,000 by the end of their fourth year at UTD. Alex Polednik, who now works in software at Amazon, opened up a bank account and set up a tracker to note who paid each month – even charging late fees at the beginning to encourage routine deposits.

What the class would do with this money, however, remained uncertain. They had long been debating the benefits of a material project versus something sustaining that would last, considering investing in arts or architecture projects of some kind. Then the COVID-19 pandemic struck. Yilong Peng, a current student at Harvard Medical School, was studying abroad in Singapore and recalls a feeling of urgency from a large subset in the class who wanted to support COVID relief. The class set up a series of Zoom calls to debate making a more permanent contribution to the community versus helping their fellow UTD students in the midst of the global crisis.

In the end, they settled on both a smaller immediate gift to the UT Dallas student emergency fund, and a more sustained project from the rest of the funds. In total, they gave $5,075 to the emergency fund: $1,800 from their class gift savings, coupled with individual contributions that totaled $3,275. With the $10,000 that remained, they noted a distinct benefit of the McDermott Program that many of their class benefited from – funding for test preparation materials for graduate programs. Recognizing the immense cost burden this test prep can be on fellow students, they decided to explore the possibility of providing similar funding for tests or applications.

Yilong spearheaded the effort, setting up meetings with Administrators and working with the McDermott Library to determine the feasibility and cost of the project. The Library came on board to support the end goal in both operations and finance, helping to establish a $25,000 endowment to support student access to test prep materials through the Library. In this, the Class of 2017 achieved their goal, creating a tangible resource to support the community with a significant degree of sustainability.

To read more about the Class of 2017 gift, visit

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