It is not unusual for faculty members at Eastern Washington University to make a profound impact on their students, after all, that is one of the signs of a successful teacher. What is perhaps less common, is a professor who makes meaningful and lifelong connections with students he never even taught in class. That is exactly what happened between Bill Youngs, a professor of history at Eastern, and former students Mike Clawson and Alicia Kinne-Clawson—who not only graduated with degrees other than history, but never even took a single class from Bill.
Mike and Alicia met in chemistry class their freshman year at EWU. They got to know Bill while serving on student government. Now married and new parents of twins, the couple is giving back to the professor and mentor who inspired much of their success by establishing a scholarship fund in his name.
Bill Youngs, PhD, has been teaching at EWU since 1972. During that time, he’s championed many technology changes and incorporated ever-changing teaching methods into his classes. He is also a published author of five books and an international presenter. With nearly 50 years of service to the EWU History Department, Bill is well known on campus as a steadfast supporter of student success and experiential learning across all disciplines.
“He is committed to engaging students’ learning and really cares about students in the classroom. But it doesn’t stop at the end of class,” says Mike. “You hear about the stuff he does for the community and even outside of history; I don’t know that we encountered anyone at Eastern who is more committed to general student success and helping in any way than Bill is.”
While earning their undergraduate degrees at Eastern, Mike and Alicia worked with Bill through their roles in student government. Mike served as the academic affairs student representative his senior year, and Alicia served as the ASEWU president her junior and senior years.
“We were both serving on student government at the same time and Bill was the president of the faculty organization,” Alicia Kinne says. “There had been some student leaders before us who didn’t work all that well with the faculty organization, and Bill, as part of his term of service, one of his goals was to really build that relationship with the students. We shared that goal.”
Mike and Alicia credit Bill with improving the relationship between students and faculty by hosting joint faculty-student government retreats. He would bring in various campus leaders to have conversations about how to build bridges and move the university forward. It was during those meetings that Mike and Alicia saw just how passionate Bill is about history and his students.
“You can’t spend much time with Bill without hearing about all the different stuff he’s doing. He’s just genuinely excited,” says Mike. “So, we’re over there for student government stuff and he’s telling us all about the new computers that he bought so he can do video lectures for his class, and how he’s planning to do this new class or revamp the curriculum for that new class. His commitment to always be the best teacher he can be is awesome.”
The couple was also inspired by the many ways Bill’s commitment extends beyond the classroom. He owns several rental properties in Cheney, for example, and rents exclusively to Eastern students. He even gives the students discounts on their rent if they make the Dean’s List. He also employs students over the summer when he can to assist with research projects or to help him get set up for the next academic year.
When Mike and Alicia started exploring ways to give back to the university that started them on the path to successful careers, they knew they also wanted to honor Bill’s legacy to Eastern. They established the Bill Youngs Endowment to support student projects in the fields of history and environmental studies.
“We wanted to give to recognize Bill’s commitment to the university and all students,” says Mike. “And we wanted to do it while he was still around Cheney and still engaged with the university.”
“We want him to be able to see students benefit from this gift,” Alicia adds.
The Bill Youngs Endowment will help qualified students cover expenses related to research, publishing and tuition. Mike and Alicia want to support those students who are excited about undergraduate research opportunities and who are generally curious and want to learn—much like themselves more than a decade ago.
“We were both first-generation college students who, walking into Eastern’s doors, didn’t know what it meant to do research. We both benefitted from faculty like Bill who provided mentoring,” says Alicia. “A lot of students do research at the cost of not having a paying job. We hope this award makes it possible for a student who might be making that trade off of not taking a summer job to pursue an intellectual opportunity.”
After graduating from EWU in 2007, Mike and Alicia were accepted into masters and subsequently doctoral programs at the University of Washington. They both earned PhDs and are now working in careers they love—Mike designs wildlife research studies and Alicia writes higher education laws for the state of Washington.
Their relationship with Bill continued through the years. When they married in 2013, Bill served as their officiant. So, it may come as no surprise that Bill himself stepped in to help Mike and Alicia support the scholarship fund. To begin awarding students, an endowment fund must reach a balance of at least $25,000. With only about $5,000 remaining, Bill pledged to top it off. During the giving season, Bill, Mike and Alicia are encouraging Bill’s colleagues and former students to match Bill’s gift to his endowment, so that even more future students will benefit from experiential learning opportunities.
Our Goal on GivingTuesday:
Help students by finishing up scholarship endowments
GivingTuesday is a global generosity movement that unleashes the power of people and organizations, like EWU, to transform their communities and the world. Many EWU students are facing new financial challenges due to the pandemic. Scholarship support is critical at a time like this.
We identified several scholarship funds that are very close to being endowed. Once our donors help them reach endowment, more students will benefit from scholarship support—and more students will stay Eagle Strong!