How to turn $21 into $25,000

Michael Blankenship

Michael Blankenship put his passion for education and diversity to work in raising money to create the first officially endowed scholarship supporting LGBTQ+ students across the WSU system.

When a local church invited Blankenship to visit its LGBTQ+ group in 2017, he talked about his college experience as an openly gay student who went to school full-time, maintained a 3.86 GPA while finishing dual degrees in anthropology and psychology, was intensely involved in campus life, and worked full-time to boot. As a token for his efforts, they passed the hat and collected $21.

“That is so kind,” Blankenship told the group. “I’m good on money now, but since we talked about what it was like to be LGBTQ+ in college, I’ve always wanted to start a scholarship fund for LGBTQ+ students. Are you OK if I use this money to start a scholarship fund?”

Of course, they said yes. Since fundraising began in 2018, Blankenship and the WSU Vancouver alumni and development office managed to raise $25,000 to qualify as an endowed scholarship and has awarded five $1,000 scholarships on top of that.

Blankenship, who graduated from WSU Vancouver in 2013, went all out, raising money via social media, personal connections and CougsGive, a 24-hour universitywide fundraising event. Several faculty and staff members signed up for direct contributions from their paycheck. Blankenship and his grandparents provided matching funds as incentive. Some donors had never been to college themselves. “People jumped in to support the goal and vision of assisting LGBTQ+ students,” he said.

"Im so grateful for the tremendous outpouring of support for my vision."—Michael Blanketship

The LGBTQ+ Empowerment Endowed Scholarship is the first officially endowed scholarship specifically supporting LGBTQ+ students across the WSU system. Its first scholarship was awarded in 2018. “I got to meet that student,” Blankenship recalls. “He was a returning student, getting a second degree, changing careers and working while in school.” Scholarship recipients have majored in a variety of fields, and LGBTQ+ allies are also considered. The awards are determined based on the essays written in WSU Vancouver’s scholarship application, which is used to award some 800 scholarships. With Blankenship’s direction, the scholarship committee selects a student who shows leadership in the LGBTQ+ community and at the university.

A passion borne of experience

Blankenship’s motivation to raise money for LGBTQ+ students derives from his own student years, taking a full course load, interning in the Office of Student Diversity and serving as the lead student ambassador, and working as a barista
at Starbucks. “I was going to college during the recession, and tuition costs were increasing 15+% a year,” he said. “Hence, full-time work and full-time school. I was busy working, but the scholarships I received were so foundational in helping me in my journey. I developed unhealthy habits like not getting a lot of sleep and working 18-hour days. I was going to make it work.”

He also came out as gay in college. “So the combination of that time and place and active learning and coming into one’s own identity—it was just a powerful time in my life,” he said. He particularly recalls the same-sex marriage debate in Washington state. “I remember the feeling of inequity and disparity and the anxiety I carried through the school day when that was being voted on,” he said. “That time was very foundational in my life and I knew I wanted to do my part to make a better future for LGBTQ+ people.” Blankenship considers himself lucky, though. His whole family has been supportive of him—and the scholarship.

After graduation Blankenship went to work at the WSU Vancouver Office of Admissions. He also earned a master’s degree in school counseling from Lewis & Clark College in Portland. Last fall he began a job as a high school counselor in the Evergreen Public Schools in Vancouver.

He hasn’t let up on fundraising. “We want to grow the scholarship,” he said. “The challenges the LGBTQ+ community faces are still tremendous. This scholarship fund will support LGBTQ+ students graduating from college and creates space in society for LGBTQ+ people.”

He calls the scholarship “a ‘rest-of-my-life’ sort of project, and I’m happy about that. I’m so grateful for the tremendous outpouring of support for my vision and the LGBTQ+ community at large. What I’ve learned in the process is that you’ve just got to ask the question and truly amazing things can happen.”

Michael Blankenship put his passion for education and diversity to work in raising money to establish a new scholarship. Learn more about the scholarship and why the WSU Foundation recognized him with the Outstanding Volunteer Award.