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Michael Brandy, Deseret News
USU student Art Mahoney, center, talks with Bob Miller, left, and Alan Rockwood on Wednesday during a fundraiser at The Gateway.

For the growing number of students attending or planning to attend Utah State University, Wednesday's announcement to increase student support and extend fundraising efforts into the next decade serves as major encouragement.

"The university is only raising the bar higher," said USU biological engineering master's student Libbie Linton. "It will make a huge difference at Utah State, to attract students and

encourage the ones already there. It can only be good for the morale of the university."

USU plans to double its initial goal and collect $400 million toward a capital campaign envied by state-run colleges and universities nationwide. The school surpassed $200 million in private donations in March, only a year into the push.

Officials are calling this second half the "people phase" of the campaign, hoping to grow student scholarships, fellowship opportunities, endowed professorships and chair positions within departments, as well as focus on expanding various program operations.

Since the campaign began in 2007, USU President Stan L. Albrecht has been touring the country, stirring up momentum from alumni and friends of the university.

"There's a lot of excitement about an institution that is vibrant and vigorous, and innovative and forward-looking and on the move," Albrecht said Wednesday. "Now that folks see things moving at Utah State, people are stepping up and it's really incredible."

With $25 million in new donations announced Wednesday at the Depot Grand Hall at The Gateway in Salt Lake City, the total fundraising during the campaign has reached $225,456,201 — dollars coming from nearly 36,500 different donors.

"We underestimated the commitment and loyalty of our alumni and friends in the state and the nation, I think we just underestimated how people feel about the university," said Ross Peterson, USU's vice president for advancement. "We've had some unbelievably successful people who, just given an opportunity to give back, have stepped up huge."

Albrecht's committed efforts, Peterson said, came at the right time for the Logan-based university.

"He saw Utah State's potential and what we had done through the years, and really, really felt because of the decreasing state support and because of a lot of the other issues on the horizon, it was now time for Utah State to step out into the private sector so that we could maintain excellence in certain programs and develop other programs that would help us be on the cutting edge for our students."

And Albrecht doesn't plan on relinquishing any forces, hoping to "ride it out" with USU through the newly extended deadline of July 2012.

The looming challenge of matching an already impressive $200 million is "a goal that we can meet," despite economic frustrations, Albrecht said.

"It is almost unheard of to be able to announce 10 or 11 months into a campaign that you're actually exceeding the initial goal, and now doubling that goal has kind of taken our breaths away," he said. "We're excited about it."

Additional funds will help to establish a new Aggie Promise Scholarship Endowment, which Albrecht said aims to give students "who might not be thinking seriously about college" a $1,000 cash incentive to attend USU. A few substantial gifts are expected in this round, which will follow generous donations from Jon M. and Karen Huntsman, Marc and Debbie Bingham, the Emma Eccles Jones Foundation and the S.J. Quinney Foundation.

More than 100 endowed positions have been created and students have benefited from increased scholarship and financial aid dollars.

"They have entrusted me with not only the money, which is nice, but the recognition means as much to me," said Dione Garlick, a Lillywhite Scholar at USU. "As a student who receives and relies on a lot of support, I plan on giving back when I have the chance."

Albrecht said the message is not in the money raised, but in the lives of the students it helps and encourages.

"With your help we are creating a university of excellence, a university of imagination, a university of promise and a university that will reflect leadership in every sense of the term," he said.

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