Jean Driscoll

Courtesy of the N.C. State College of Design

Jean Driscoll is a medal-winning Paralympian, eight-time Boston Marathon winner, and now, the new executive director of development in the College of Design. She began her position on Nov. 27, coming to NC State from the University of Illinois. Technician had the opportunity to sit down and talk about her background and goals for the upcoming year.  

What is the role of the executive director of development?

I lead the fundraising and development program in the College of Design, so our office oversees fundraising, communications and alumni relations. Alumni boards are under our purview, events are under our purview. I have staff that focuses on that, but primarily I lead the alumni engagement and fundraising in the college.

What is your vision, and what are your goals for the College of Design?

Our college does not have a professorship. A professorship is something that is used either to retain or recruit high-level faculty. If you are recognized as a highly-esteemed professor, it's an honor. At NC State, it takes a million dollars minimum, an endowment of a million dollars. The interest that's earned off of that is about four percent, about $40,000. If somebody is a named professor, that's $40,000 they can invest in teaching assistants, students or new equipment. It's used to attract and retain the best and brightest faculty. The College of Design doesn't have any professorships, which is unusual; every other college has a professorship. One of my most immediate goals is to identify a donor who will fund a professorship. Another goal is to increase scholarship funding for students. It's expensive to go to college and you guys are carrying way too much in loans. We want to be able to help that.

Do you foresee any challenges in attaining those, or any of your other goals?

Fundraising is both a challenge and an opportunity. What I do is build relationships with people. I meet face-to-face; we get to invite folks to the basketball games. I travel around the country, meet with alumni and keep them engaged with the university. The challenge is an opportunity, that is to identify donors who are able to provide gifts to support our goals. Having said that, we do have some very generous donors who have created scholarships and endowment funds in the college. Another opportunity for me is to say thank you, and continue strengthening those relationships so that they know they're making a difference. 

Relating to challenges and opportunities, I understand you have a background in competition?

I was an elite athlete for many years. I won the Boston Marathon eight times, broke the world record five of those eight times. One of the things people don't understand is athletes in the wheelchair division are way faster than the runners. Wheels are more efficient than legs. I think it's really important for people to understand that this is a real sport and we are training. When I was at my peak strength, now I'm 5 feet tall, my body weight was about 112 [pounds], my max bench press was 210 [pounds]. Some of the top men are benching over 300 pounds.

Are there any parallels between your experience in competition and your experience with fundraising and what you're doing now?

When I was an athlete I trained, and when I got into a racing situation, I had to trust my training. I never missed workouts, and I did due diligence. I went all out, and for my job here I am very focused and I work hard. I have this drive to be among the best, and that will allow the College of Design to grow in new ways. As the College of Design grows, students have more opportunities at the undergrad and graduate level. Faculty have more opportunities and there are more programs. The profile of the college grows, but also the profile of NC State grows. The College of Design was the top design school in the 1960s. Everybody wanted to be here, and it's still a very exclusive program. Not everybody who applies can get in. Bringing in those scholarships, bringing in that highly talented faculty and retaining them is what keeps it so exclusive.