Mengler’s steadfast work helps The Defining Moment Comprehensive Campaign reach new heights

November 27, 2023

Setting the fundraising standard

by Nathaniel Miller

You don’t raise $165 million sitting behind a desk.

The success of St. Mary’s University’s largest campaign didn’t happen without logging thousands of miles, shaking hundreds of hands and emphatically sharing a vision about the future of its campus and schools.

St. Mary’s University Trustee Emeritus Charles T. Barrett Jr.
(B.B.A. ’62) and his wife, Melissa Barrett, have supported the
University through gifts.
Charles T. Barrett Jr.
(B.B.A. ’62) and his wife, Melissa Barrett, have supported the
University through gifts.

President Thomas M. Mengler, J.D., knew what needed to be done when he was hired in 2012 and was willing to roll up his proverbial sleeves to start the silent phase of The Defining Moment Comprehensive Campaign soon after arriving on campus.

“Tom’s visionary outlook played a crucial role in The Defining Moment Comprehensive Campaign,” said Joel Lauer, Vice President for University Advancement. “His unwavering commitment to St. Mary’s and to engaging with alumni and friends, be it on campus or nationwide, underscored the significance of his vision and passion. This made all the difference in surpassing our goal in such a momentous fashion.”

The Defining Moment Campaign, the largest and broadest campaign of its kind for St. Mary’s, raised $165 million — $35 million more than the original goal announced at the start of the public phase of the campaign in November 2017.

Charles T. Barrett Jr. (B.B.A. ’62), Trustee Emeritus and Chair of the Board of Trustees from 2012 to 2014, said he and his fellow Trustees initially thought a goal that large was unattainable. However, Mengler, along with his wife, Mona Mengler, were instrumental in surpassing everyone’s expectations.

“There are only a few people who could have accomplished that goal,” Barrett said. “If there’s another, I would like to know, because we’re looking for someone by May.”

Setting a new standard

The Defining Moment Campaign, Lauer said, was the first time a St. Mary’s campaign focused on a campus-wide vision that gave alumni options on what their funds supported.

Lauer said Mengler’s willingness — some might say eagerness — to go out and meet with alumni, faculty and staff made a difference in how the vision was received. Working across campus with each dean and program director, Mengler helped outline goals fitting the University’s mission.

“It’s not just about the million-dollar donors,” Lauer said. “We had nearly 11,500 alumni give to the campaign. And we had almost 2,300 give $1,000 or more. Every donation was important to this campaign.”

“Tom Mengler didn’t share his vision from his office. He was in the community in front of alumni. That shows Tom’s commitment. He was like waves hitting the shore. It was happening every day.”

Thomas “Tom” Contreras (B.B.A. ’88)

In total, $115 million was raised specifically to fund the University’s college and three schools: $41 million for the School of Science, Engineering and Technology; $32 million for the Greehey School of Business; $22 million for the School of Law; and $20 million for the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences.

Money raised during the campaign funded 14 new endowed academic positions, 94 endowed scholarships, $58 million in new scholarships and $13 million for innovative labs and classrooms.

Speaking from experience

Paola Canedo, a Management major, attends St. Mary’s
University because of the scholarships she’s received.
Paola Canedo

Benefiting from scholarships offered at St. Mary’s, international student Paola Canedo said knowing some of her tuition has been covered has helped her both monetarily and mentally.

With scholarships covering more than half of her costs, the Mexico City native is a student in the Greehey School of Business studying Management with a minor in Marketing. Canedo wanted to attend St. Mary’s ever since an admissions counselor met with her family and introduced them to the University.

Working part-time to cover additional expenses, Canedo said that without scholarships, she would have to work longer hours, which would take away from her schoolwork.

“The scholarships give me time to study, be part of the community and find all these internship and networking opportunities,” she said. “If I didn’t have these scholarships, I wouldn’t have been able to come to St. Mary’s.”

Looking toward the future

Thomas “Tom” Contreras (B.B.A. ’88), Chair of the Greehey School of Business portion of The Defining Moment Comprehensive Campaign, is more than willing to say how much St. Mary’s has given him.

“We have a story we enjoy sharing with others whenever we get the chance to talk about St. Mary’s,” Contreras said. “We tell that story when asking others for support because we want these students to have a memorable experience.”

As an undergraduate, Contreras met his wife, Leticia “Leti” Contreras (B.A. ’89), who would eventually become the first woman to chair the St. Mary’s Board of Trustees. Their two children are also St. Mary’s alumni.

Students spend time in the Contreras Family Terrace and
Student Lounge, which opened in 2015 along with the return
of The Pub at St. Mary’s
Students spend time in the Contreras Family Terrace and
Student Lounge, which opened in 2015 along with the return
of The Pub at St. Mary’s

The couple’s donation during the campaign created the Contreras Family Terrace and Student Lounge in the University Center and funded the reopening of The Pub at St. Mary’s. These gifts transformed the heart of campus along with a renovation of Alkek Plaza through a gift from the Albert and Margaret Alkek Foundation

Tom Contreras said his family’s story is just one of the many Mengler shared to help people see the University as a worthwhile investment.

“Tom Mengler didn’t share his vision from his office,” Tom Contreras said. “He was in the community in front of alumni. That shows Tom’s commitment. He was like waves hitting the shore. It was happening every day.”

The Hon. Mary Anne Bramblett (J.D. ’81), who chaired the St. Mary’s University School of Law’s portion of The Defining Moment Comprehensive Campaign, attributed her education at the School of Law to her career success. As the first woman elected to a district court in El Paso, Bramblett served as judge of the 41st District Court from 1989 until 2012.

Along with her husband, Coll Bramblett (J.D. ’80), the two have endowed the Law Success Program’s second-year curriculum.

Mary Anne Bramblett said Mengler has a down-to-earth nature that was crucial to the campaign’s success.

“President Mengler was the right person to bring everyone together to do what St. Mary’s needed to have done,” she said.

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