More than 600 of Texas A&M’s top donors descended upon the Hall of Champions on the west side of Kyle Field on Thursday morning for the second annual Exploration Day. Organizers described the event as an opportunity for the Texas A&M Foundation to showcase the university’s research, impact and innovative programming to its prominent financial backers.

Tyson Voelkel, president of the foundation, said for this year’s event, the foundation chose to feature national security and service-related work taking place at A&M. Donors received a tour of the ship simulator used by Aggies at the Texas A&M Maritime Academy in Galveston and observed a vivid mini-reenactment of the Health Science Center’s recent Disaster Day simulation, an annual event that gives students in health fields opportunities to test their training and education.

Attendees rotated among four stations to encounter different aspects of work happening at the university, including an intelligence presentation by the Bush School of Government and Public Service and a hands-on experience put on by the College of Architecture, at which attendees learned about the Learning Interactive Visualizations Experience (LIVE) Lab within the department of visualization.

“What’s really important is to showcase the impact on the students — the human impact,” Voelkel said. “For me, Exploration Day this year is specifically about the human impact and the selfless service that we help enable through our efforts at the Texas A&M Foundation through philanthropy.”

Voelkel said that the Texas A&M Foundation provided the university with nearly $110 million in 2019 for scholarships, professorships, endowed chairs, building projects and more. 

“The vision for my organization is to be among the most trusted philanthropies in higher education,” Voelkel said. “In order to be among the most trusted, you’ve got to show people a return on their philanthropic investment. I want people to walk away from here feeling proud of what we’re doing at Texas A&M.” 

Angela Clendenin, instructional assistant professor in the College of Public Health, and Martin Mufich, a clinical assistant professor with the College of Nursing, narrated and provided information at the Health Science Center presentation.

Clendenin and Mufich provided explanations of the annual Disaster Day simulations as students acted out a smaller-scale reenactment of medical professionals treating a patient in front of the donors. Students at last month’s simulation, held at the Texas A&M Extension Service’s Disaster City, worked to figure out how to treat the mock patients in the aftermath of a vicious, fictional earthquake.

Clendenin told attendees that the experience prepares students from several disciplines for real-world emergencies of various kinds.

“It isn’t until they leave Aggieland and get in your community somewhere, someday, that the depth and the impact of that transformation will be realized,” Clendenin said. “They will be finding themselves in a chaotic situation at some point — and then they’ll say, ‘Oh, yeah. I’ve been here before,’ and it gives them the confidence, competence and composure to respond.” 

Following the Health Science Center presentation, two donors shared their perspective on the event. Jennifer Burgin, a member of the A&M class of 1996 who lives in the Dallas area, and class of 1982 member Stephen Norman, who lives in the Houston metro area.

Burgin said it was her first time attending Exploration Day, and that it was her first time back on the Texas A&M campus in about 20 years. 

I’ve been impressed — extremely impressed,” Burgin said. “Everything has changed, and I’ve been amazed at the beauty of the campus and the caliber of the different educational opportunities they have now.”

Norman, who was joined at the event by his wife, Christie, said the Disaster Day simulation and presentation, which also highlighted a former student from the College of Nursing who used skills she had developed through the program in the wake of the 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas, was particularly striking to him.

“It’s always interesting to see what they’re working on. The disaster stuff is fascinating, because it’s very pertinent to what happens daily,” Norman said. “It’s impressive.”

Col. Michael Fossum, chief operating officer and vice president of Texas A&M University at Galveston, presided over the Maritime Academy presentation. He told donors about a ship simulator that allows cadets to test their naval navigation skills in a controlled environment before they are behind the mast of a real ship.

As part of his presentation, Fossum recognized Capt. Jack Smith, a member of the class of 1964 and a member of the academy’s inaugural class, for his presence at Exploration Day.

A&M President Michael K. Young gave a keynote address following the presentations. Over lunch, Young expressed gratitude to the university’s donors for their support, particularly throughout the Lead by Example campaign, which is a $4 billion fundraising effort. According to a Texas A&M Foundation statement, that campaign has currently raised $3.82 billion.

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