Q&A with Anna Cheng, '21

September 10, 2021

After graduating from Richmond in May, Anna Cheng joined the UR Advancement Office as our inaugural Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) intern in Donor Relations. Anna completed an 8-week research project on student engagement, and we were inspired by her thoughtfulness, energy, and passion for learning Before she left Richmond for a job in Sitka, Alaska, we sat down with this impressive young alumna for a Q&A.

Tell us a little about yourself. What drew you to UR?

I grew up in Chandler, Arizona and in high school I was curious about everything so I wanted a college that would let me explore all of my different interests and follow my curiosity. University of Richmond was on my radar from the beginning. It had everything I was looking for and a gorgeous campus. UR is also, I think, one of the very few liberal arts schools that has an interdisciplinary program in Philosophy, Politics, Economics, and the Law. So that's what drew my attention at the beginning. And I think what really solidified my decision was the very generous scholarship I received and the rich cohort I matriculated into as an Oldham Scholar. While at UR, I really did explore everything. I was a part of the Jazz Combo and Ritmo Latino, which is the student group on campus that studies Latin dancing. I worked as a Writing Consultant, and I was part of the SEEDS project — a student-run, student-led organization that hosts alternative Spring-break service learning projects across the United States. I graduated from UR in May 2021 with a Philosophy degree.

You are our first CASE Intern. How did you become interested in Advancement and what has the CASE experience been like for you?

I actually did not know that the field of advancement existed until January of this year! I had been part of a student discernment group run by the UR Chaplaincy and it was in that group that I realized I had these talents and inclinations that I really wasn't taking seriously in my job search. So, I was thinking, 'OK, how can I find a job that really leans into relationship-building, creative communication, and creative events?' I started asking around and my faculty mentor, Dr. Cable, suggested I consider going into advancement or fundraising. I had never considered it, but once she suggested it, it seemed like a perfect fit. I talked with Career Services and they connected me with the Donor Relations team in UR's Advancement Office. Ultimately, I was selected for the CASE internship program and the experience has been amazing. This summer has been a whirlwind of learning all about what Advancement is, what the different components are, and what can be aspired to in this field.

As you have learned more about the field of Advancement, what have been your biggest takeaways?

One of my projects this summer is to study student engagement with the Advancement Office here at University of Richmond, and it's a pretty big area of inquiry. As I've been having all these conversations with people about how we build trust with students, how we spread knowledge and awareness of Advancement, and what Advancement is, I've found that in pretty much every conversation, we end up talking about these big issues — about everything from conflict resolution to nonprofit management, down to the nitty gritty of the tax laws in play when it comes to making philanthropic gifts. And it makes me very happy that it seems like I've chosen a field that, while it's very practical, is constantly engaged in some of these bigger questions. I'm interested in how humans work, what they're passionate about, how we best collaborate with each other, how we help each other achieve our goals, what's worth aspiring to ... as a philosophy major, those are questions that I really value and like to meditate on and, it's so exciting to have chosen a field that I think also asks those questions in a more applied way.

How have your perceptions about fundraising and/or philanthropy been confirmed or changed as a result of your experience working with us?

A really transformative piece of my internship this summer has been learning about how the University is run financially. I think I definitely fell into the camp of, 'we have a huge endowment, what is it there for but to spend?' But, having been invited to sit in on some of these meetings where University finances are discussed, I now understand a little bit more about the financial and legal regulations that come with the endowment. I think that my view on philanthropy and giving has been enhanced by this internship. I've heard from a lot of different perspectives from people who have the means to give financially or of their enormous talent, about what it means to give back to a place that is so meaningful to them. I think that's really inspiring and it makes me think more about how I want to incorporate philanthropy into my life. I definitely think the field of philanthropy, both on the donor side and on the staff side, could be more diverse. That is a direction that I would like to help push the field toward in the future, and I think there are really interesting conversations to be had about what kind of responsibilities and what kinds of boundaries should come with very significant donations to very important institutions that affect a lot of people. And I'm excited to see how those conversations pan out in the future and maybe contribute to those conversations as well.

What's one thing you think students and alumni would be surprised to learn about philanthropy at UR?

Something really amazing about fundraising and philanthropy that draws me to this line of work is how close it is to the heart of what every good institution promotes, advocates for, and believes in. When you're involved in philanthropic work, you have so many great conversations about the value of what you are doing, why it is important for society to have these (sometimes intangible) goods like art, research, and service…you get to aspire to big things that you may not see currently in the world around you, but that other people see, and you get to be a part of making those beautiful things come alive. At UR, you have so many different people who are working on making art, humanities, professorships, and research possible. You have different people who are helping our student athletes continue their work in the classroom and on the courts. Advancement is such a visionary field and people don't think of it that way.

What would you say to current Spiders and/or recent grads who are interested in a career in fundraising? Where should they get started?

Well, fundraising is all about relationships, so I would say start talking to people that you know who are related to this line of work. And, if you don't anyone who is related to this line of work, go talk to Career Services, because Career Services is also part of Advancement at UR and they are very happy to talk to you and guide you to the right people, as they did for me. And just enjoy speaking to people about why they love their jobs and what they think about the work that they do. I've also really enjoyed my CASE internship and would highly suggest this internship to anybody who is interested in Advancement. CASE is a great organization, and I've learned not just about Advancement, but about professional development. So, talk to people, get involved in these organizations, and get plugged in!

What's next for you?

My plan is to go to Sitka, Alaska in September, to be the Development and Communications Fellow for OuterCoast, which is an educational nonprofit based in Sitka. They are an aspiring two-year liberal arts college, so I'm still going to be working in the field of higher education, just in a smaller shop which has a pretty radical vision for higher education. This position is a part of a program called the Alaska Fellows program that is bringing together young professionals who are interested in investing in the community in Alaska.

We have loved working with you Anna and we wish you well as you begin your career!

Talented scholars like Anna are part of the Richmond Scholars Program, the University's most prestigious academic merit award. There are many ways to help provide financial aid to students including establishing an endowed scholarship fund or a named annual scholarship. To learn more about scholarships at the University of Richmond, visit our Giving page or contact us at donorrelations@richmond.edu.