By: Susan Poulos
On a crisp autumn morning Sam Spilman, ’87 in Electrical Engineering, and a college friend, Mark Smith, got together as they do regularly, to play golf and catch up on life. They’ve been close friends since meeting at NC State University, where they met as residents at Bragaw Residence Hall nearly 30 years ago.
Spilman’s long lasting friendships with NC State colleagues were forged in resident life; he loved living on campus and the convenience taking advantage of all the activities available. He served as a Resident Advisor (RA) in his junior and senior year, and was president of the Inter-Residence Council in his senior year.
“My in-class and out-of-class experience at NC State was incredible, and has influenced me throughout my life. These long-term friendships are precious to me.” Spilman said. “Many of us were RAs together, and being in that position of responsibility and leadership bonded us for life.”
Cultivating leadership skills
In his junior year Spilman stepped into the role of RA. His mentor said, “You’re going to have 58 residents on this hall. Experiment with what kind of leadership styles will work with different people.” Spilman figured out quickly how to influence a variety of residents’ decisions and behaviors. “Different people responded to different approaches. I still apply the skills I learned as an RA into my professional life.”
Spilman was named RA of the Year in 1986 for his leadership and service. A few weeks before the school year began, a fellow RA fell into a month-long coma as the result of a car accident. Spilman led an community-wide effort to raise money for this student to come back to school, or to have other opportunities after his recovery. “We had raffles, bake sales, and even a beach party with two tons of sand to raise money. It was so rewarding to give this student and his family a check on behalf of our residence hall community.”
“The out of classroom experiences got me job offers. Employers are looking for skilled and talented people who also have great interpersonal skills.”
His leadership and generosity of time, energy, and resources are a way of life. Growing up in Fayetteville, N.C., Spilman’s parents instilled these qualities in him. His father was an elected official and continuously gave back to the community. “Luke 12:48 sums up the way I was raised: For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required. To this very day I take this sentiment to heart,“ he reflected.
Encouraging fellows to make a positive difference
Delivering the commencement address in 1987, Spilman shared his commitment to service and responsibility, and encouraged all graduates to do the same. “With the new abilities we have gained through our NC State experience come increased responsibilities to our society and to ourselves. We must be willing to take an active role in our community by being generous with charities, speaking out about important issues, and public service. We need to be concerned with those who are less fortunate than us, and be willing to help those who have not had the same opportunities. We can’t be apathetic – we must make a positive difference!”
Spilman says that the excellent academic training he received at NC State got him job interviews. “But the out of classroom experiences got me job offers. Employers are looking for skilled and talented people who also have great interpersonal skills.” Currently a Director at Duke Energy Corporation, Spilman’s 29-year career in utility management has been fulfilling and meaningful. He also serves on the Board of Directors for the Raleigh Little Theatre and Haven House Services.
Giving to the future
Recently Spilman volunteered to participate in a mock interview at the Career Development Center within the Division of Academic and Student Affairs (DASA), sparking a conversation with Sara Seltzer, Assistant Director of Development for DASA. “We talked about how influential resident life was for me, and about the amazing array of high impact experiences that NC State offers today. My wife, Karen, and I wanted to be a part of ensuring that students will continue to have access to these programs and opportunities, but weren’t sure of the best way to do it.”
Seltzer was moved by the Spilmans’ desire to give back to the university. “Sam’s appreciation for his experiences at NC State both inside and outside of the classroom as an RA, a member of student government, and his dedication to service came together in the form of a family endowment benefitting high-impact programs within the Division of Academic and Student Affairs. This kind of philanthropy is vital to the NC State experience; the more private support we receive the less we have to increase student fees. This could mean, for example, that fewer students will have to take a second job or incur more financial aid. The Spilman Family Endowment will make a meaningful and long-lasting positive difference for NC State students.”
Spilman explained, “There is a misconception that endowments require hundreds of thousands of dollars, but that’s just not true. Don’t sell yourself short if you have an interest – there may be a niche for you in the giving / endowment world. Sara customized a program for us that met our giving goals and our budget. We found a way to fund programs that cultivate service above self and service leadership in students.”
The Spilmans hope their gift inspires others to give. “Maybe they will say, ‘If Sam and Karen can do it, I bet we can too!’ I hope, in addition to helping future students, that NC State alumni will realize all of the benefits they received from their college experience and ask how they can give back. I hope our gift helps people see the possibility for giving financially, and also with time and talent. There’s a place for you on campus, and we need you,” Spilman added.