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Reimagining of higher education inspires alumni to support ASU's mission


Alumni Shelly and Trace Udall believe in supporting ASU's vision and mission for higher education.

Alumni Shelly and Trace Udall support ASU's mission to increase access to higher education and create an equitable workforce to better serve our communities.

September 21, 2021

It's a long list, Shelly Udall insists, and she doesn't know where to begin.

"It's so many different facets," she said after a pause. "We could probably talk for an hour about different things that we're proud of at ASU."

Her husband, Trace Udall, shares his heartfelt thoughts on the university's makeover under President Michael M. Crow.

"Dr. Crow is saying, ‘We want to be a university that's willing to take anyone as long as they're willing, and we can figure out a way for them to pursue a better education, a better life,'" Trace said.

“ASU looks at how they can educate people to improve not only the individual but the family, the community, the state, the country, the world, in that order, rather than saying, 'You're not good enough for us,' or, 'You don't have enough money to pursue a degree.’

“That would be, at my core, the motivation behind our desire to continue advocating for ASU's path forward."

Crow has long been reimagining higher education to increase access for an equitable workforce and better serve our communities. And the Udalls, Mesa residents who graduated from ASU nearly three decades ago, are deeply committed to their support of this mission.

It was the impetus behind their endowment gift to the President's Club Strategic Fund, which leverages charitable giving to accelerate change and advance ASU's charter. While traditional resources available within a state university system can be limiting, donor support allows ASU to operate with the flexibility and skill required of today's economy — and ultimately contributes to its success as a university with global impact. 

"It's basically a feeder fund that enables Dr. Crow to pursue ideas and accelerate the growth of ASU and this evolution of the New American University without the hurdles you'd have to jump over in terms of public financing," Trace said. "Shelly and I are both businesspeople, and we understand having capital flexibility is the way you expand an idea and accelerate it through the community and the world."

To understand the Udalls' passion for ASU is to know their story. For Trace, a certified financial planner, his connection to the university traces back to his childhood in St. Johns, a small farming and ranching town in eastern Arizona. His father would regularly drive him and his three brothers to ASU football and basketball games. 

"We'd drive four hours down to the game, and after the game, we'd drive four hours back home," he said. "I don't think we ever stayed overnight."

That is, until he remained at ASU as a student. He later met Shelly at a local bowling alley — "we were in adjoining lanes," Shelly said, laughing — and married her a year and a half later. On July 4, 1993, shortly after Trace's graduation, they had their first child, a daughter. Shelly graduated from ASU a year later.

"I was pushing her around ASU a lot when she was a baby," Shelly said, "and now she has her degree from ASU." 

They've remained football and basketball season ticket holders through it all, and the youngest of their three children is currently at ASU. They call it "our family's university" — a university that embraces change.

It's what keeps bringing them back. 

"When President Crow came along, we saw the light of what could happen at ASU," said Shelly, who works in real estate as a general contractor. "He's just inspiring, and everyone wants to be a part of that."

"He made us feel like there's a place for everybody at the university," Trace said. "There was inclusivity about it. Whatever you're interested in, there's a place at ASU for you."

These are the same principles, they say, that embody the President's Club, which can often mimic a springboard for philanthropic-minded ASU advocates to discover passion areas they want to support through the university.

For the Udalls, it's about fairness and opportunity in higher education. They also point to initiatives fueled by the President's Club that support veterans and the underserved — innovative, transformative work with far-reaching impact.

Says Shelly: "We have three children. Trace and I thought, why couldn't we just split our capital four ways and give some to ASU for people who might not have our children’s opportunities? It takes a lot to operate a university, and capital is the lifeblood."

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