$1 million gift opens up the future for Pacelli

Published 6:29 pm Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Pacelli alumni donates money for use in STEM education, endowment

Thanks to a hefty donation from an alumni, Pacelli Catholic Schools is poised to take a big step into the future.

On Friday last week, the school announced a $1 million gift from 1974 alumni Steve Wiggins, through the Wiggins Foundation. The gift will be used for creating new technology capabilities for students as well as additional scholarships for low-income families.

“We are just really excited and really grateful for this gift,” said Juliann Wiersma, alumni relations and marketing coordinator for the school. “The field of STEM is just huge and the biggest degrees are in that field. We are so grateful that we have forward-thinking alumni that want to prepare students.”

It was something reinforced for Pacelli Principal Kane Malo as well — how much former students still turn an eye to their old school.

“It just struck me how much our alumni are invested in the continued success and growth of Pacelli,” Malo said. “Knowing they still care about Pacelli Catholic High School, it’s just huge.”

The $1 million gift has been around six months in the making, but with the money now in hand, the school is already preparing the early stages of what the money will offer.

Pacelli High School already has a solid STEM program in place, and with that solid foundation the school is ready to open the doors to other opportunities.

“We had a good program,” Wiersma said. “We are building off a well-constructed program for a more advanced and more focused program.”

One of those avenues will work with Riverland Community College in a way that will allow students to achieve certificates in three core areas, while still going to Pacelli.

According to Malo, those three areas include web development/game design, mobile apps and virtual reality and computer applications.

“That’s going to be huge,” Malo said. “It’s going to allow our kids to step into different arenas, whether that’s the next level of college or moving into the workforce.”

At lower levels, money will help the existing seventh grade coding class as well as introducing STEM education at the elementary level.

A steering committee made up of professionals, teachers and educators are in the early stages of getting the nuts and bolts in order. Former Pacelli principal, Jean McDermott, is heading the implementation as well as the steering.

But one thing is clear. This is the largest gift in the school’s 108-year history, and while $500,000 of this donation will be used for STEM education, it will also help augment the classical education the school offers.

“We’re really excited to add that emphasis,” Wiersma said. “We’re really excited to add a really good program with an emphasis on technology.”

But this donation is more than STEM. The other half is ensuring families have access to a Pacelli education. The promise of even more financial assistance enriches an already hefty support system.

“One of our biggest values is that we want to provide a good, holistic education for whoever wants it,” Wiersma said.

Malo said the second half of the donation will be put toward an endowment fund — the Wiggins Family Scholarship Fund — that will make funds available to help with families in a lower socially-economical bracket to afford sending their children to Pacelli if they are so inclined.

“Historically, 48% to 50% of our students are free and reduced lunch,” Malo said. “Having scholarships that is going to support them is going to be huge.”

In short, more opportunity.

“It’s going to open doors for our students,” Malo said. “It’s going to open doors for new students to come to Pacelli.”