skip to main content

Giving Impact Stories

Katherine Coles

Electrical Engineering, 2009

“I knew about The Grainger Matching Challenge and knew I wanted to take advantage of it. Combining everything tripled what my contribution would have been alone, and that felt so meaningful.”

When Katherine Coles (BS Electrical Engineering, ’09) chose to make her first gift to her alma mater, she knew she wanted to give back to the scholarship that helped her. She received the Kirkwood Scholarship for Women in Engineering during her junior and senior years at Illinois.

Before receiving a Kirkwood Scholarship, Katherine faced circumstances that made her ineligible for financial aid. To save money, she dropped to part-time enrollment and worked two jobs to pay for tuition, fees, and living expenses. Her graduation timeline seemed out of sight.

One of Katherine’s favorite memories as a student is the afternoon she learned about her scholarship. “I was in Engineering Hall turning in my time card for working in the research lab, and an advisor asked me if I would like to receive a scholarship. I pretty much walked on air for about a week after that. It was an answered prayer in so many ways,” she said.

After receiving the news, she changed from a part-time to full-time student the same week and cut her hours at her jobs. The scholarship enabled her to take on more hours doing undergraduate research. “Receiving the Kirkwood Scholarship allowed me to finish school in a reasonable timeline, almost debt free,” Katherine explained.

Katherine graduated with a BS in Electrical Engineering from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in 2009 and an MS in Electrical Engineering from the University of Illinois Chicago in 2014. Since graduating, one of her financial goals was to contribute back to the Kirkwood Scholarship. Not only did this scholarship help her financially, but also the benefactors of the scholarship, Bruce and Linda Koe, have been incredible mentors and friends to Katherine both personally and professionally.

Recently, Katherine had dinner with Bruce and Linda Koe where they discussed Katherine’s desires to give back to the scholarship fund. The Koe’s explained the benefits of The Grainger Matching Challenge. This planted the seed that she could use this challenge to make her contribution have a more significant impact.

This past November, Katherine made her first gift to Illinois. "I knew about The Grainger Matching Challenge and knew I wanted to take advantage of it. What tipped me over the edge was that my employer, Motorola, participated in Giving Tuesday and offered an additional 50% matching opportunity. Combining everything tripled what my contribution would have been alone, and that felt so meaningful,” she shared.

Katherine hopes that her story inspires others to take advantage of tools like company matching and The Grainger Matching Challenge to maximize their impact.