Order of the May alumni show lifetime dedication to giving back
Three Engineering alumni recognized this year for a quarter-century of consistent generosity began their philanthropic journeys in their early 20s.
Philanthropy is its own reward, but it’s not the only reward. Especially for those who start early.
Every year, Carnegie Mellon University recognizes loyal donors with a celebration during Spring Carnival.
Three consecutive years of donations gets them an invitation to the celebration and a membership in the giving society known as the Order of the May. At 25 years of consistent generosity, they are inducted as lifetime members of the Order and are given their own miniature Claymore sword replica—a letter opener—to keep.
JoAnn Truchan didn’t start out with the goal of achieving a lifetime membership in the Order, but she said she was excited and inspired to keep going when she received a pin recognizing her 10th year of consecutive giving.
“I’ve gone to the Order of the May ceremony many times over the years, and seeing that—getting the sword, seeing people be honored and recognized for that—I thought, ‘Well, you know what, I can do this for 25 years.’ It was a big shock when I was told I hit the 25 years, though,” Truchan said, laughing.
She, Mario Hidalgo, and Shannon Wowak are the youngest College of Engineering alumni to receive a lifetime membership this year. They all began giving to CMU in their early 20s.
Truchan received an undergraduate chemical engineering degree from CMU in 1996 and a master’s in public management from CMU’s Heinz College in 2004. Now the chief of engineering for Allegheny County Health Department’s Air Quality Program, she credits Carnegie Mellon with helping her advance so far in her career. She also has been an active member of the Alumni Association, participating in programs for first-year Engineering students.
“I wouldn’t have been able to do those things if I hadn’t started (giving) early,” she said.
Her motivation comes from her own experience as an undergraduate in need of scholarships to afford the cost of attendance.
“That was kind of what inspired me to start giving,” Truchan said. “I want other people to have the chance that I had.”
Both Hidalgo and Wowak graduated with mechanical engineering degrees, Hidalgo in 1996 and Wowak the following year.
Hidalgo started giving to CMU because he wanted to help CMU grow its endowment fund—knowing universities depend on such funds to invest in improvements, research, and faculty—and because he wanted to show appreciation for his “hard-earned” CMU degree by giving something back. His employer also made it easier to continue regular donations through payroll deductions with matching gifts.
Hidalgo said his CMU degree helped him succeed professionally. His proudest career achievement thus far, for example, was serving as the lead designer for the auxiliary power unit on the Airbus A350-XWB aircraft, which currently holds the record for the longest commercial flight (almost 19 hours, from Singapore to Newark, New Jersey).
Reaching lifetime membership in the Order of the May also wasn’t a goal for Hidalgo, who didn’t know such a thing existed until he was told he would be inducted.
“But I appreciate the recognition, and it’s meaningful that CMU recognizes those who go out of their way to help the university grow and prosper,” he said in an email. ”I’m proud to become a member of such a select group!”
The Order’s namesake, alumnus Albert C. May, founded the Annual Fund at Carnegie Tech in 1947 and contributed to it every year until he died in 1998.
Truchan, who was excited to receive her sword-shaped letter opener at the April ceremony, said she enjoys staying connected with the university, seeing it grow, and seeing new generations of students having the same experiences she once did.
“It becomes a family,” she said, adding that she came to that realization while attending her first alumni Highland Games with her sister, a Penn State University alumna who didn’t live on campus. “For her, she went to Penn State. For me, I lived at Carnegie Mellon. It became a part of me.”