Small gifts add up to big impact for WSU student projects

Every fall and spring, CougStarter, WSU’s crowdfunding platform, helps student clubs across the system raise money to enhance their extracurricular experiences. While these campaigns might be modest in scope, they can open doors to important opportunities.

Typically, 10-15 groups are selected each semester to participate in this online fundraising approach— past participants have ranged from Coding Cougs to the Archery Club to Stream Cleans (an environmental club) to the French Club—allowing them to raise money for projects as diverse as stocking the food pantry or attending a professional conference, with fundraising goals ranging from $500 to $2,500.

Over the past five years, CougStarter campaigns have helped student groups raise a total of $284,757 for their projects. Each group selected creates a CougStarter webpage that promotes a specific project for their club, with a stated fundraising goal. They then pitch their project through social media and other channels to promote their campaign.


Launching a trip to NASA in Huntsville

WSU Everett Rocket Team members with the rockets each built before they developed their final rocket design.
WSU Everett Rocket Team members with the rockets each built before they developed their final rocket design.

A recent CougStarter participant was the WSU Everett Rocket Club, which raised $1,350 in the fall of 2022 to support their trip to compete in a prestigious national rocket competition.

“Rocketry is a great way to get students excited about engineering and to extend themselves beyond the classroom,” said Derek Strong, a 2014 graduate of WSU Everett’s first engineering class who now teaches at Everett and is the rocket club’s advisor.

“Launch days are thrilling—the smoke and fire of rockets blasting off, the way they rip through the air. I had no idea rocketry would become a passion,” said Brendon Rosenkranz, last year’s rocket team lead who graduated last spring with a BS in mechanical engineering.

After months of designing and building their rocket named C-1 (short for Cougar-1) and competing in launch competitions, the Everett team was invited to the 2023 NASA Student Launch Challenge, hosted annually in April by NASA’s Marshall Spaceflight Center in Huntsville, Alabama—a major accomplishment for the eight-man rocket club team.

Many of the other qualifying universities have clubs that have competed for decades, not to mention deep coffers to pay for it—Carnegie Mellon, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Vanderbilt, and three military academies (Army, Navy, and Air Force), to name a few.

Creating a high-power rocket that soars to an assigned altitude, deploys a payload, and receives commands via radio frequency requires a lot of hard work and money.

Like other WSU student organizations, the rocket club received funding from WSU’s Services and Activities fees, but the purchase of several high-quality materials and components the team needed were costly, which left them with funding for only two members of the team to make the trip to the NASA competition.

On their CougStarter site, the team described their project and goals and broke down what each gift amount would accomplish (e.g., $75 will feed one of our dear teammates for two days). In the end, they received 37 donations, amounting to $1,350, exceeding their goal of $1,250; the average gift was $25, the largest $75.

“Had it not been for our donors, six team members wouldn’t have been there for launch day,” said Rosenkranz.

Last April when they arrived in Alabama, the hot Southern sun compromised some of C-1’s plastic components made from a 3-D printer to save money. Though the launch was clean and their payload deployed at the assigned altitude, a partially melted chute attachment broke, and C-1 crashed-landed.

The final scores, however, were also based on reports of previous launches, in which Everett had excelled, and this past June NASA announced the competition’s results: WSU placed 34th out of 51 universities. All in all, it was an experience the team said they would never forget.


A very different kind of student competition

WSU Everett Rocket Team members with the rockets each built before they developed their final rocket design.
WSU Pullman National Student Advertising Competition (NSAC) team

The National Student Advertising Competition (NSAC), sponsored by the American Advertising Federation (AAF), is the premier national college advertising competition. And advertising students at the WSU Murrow College of Communication are always primed to compete.

“Few things get my students as excited as competing in the NSAC,” said Justin Barnes, faculty advisor for WSU’s advertising club, called the WSU NSAC team, which this year has 11 team members. Barnes, a scholarly associate professor, teaches the Crimson Creative course, a student-operated public relations and advertising firm.

Each year a well-known company provides a brief for all competing NSAC teams. In response, teams across the country create their strategic advertising and marketing campaigns.

Caroline Binder, a Murrow senior and one of this year’s team members, is the account executive (team lead) and full of enthusiasm when discussing the competition.

“This year all the teams are creating a campaign for Tide—for a new cold-water-washing product—that’s a huge opportunity,” said Binder.

To raise funds for their participation in NSAC, the team turned to CougStarter last fall and raised $2,175, including a few $300 gifts, to support travel to the regional competition in Boise, exceeding their $2,000 goal.

Students first compete within one of 15 districts. Those winners advance to the semi-finals, where they compete for one of eight spots at the finals. This April the district final for the WSU team will take place in Boise. All 11 students are involved in creating the ad campaign, but only four can present to the judges.

Naturally, the other seven members want to be there, and while WSU paid the fees to maintain their NSAC chapter membership and the competition entrance fees, team members have to pay their travel expenses to Boise, a cost many of them could not afford—thus the CougStarter campaign.

Like the rocket team, the NSAC team created their CougStarter site with a brief statement for each gift category (e.g., $50: Going from Pullman to Boise is quite the drive! Your donation will help us pay for gas and other travel costs).

As different as the rocket and NSAC teams are, they both represent the invaluable experience of extracurricular club endeavors: working as a team, experiencing all the pressures of completing a major project—the brainstorming, research, problem solving, deadlines—all of which will serve them well in their future lives and careers.

As Barnes notes of the NSAC team: “They’re going to have a significant advantage when they’re hired by an ad agency—they’ll hit the ground running.”

A sentiment echoed by Strong, the rocket team advisor: “With a good dose of rocket science under their belts, they’re prepared to join any workforce.”

To visit or give to CougStarter organizations go to