Young alumnus’ planned gift is a promise for the future of U-M

By Ann Marie Aliotta

Growing up in the northern Michigan hamlet of Harbor Springs, Kyle Nowels had always hoped to attend U-M. “It was my dream school,” he says. “I felt fortunate that we had such a great in-state school in Michigan.” But, for the youngest of four from a middle-class family, college affordability was a big part of the decision. He was thrilled when he was accepted, and then immediately thought “How am I going to pay for this?”

Photo of Kyle Knowels and his nephew at Michigan Stadium
Kyle with his nephew Jackson at the Big House

Receiving the Bernard Maloy Scholarship was a “huge relief,” he recalls.  “Having that additional support along with my overall financial aid package, I knew that I was able to go to Michigan.”

This experience would help instill in Kyle the desire to help others in the way he was helped. And, though he is not yet 30, Kyle has created an estate gift to support what he is most passionate about at U-M.

“I’ve always been a future planner and I’m a very old soul,” says Kyle, who began putting together his life-planning documents in his mid-20s. “It just made sense to include Michigan.”

He created a bequest that includes a student support fund at LSA and the Maloy Scholarship that he benefited from, an athletics internship fund, among others. These bequests honor many of the people who have been inspirational to Kyle including family [his parents, his sister (who was the subject of his Maloy Scholarship essay)] and professional mentors. 

“I focused on things that really mattered to me, things I’m passionate about: the Development Summer Internship Program (D-SIP), the Public Service Intern Program (PSIP). I like to help solve problems before they start. With PSIP, why would I wait to give to the candidate? I want to make sure there are good candidates to select from, and often that begins by providing students with experiences exploring public service.”

A self-avowed “sports fanatic,” he first enrolled in the School of Kinesiology to study sport management, with the goal of going to law school and becoming a sports agent, a la Jerry Maguire. After an impactful Development Summer Internship Program internship learning about the tremendous difference that philanthropy makes, a career path in fundraising came into view and today, Kyle is Associate Director of Development, Student Life at U-M. (He jokes that he still says “Show me the money,” but in a much different way, through philanthropy.)

In many ways, his career choice was a natural. “I’ve always had a personal spirit of philanthropy,” he says. “I loved doing community service as a youth. I get great joy out of giving gifts.”  It was his D-SIP internship and his personal experiences as a scholarship recipient that really opened his eyes to what private support can do at a public institution like U-M.

“Many of the special opportunities that are available to U-M students are oftentimes made possible through the generosity of donors,” he says. “To have programs that are sending our students abroad, building high-end research facilities–these things are taken to the next level because of gifts. And to be this place that’s gonna get the next critical vaccine, to send people into space, to have research breakthroughs, to have the next Pulitzer Prize winner, you have to have these programs that are well-funded.” 

Photo of Kyle whilst studying in Rome
Kyle studying in Rome

His approach to his personal giving is informed by his time as a student as much as his current career.

For one thing, Kyle knows he would have graduated with a lot more debt if it hadn’t been for scholarship support. And he would not have been able to do a study abroad trip that was almost entirely funded by scholarships.

“This place invested a lot in me and I want to invest back in it,” he says. “I know that there’s not a better return on my investment than at the University of Michigan. I see success stories in my peers, I see success stories in the alums that came before me, and in my mentoring and interactions with current students, I see that there’s just no better place to give.”

“The amount of difference that can happen at this place is amazing,” he adds. “Plus, it’s in my home state, but has an impact on the nation and the world. It’s focus is local, regional, national, worldwide.”

Kyle says his approach to his own philanthropy is blended giving, with regular annual giving to a number of projects he supports, like many of Michigan’s sponsored student organizations, various campus arts programs, and university diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives, in addition to his bequests. 

“I want to make sure this place is strong now, that’s why I do my annual gifts each year, but in the future, I want to make sure that they have this promise of resources coming in,” he says. “My planned giving is a vote of confidence in the future of the organization. I realize I’m only in my 20s, but I really trust the leadership of institutions I give to and I know they will have strong leadership for the next 50 years.”

And by documenting a gift now, he is making a bigger impact on the future. “I would not be able, at this time, to make a gift of the size that will be realized with my bequest,” he says. 

Does Kyle view his giving as paying it forward, giving back, giving up? “You hear all these different terms. For me, I just want to make sure everyone has a chance to make the most of their time while they’re on campus.”

“Instead of a student coming to Michigan saying I wish I could go abroad or I wish I could do the internship in DC, but I just don’t have the money…that’s not about ability. That’s about access. I want to make sure that everyone has access to their educational pursuits, their research pursuits, their athletic pursuits. My dream is that every Wolverine has limitless opportunities.”

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