Two weeks into his final semester at Richmond, Geoff Weathersby has already raised more than $6,000 toward a memorial scholarship fund for his father, Terry Weathersby, using only social media. Weathersby's father lost a five-year battle with head-and-neck cancer in October 2011; his family decided that in lieu of flowers, they wanted people to donate to a fund.
Weathersby started the fundraiser, entitled "My Dad's Legacy" in Jeff Pollack's Innovation and Entrepreneurship class. Pollack's first assignment was called "$14, 14 days" -- each student had 14 days to raise as much money as they could, starting with $14. Weathersby knew exactly what he wanted to raise money for -- but his goal was to raise $20,000 in two months instead.
Pollack said that he immediately had agreed to the extension and slight variation of the assignment, and Weathersby credits his professor as the first person outside of his family to really support the project.
"When we were considering financial gift donations for the funeral home's announcement, we immediately thought of Eastern University," said Geoff's mother, Jill Weathersby.
Weathersby's sister, Jennifer, who attended Millersville University, received an award given in honor of a beloved professor who had passed away. The Weathersby family decided that this was the perfect gift to give to the university where Terry had been teaching psychology for the past 11 years.
The Weathersby family learned that in order for the psychology department to give a yearly gift of $1,000 to an Eastern University psychology major demonstrating "exceptional scholastic achievement and dedication to the field," they would have to raise $20,000. With that money, the university would guarantee a 5 percent interest rate so that the $1,000 gift could be given indefinitely.
The goal was set, but Weathersby didn't know how to start raising such a sum.
"Sometimes the best thing to do is just to do something," Weathersby said. He and his family were watching an NBC special when he first became aware of "RocketHub," a self-described community that offers "an innovative way to raise funds and awareness for creative ventures."
Weathersby created an account and posted an explanatory YouTube video onto his Facebook profile, and within three and a half days, he had raised $6,000. Weathersby said that even the founder of RocketHub had personally contributed to his fund.
"What's the most interesting to us is other people," said Rick Mayes, professor of political science, who teaches a public research methods course designed to teach students to describe, investigate and explain human behavior and other phenomena. "This story connects with us as human beings," he said. "It shocks us into thinking and acting."
Mayes was not surprised at the almost viral response the video sparked and also said that this project was a great example of the kind of professor Pollack was and the kind of students he attracted -- students who wanted to create and run businesses that made the world a better place.
Weathersby's father left Eastern University a better place. During the worst phases of his illness, the university set up a microphone in his classroom so that he could still teach.
Weathersby said his father had not always known he wanted to be a psychology professor, but quickly found that it had been his passion. Students referred to him as "T-weather," and Weathersby's mother said that at first her husband had thought he would be dedicated to researching, but always had found himself in the classroom instead.
"I know this sounds cliche, but Terry's favorite thing about teaching was his students," Weathersby's mother said. "Terry was committed to encouraging his students to develop themselves in every aspect of their lives."
Weathersby admited that this project had already taken over all aspects of his life at Richmond. He was recently interviewed by the Philadelphia Inquirer and continues to broadcast his father's story and his project to his college and home communities using Facebook and Twitter. (The hashtag he has been using is #mydadslegacy.)
"It's going to be big," Weathersby said. "It's going to be with me the whole semester and afterwards."
The fund closes at 7 p.m. on March 15, but with so much of the money raised in such a short time, Weathersby thinks he will reach his goal much sooner.
"Flowers die, but a fund will live on," Weathersby said.
Contact staff writer Anika Kempe at firstname.lastname@example.org.