Pay it forward initiative greets UI business students

BY QUENTIN MISIAG | MAY 01, 2013 5:00 AM

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Racing to and from morning classes, rash decisions to grab a quick cup of coffee or a sugary energy drink often cross the minds of many on the University of Iowa campus.

Thanks to a newly founded “pay it forward” initiative spearheaded by two members of the University of Iowa Tippie College of Business, these rash decisions have quickly resulted in hundreds of complimentary beverages.

For UI students, faculty, and staff frequenting Pat’s Diner in the Pappajohn Business Building, this notion has been made a reality, thanks to a new business-school strategic plan aimed at improving community-like relationships among the more than 3,000 business students.

The idea is the brainchild of two UI faculty and staff members, both of whom  asked to remain anonymous. The Random Acts of Kindness free beverage initiative launched the second week of April, after they witnessed a member of the UI community receiving a free cup of coffee. The idea for a “pay it forward” program began to float around soon after.

Card recipients are eligible to get nearly any beverage at Pat’s Diner, aside from higher priced energy drinks such as Red Bull.

“This is a cheap way to adjust the culture and make people feel what it is to be a part of a community, not just build up your résumé and get a degree,” one anonymous founders said.

He said an expanded program in the future could result in a smaller, less personal impact that would carry less meaning to its recipients.

A total of 100 cards have been distributed to date, and the original 30 recipients have since swelled to 500.

With space for six one-time participants, each card must be initialed by a Pat’s Diner employee.

Financial backing to pay for the current $750 pilot program, set to end May 10, will come from the personal pockets of an anonymous member of the business-school community. Future donors or sponsors have not been secured beyond the current semester.

One of the anonymous founders said they’ve taken steps with UI Housing and Dining to expand the program campus-wide as early as next semester.

“There is no master plan, and we’ll see if it has legs for next year,” he said. “I think there will be some interest when students return, but you want to keep it small and not routine and common. Many faculty and staff at the university engage in random acts of kindness on a daily basis. They’re not publicized, but it’s a part of who we are and what we do.”

UI freshman and Pat’s Diner employee Danielle Darland said she has seen the initiative create its own presence among the 30 to 50 customers that circulate through the cafe every hour. She liked the idea of having similar initiatives replicated across the more than half a dozen campus cafes.

“It’d be cool to see how far this could reach,” she said. “The other day at work, [one card] literally got passed down the line.”

Business Dean Sarah Gardial, a three-time card recipient, said that given the nature of the program and its small roots, she is confident the initiative will continue.

“It’s just the perfect thing,” she said. “Sometimes, it’s the little things that show us how connected we are.”

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