University of Connecticut officials pledged to increase the school’s outreach to greater New Haven area alumni at a recent event held in the Elm City.
About 70 UConn alumni, in attendance at the New Haven Lawn Club, came away impressed and energized after hearing the school’s president and the leader of UConn’s top scholarship, fundraising and alumni engagement organization talk up the university’s resume.
Alexander Babbidge, president of Babbidge Construction Co. in New Haven and who also received his MBA in business from UConn in 1999, came to the Sept. 24th event because he had never met UConn President Susan Herbst before. Herbst was in New Haven as part of her continuing National Series talks.
“She’s very impressive,” said Babbidge, who earned his undergraduate degree at Yale University in New Haven in 1986s. “I think UConn is headed in a great direction. She and Josh Newton [president and CEO of the UConn Foundation] bring a sense of passion that gets everyone excited about the future at UConn.”
Babbidge said his daughter is currently a senior at North Haven High School “and UConn is certainly a college that we’d love to consider” for her to attend next year.
UConn alumni first watched a film highlighting achievements over the past few years—from being ranked in the top 25 public universities in the country to its winning of national basketball championships—and then chatted with the president about the school.
“We’ve got a lot to brag about,” said Herbst. “We got hammered with applications this past year—more than 35,000—for a freshman class of about 5,200 (on all UConn campuses, including Storrs).”
Herbst added, “We are a comprehensive university. We have more and more international students. We’ve truly become global in our reach.” Additionally, Herbst said: “Our faculty is top-notch, laser-focused on our students.”
She continued that UConn enjoys the support of the state’s biggest cheerleader—Governor Dannel P. Malloy. “He is our advocate, especially when it comes to the type of growing research and economic development work that is happening at UConn.”
Herbst did caution, however, “We still do have our challenges, especially when it comes to funding.”
“Philanthropy is our future,” said UConn’s president. “Holding onto state funding is certainly not a given. That’s why the UConn Foundation work is so important.”
Newton said one of the goals of the Foundation “is to strengthen our alumni outreach.”
“You are going to see us more in New Haven, in Fairfield County, in Hartford,” continued Newton. “This is not a one-time visit.”
Katrice Sponzo, Assistant Director of Alumni Chapters & Networks at UConn, echoed Newton’s words: “We need to make New Haven a stronger network,” she said. She added that about a dozen New Haven area UConn alumni have expressed an interest in being “more involved” in UConn activities.
“My plan is to follow up with this group and host an open meeting in the next couple weeks to discuss expanding engagement opportunities for our alums and develop a volunteer advisory committee to aide in these efforts.”
In November, two other UConn National Series events are planned—one hosted by Michael Cantor of the law offices of Cantor Colburn LLP, and a UConn Foundation Board member, in Atlanta. Later that month an alumni event is planned in Baltimore, featuring Dr. Bruce Liang, Dean of the UConn School of Medicine.
Nicknamed “Kamikaze Friend Maker” by her mother because of her innate ability to make friends very easily at a young age, little did Montique Cotton Kelly, executive director of the UConn Alumni Association (UCAA) and UConn’s assistant vice president for alumni relations, realize that this attribute would one day serve her well. Called “Mo” by her family, friends, and colleagues, Cotton Kelly took the helm of the Alumni Association on June 13, 2014, after having served 18 years in various leadership positions at her alma mater, Bowling Green State University, where she earned both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees.
Cotton Kelly credits her military roots and tight-knit family for her success in alumni relations. Her father, who was in the U.S. Air Force, traveled frequently. Born in Canton, Ohio, the youngest of three children, she and her siblings lived on a couple of military bases. She recalls having attended many schools. By the time she graduated from high school in 1990, she had attended 13―three of them in Wisconsin. Cotton Kelly considers this a blessing, citing that it helped define part of her personality. She feels that her knack to establish friendships quickly is an integral part of alumni relations. She and her husband, James, have a son, Lincoln (7), and daughter, Kenya (3).
Cotton Kelly shares her journey from being a Falcon to a Husky, her vision for the Alumni Association, and what she’s most passionate about.
You are a Bowling Green State University (BGSU) alumna and worked there for 18 years. What attracted you to the executive director position of the Alumni Association?
I had lived in Connecticut from 1994 to 1996 and was familiar with what UConn had achieved academically. An executive search firm called regarding the position and I was flattered. I informed them twice that I couldn’t investigate it at the time. There was a lot going on at BGSU, and I couldn’t pursue the role until football season ended.
UConn is an incredible institution. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of it? The position was an obvious next step for me professionally. I knew that I could evolve the UCAA and work strategically to engage alumni and show what a unified front can do.
You’ve been in your current position for seven months. What are your immediate priorities?
I’m reviewing staffing, budget, and goals that were established before I arrived. I’m looking at our membership-dues model, wanting to make it inclusive. I’m also reviewing how we’re communicating with alumni. I would like to do more data mining. I think it’s critical for harnessing new names. I’m also aligning our goals with the University’s, making sure that we’re in synch with each other. I underestimated the amount of decentralization on campus and would like to make it look like we’re one institution. Whether you’re from the Neag School of Education or the School of Dental Medicine, it’s one pipeline, one UConn.
What do you most enjoy about your job?
I love meeting our alumni and getting to know our alumni base and my colleagues. Everyone has been very welcoming and so willing to help. I enjoy sharing the great things about UConn―from its great history and traditions to the master plan of our campus. The UCAA should be the happiest place in the world and a conduit of all good things happening.
What are some of the challenges you’re facing?
One of the challenges is how to better engage our more than 223,000 alumni worldwide and get their support. We have many ways for our alumni to be engaged, from networking events to career resources. However, the challenge is how to work together as a community. Last October, we launched two new signature events: Huskies Forever Weekend, which was attended by more than 1,600 alumni and friends, and An Evening with Champions, a sold-out event attended by more than 425 people that raised money for UConn student scholarships. Both events showcased what a unified UConn can achieve.
Another challenge is the decentralization of all alumni services on campus. It’s a big animal and communication will play a critical role in this. We need to bring people to the table to represent one UConn and change the culture from exclusion to inclusion. I’m also revamping our membership model.
I’d like to build a stronger reunion programming at UConn. Last, but not least, how do we define engagement and how do we reuse it? I’d like to develop metrics on how to measure engagement success.
How are you further engaging UConn alumni?
We have many ways to get alumni engaged. If athletics is their thing, get them to sports events. If academics is their thing, get them to a poetry reading. President Susan Herbst is engaging alumni through our Presidential National Series events. This is the first time that we’ve had our president out on the road, meeting alumni. The fact that she’s willing to travel to Texas, Florida, and California as well as around our state, speaks volumes, and the post-event surveys indicate that our alumni enjoy seeing her and hearing her vantage point.
There’s no difference between UConn and BGSU alumni. No matter where you are, wherever you find alums—they love their institution. We have rabid UConn alumni. I want to engage our alumni locally—whether they’re in Connecticut, Boston, or New York—and let them know that the Alumni Association is here to help them stay connected with the University and other alumni. I’d like to help them stay engaged and spread that engagement.
The UCAA is also working with students on campus. We cannot have engagement or traditions without them. I want our students to know that the UCAA is not only here in the present but also after they graduate, and that they’re an alum from Day One.
We’re also working with such affinity groups as the UConn Alumni Marching Band, our Greek organizations, and Cultural Centers. They’re gravitating toward a shared experience at UConn. I want to bring our alumni and students together. It’s not the year you graduated, but the affinity that’s just as important. I want to help alumni relive their moments and see the changes on campus while helping students create memories.
How do you envision the future of the Alumni Association?
I envision the UCAA to be a more inclusive organization. I want to evolve the existing culture and make it more integrated into the fabric of our University. Currently, we’re a patchwork quilt that’s not part of a seam. We need to be a seamless operation—one UConn—and we’re on our way. The alumni relations world is a people business and we need to continue to deliver great customer service to our graduates. I want to get our alumni reenergized and excited about their alma mater.
What do you want alumni to know about you?
I want alumni to know that I’m very family-oriented. I love my children and husband. My mom lives with me, and I’m fortunate to have a supportive family unit. My family helps me be a better person. My husband gave up his job to relocate to Connecticut. Everybody was all in, and it made the decision to leave my beloved alma mater easier. I had to make some sacrifices, but I can’t have it all. I work for work-life harmony not work-life balance. If you strive for harmony, you’ll be a healthier person.
I’m also passionate about my friends. I’m a very social person, so you’ll always see me talking with students and staff. I’ll always make time for an alum, staff member, and friend. I believe that when alums travel from Connecticut or California, it’s important to spend a few minutes with them to say thank you. I want them to know that UConn is their home and that our doors are always open for them. Always spend time with an alum who wants to spend time with you. I’m also a rabid Huskies athletics fan.
There’s a renaissance taking place at UConn. The sky’s the limit, and I love being a part of a sky’s-the-limit organization. One of my goals is to make UConn one of the best institutions in America. The UCAA is part of a spoke in the wheel―and together, we can make it happen.
The UConn Foundation has received a $1.5 million commitment that will help students majoring in political science or a business discipline pay for college.
Alumnus Richard Minoff ’75 has bequeathed the scholarship funds for students in those majors. The gift will be evenly split between the political science department and the School of Business, helping students well into the future.
“Richard’s generous gift will help business focused students to afford a UConn education and, once here, to concentrate on their studies, not their finances. We are tremendously grateful for his bequest,” says John A. Elliott, dean of the School of Business.
The donation is one of the latest to the Foundation’s Transform Lives scholarship initiative, which aims to raise $150 million, effectively doubling the amount available for scholarships and student support.
The gift will help students like Katie Cavanaugh ’17, who is actually double majoring in both political science and management information systems. Cavanaugh, 20, of South Windsor, says financial aid allows her to do business internships and research and has given her parents some financial relief.
“Having that funding has made UConn a gift for me and my family and has taken the burden off them,” she says.
Jeremy Teitelbaum, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, says the planned gift will help many like Cavanaugh.
“With more than 600 undergraduate majors, political science is one of the most popular programs of study at UConn. For many of these aspiring public servants, Mr. Minoff’s gift will make earning an excellent political science education financially possible,” Teitelbaum says.
Minoff, a successful pharmaceutical marketing and brand executive from Lansdale, Pa., majored in political science at UConn and went on to business school at the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland. Amazingly, he was able to finish both college and business school combined in 3.5 years.
As he looks back on his career, Minoff says he realizes that his education at the University of Connecticut has been the foundation for his success. He has fond memories of influential professors who stoked his desire to learn both at the Storrs campus and the Stamford branch. He says his liberal arts education at UConn gave him a strong foundation that has taken him far around the world.
“I do believe strongly in a liberal arts education,” he says. “I believe one of the reasons I’ve been able to do so well globally is my knowledge of art, of philosophy, of history and politics, and even astronomy. Really, it’s being well-rounded and being taught to think critically, to think broadly–that was originally nurtured at UConn. I’m fortunate if I can help other people move forward to develop their skills in these areas.”
UConn Foundation President and CEO Joshua R. Newton thanked Minoff for his gift.
“His generous bequest is critical to our goal of providing more scholarship aid to UConn students,” Newton says.
After graduating UConn, at age 23, Minoff briefly worked as a fulltime college professor at Kutztown University of Pennsylvania but says he quickly realized he could not live on an $11,200 salary. He then took a job working for Mobil Oil in New Orleans. When the company asked him to relocate to another country, his wife urged him to change careers and get into the pharmaceutical industry.
He rose rapidly through the management ranks at GlaxoSmithKline, and then Wyeth Pharmaceutical as director of marketing. After more than a dozen years as a pharmaceutical executive, he moved into the global healthcare communications and advertising industry. He was a founding member of one firm, which he grew from seven employees to 135, and then joined one of his former agencies, Dorland Global as managing partner to turn around that failing organization. Over the next five years, he grew Dorland Global into a global powerhouse and the second largest privately held global healthcare communications companies in the world. Then he sold the firm to Huntsworth PLC, a London-based mega media company and agreed to stay on for two years as President and CEO.
Minoff, who is widowed and has a son, Greg, and granddaughter, Maddie, now runs his own boutique pharmaceutical and life sciences consultancy called 1 Global Partners. In 2011, he also became associate professor and director of the Undergraduate Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Business Program at The University of the Sciences in Philadelphia where he teaches a range of marketing and sales courses.
During his career, he has launched more than 75 brands and companies, including billion-dollar breakthrough drugs such as Avastin, Diovan, Glivec, Lamisil, and Neoral. He is proud that he has been able to help bring life-prolonging drugs to patients suffering from deadly illnesses, such as cancer. Clearly “you can transform lives,” he says.
“‘I was able to help patients make it to their child’s weddings, graduations and other significant life events for which they are grateful. When you have the ability to help bring a drug into the world from a marketing standpoint, that’s a legacy. That’s something to be proud of.”
Elliott says that Minoff’s contributions to the pharmaceutical industry to market life extending cancer medications are remarkable.
“He is an inspiration to our students, many of whom, like Richard, believe that social benevolence should be part of the fabric of every successful company, and that improving the world is not an optional endeavor,” Elliott says.
Getting good grades in a good major at a good school are important steps to launching a successful business career, but a key component that shouldn’t be overlooked is the importance of social interaction.
Recently five of those SAGE members were given $3,000 scholarships for, in the words of Associate Dean Mei Wei, “the time and efforts put in to realize and recognize the importance of engaging in social activity.”
“Landing a job after you leave UConn,’’ said Wei, “involves so much more than how well you did in your classes. SAGE teaches the importance of being successful, how to interview, how to be practical, how to be engaging.’’
Added Aida Ghiaei, Director of Graduate Outreach & Diversity at the School of Engineering and SAGE’s advisor: “We have ongoing activities that all stress the same theme—the importance social interaction plays in professional development.’’
The scholarships, part of a $1 million bequest from former Electrical Engineering UConn Professor John Lof, were awarded to:
Morad Behandish, a PhD candidate in mechanical engineering
Bahar Deljoo, a PhD student in materials science and engineering
Drew Clearfield, a PhD candidate in materials science and engineering
Paul Wortman, a PhD candidate in electrical and computer engineering
Kamyar Momeni, a PhD candidate in biomedical engineering
Lof joined the faculty at UConn in 1952, as an assistant professor of electrical engineering. As the next generation of computers were developed, he advised and assisted UConn in opening an engineering computer center. He was the director of the Computer Center and also taught courses in computer programming.
Wortman, who is a sixth-year graduate student, said he came to UConn “shy and quiet. I didn’t know a lot of people. SAGE has taught me the importance of interacting.’’
In the spirit of SAGE, the five recipients of the scholarships didn’t find out they were being singled out until, first, all of the SAGE members enjoyed an ice cream social hour. Then the names of the scholarship recipients were announced as their peers cheered and applauded.
The UConn Foundation is in the midst of its Transform Lives initiative that aims to double the amount of financial support, including merit and need-based scholarships that the foundation raises for the benefit of the UConn student body.
The Foundation recently reported it raised nearly $78 million in contributions and pledge commitments during fiscal year 2015, including $16.3 million for scholarship and student support.
UConn’s prowess in the sporting world is well known. UConn Nation has come to expect—and receive—national championships in exchange for their loyalty and passion.
What sometimes gets lost in that effort, however, is that student-athletes are no different than “regular” students. The need for scholarship support to keep attracting these top students to UConn has never been higher.
As the cost of tuition continues to rise, private support is more essential than ever for the success of our 24 varsity sports and more than 700 student-athletes. And what also sometimes gets forgotten is that UConn student-athletes continue to excel: more than 50 percent earned a grade point average of 3.0 or higher.
In the 2014-15 academic year, $12 million was paid by the Athletic Department in tuition costs, as 216 athletes received partial scholarships and 196 received full scholarships. That cost will be going up this year.
UConn’s championship success has been achieved in large part due to the continued generosity of donors, season ticket holders, alumni and friends who annually support UConn Athletics.
This year a new fundraising initiative, the “Drive for 5K,” is being launched with the goal of increasing the number of contributors from 4,400 to 5,000.
The “Drive for 5K” comes at the same time the UConn Foundation is in the midst of its Transform Lives fundraising initiative that aims to double the amount of financial support—including merit and need-based scholarships—that the Foundation raises for the benefit of the UConn student body.
There are tangible benefits to making a donation to UConn Athletics. A gift enrolls you in The UConn Club and provides priority seating and parking privileges at games, invitations to special events, tax benefits and other exclusive benefits associated with membership.
Numbers are great—but to put a face on one of the scholarship recipients, meet Noel Thomas, a junior wide receiver from Norwalk, Conn., who caught 26 passes, gained 305 yards and caught a team-high four touchdowns during the 2014 season.
Noel, a junior majoring in communications who says it’s his dream “to be a coach someday,” is this year’s recipient of the Oleksiw Family Football Scholarship.
“My family has one less thing to worry about” thanks to the scholarship, said Noel. “I have a lot of self-motivation to keep my grades up. Plus we have a good team of academic advisors to help us out.”
Time management, said Noel, is a challenge for student-athletes, especially during the time of year when the sport the athlete is playing is in season. “Studying—and playing—is a full-time commitment,” he said. “But it’s a commitment that I am more than willing to make.”
Noel’s scholarship donors, the Oleksiws, have a long history of contribution and service to the UConn Club and the UConn Division of Athletics.
Jim ’75 (ENG) and Marylee Oleksiw said they are thrilled to help pay for Noel’s education. “He and his teammates,” said Marylee, “are such an impressive group of young men. We are so happy to be able to help him, on and off the field.”
“We just wanted to do what we could to support the (football) program,” said Jim Oleksiw.
A native of Manchester, Conn., Jim was an engineering major at UConn and served as a resident assistant in Buckley Hall. Marylee is from a small town in Massachusetts and grew up watching sports as a cheerleader at her high school. Both of their children are also UConn graduates.
The Oleksiws are faithful followers of the Huskies both at home and on the road. They have attended all four of the men’s basketball team’s appearances in the Final Four and all five of UConn’s bowl games in football. They have also attended numerous women’s Final Fours and followed the Huskies to locations such as Hawaii and the Virgin Islands.
“Supporting UConn athletics is a family activity for us,” said Marylee. “When our kids were young coming to UConn sporting events was a big part of our lives.”
“And it still is,” added Jim.
If you have questions about the “Drive for 5K” or any other fundraising question, please call the UConn Athletic Development Office at (860) 486-3863 or email at UConnClub@foundation.uconn.edu.