Ithaca College Alumni Owned and Operated

By Leah Aulisio-Sharpe ’22, October 29, 2020
Virtual alumni panel features a quartet of local business leaders.

Even though most Ithaca College students aren’t back on South Hill, they’re still able to learn more about the town that is regularly considered one of the best college towns in the country.

As part of the college’s Fall 2020 Virtual Student Engagement Initiative, Sam Elebiary, director of Ithaca College’s BOLD Women’s Leadership Network, put together “Exploring Ithaca,” a series of virtual panels and Instagram live events with local business leaders. There was a Black business panel, a local business panel and an alumni business panel.

The Oct. 13 panel had a distinct Ithaca College feel, as four alumni business leaders — Brett Bossard ’95, Rita Bunatal ’16, Heather Lane, MBA ’10, and Doug Levine ’98, MBA ’04 — spoke about their businesses and organizations, and how their time at IC led them to where they are today.

Watch a Recording of the Panel

Bunatal is the creator and owner of Malaika Apparel Co., which aims to amplify the representation of people of color and advocate for social justice through clothing.

At IC, Bunatal majored in communication management and design and minored in African diaspora studies and communication studies, while also being involved in the African Students Association (ASA).  While she was the public relations chair for the ASA, the student organization created a campaign to combat stereotypes about Africa, and it went viral.

“It was on CNN, USA Today, it was everywhere,” she said. “I realized that there was a power in telling that story: Africa is not a country; all Africans are not the same; Africans don’t all speak the same language; African culture is not a monolith.”

That experience led Bunatal, who was in the exploratory program, to declare a major in communications management and design. Later, through her experiences with advocacy and the Black Lives Matter protests, she aspired to create a way to make a statement without having to say anything at all. Malaika Apparel Co. was born out of her residence hall room the summer before her senior year.

The company won first prize at the college’s 2016 Business Plan Competition. Now, years later, the support of the Ithaca community has sustained the company.

“I remember Thrive Ethical Fashion was the first business in Ithaca to get us on a consignment, and it was just amazing to see the support within the Ithaca Community,” she said. “Five years out, and I am still doing this and so passionate about it.”

“If you are going to devote your life to doing something, dive in and do something that you are absolutely passionate about.” 

Doug Levine ’98, MBA ’04

That sentiment resonated with Levine, executive director of the State Theatre of Ithaca, who earned his undergraduate degree in business management and a master’s degree in business administration.

I am deeply passionate about the State Theatre,” he said. “I got into this for selfish reasons because I love this building, and I love this town, and improving the theatre helps Ithaca as well. When you have a thriving downtown theatre, there are so many waves that go through the town because of it.”

He recalled working at the Cornell Hockey ticket office as an IC student and said that’s where he learned about ticketing.

“I would work during the first period, and then I’d get to see periods two and three for free,” he said. “For me, that wasn’t even like a job, it was a pleasure.”

He urged attendees to pursue their interests with abandon.

“If you are going to devote your life to doing something, dive in and do something that you are absolutely passionate about,” he said.

“My goal was to become more of a numbers person and use that for my decisions…and it worked, and it has really helped me, so I am always thankful for Ithaca College and the ability to look at it with different goggles on.”

Heather Lane, MBA ’10, owner of Purity Ice Cream

As the owner of Purity Ice Cream, Lane credited Ithaca College with giving her the knowledge to turn the company into the thriving business it is today. She went to IC to get a business degree, because she said she always worked from her gut, instead of relying on data to make decisions.

“It’s really important to know your numbers, and work hard with those numbers and use that to drive some of your decisions instead of all your love and passion,” she said. “My goal was to become more of a numbers person and use that for my decisions…and it worked, and it has really helped me, so I am always thankful for Ithaca College and the ability to look at it with different goggles on.”

She has repaid that favor into both the college and local community. This summer, she donated $80,000 to ensure Ithaca’s Alex Haley pool could open. She has also taught courses at the business school since getting her master’s degree.

“I’m always happy to talk to business students so please feel free to reach out or come down,” said Lane. “They can pitch to me or we can brainstorm. I really enjoy that, and I love IC.”

“All the skills that I got from IC certainly continued to be very useful in all the jobs that I’ve had.”

Bret Bossard ’95, executive director of Cinemapolis

Bossard recalled spending many hours at Cinemapolis, Ithaca’s independent movie theater, as an IC student. Now the executive director, he has carried these memories forward as he continues to develop the theatre’s relationship with the college.

“Cinemapolis was a real formative part of my Ithaca College experience,” he said. When I was studying film and television, my friends and I spent a lot of time in those uncomfortable seats in the basement of Center Ithaca, finding movies like Slacker, Dazed and Confused, and The Crying Game.”

Bossard graduated from the Roy H. Park School of Communications with a degree in television-radio and studied screen writing and worked in broadcasting for several years after graduating. He said he didn’t discover the field of arts administration until he went to grad school.

“I bounced around to museums in Ohio and in Auburn, NY, and for the last 15 years I’ve been working for nonprofit organizations here in Ithaca,” he said. “All the skills that I got from IC certainly continued to be very useful in all the jobs that I’ve had. Prior to taking over Cinemapolis, my sole experience with film exhibition was working for the Campus Center my freshman year and working the projector in Textor 101.”

Earlier this summer, Cinemapolis virtually screened several films slated for Ithaca College’s Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival (FLEFF), as well as “America Street,” a documentary by assistant professor Idrissou Mora-Kpai.

Virtual Student Engagement

The Fall 2020 Virtual Student Engagement Initiative is offered by the college’s Office of Student Affairs and Campus Life. For more opportunities to engage, visit the Virtual Student Engagement page on the IC website.