The Ithaca College Board of Trustees elected seven new members at its May meeting. Michael Conover ’81, a partner at KPMG LLC, one of the Big Four auditors; Jack Dembow ’77, former CEO of the Philadelphia Psychiatric Center and the Jewish Family and Children's Service of Greater Philadelphia; David Fleisher II ’91, CEO of the wealth management firm Firstrust Financial Resources and vice chairman of Karr Barth Associates Inc., a diversified financial services firm; Gary Gross ’81, former president of Universal Publishing Production Music; William Nelligan III ’83, president and chief executive officer at International SOS, a medical- and travel-security risk services company; and Jeff Selingo ’95, higher education author and columnist for the Washington Post, were all elected as four-year term trustees. James Taylor ’00, chief diversity and inclusion officer at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, will serve a three-year term as an alumni trustee.
Three months into their terms, we talked with them about why they joined the board, what they hope to contribute, and what they are most excited about. This is part one of two, featuring four of the new trustees. Part two contains insights from the remaining three.
Why did you want to join the board?
David Fleisher: This is a critical and exciting time for Ithaca College, and I’m excited to roll up my sleeves and be part of writing its next chapter.
Gary Gross: My time at IC was transformational for me. I was exposed to so many different areas within the college and got introduced to so many eye-opening new things. IC also prepared me to be a leader in my career. I’m appreciative of what Ithaca gave me, and I want to give back to the college and to the students.
Jeff Selingo: There’s no doubt IC set the foundation for me to have a fulfilling life and career, from my work as editor of the Ithacan and my summer job in the orientation office, to the engaging and thought-provoking classes I took in politics, ethics, and media law, which helped me build critical thinking skills I still use to this day. I see the board service as a way to return all that’s been given to me.
James Taylor: IC provided me with a platform for personal growth and development as well as an education. Any opportunity I have to stay connected to the college, to contribute my skillset and abilities, and to continue to engage with the campus in a productive way, I am happy to take.
What special skills, particular expertise, etc. do you offer the board and/or Ithaca College?
DF: I bring expertise in strategic planning, governance, and fiscal responsibility, both through my professional experience and my civic and philanthropic leadership over the years.
GG: My career expertise is wide-ranging. I’ve worked at small startups, small companies, and large multi-national companies, and I’ve had various functions within those companies. I’m looking forward to bringing my practical knowledge to the board, as well as my fresh perspective. I’m also located on the West Coast, and I’d like to help IC expand its presence here.
JS: For the last 20 years I’ve covered higher ed as a journalist. I spent 16 years at the Chronicle of Higher Education in a variety of roles, and I’ve continued to write on the subject including three books and a regular column in the Washington Post. I also now see higher ed from the inside. I’m a special advisor to the president at Arizona State University, which is consistently named one of the most innovative universities in the country, and I’m a visiting scholar at Georgia Tech’s Center for 21st Century Universities. This portfolio of work gives me a front row seat to what’s happening at colleges and universities around the world, and I think that can be helpful in the challenges and opportunities that face Ithaca College.
JT: There are three things, at least in my professional life, that I think I do relatively well: I am a strategist, I am a healthcare executive, and I am a diversity and inclusion practitioner. This is the platform upon which I have built my professional career, and I’m excited to share these skills with Ithaca College.
What are some of the best things about Ithaca College?
DF: There are so many. IC is an incubator for great ideas and future leaders; a blend of culture, arts and professional training; and at its core IC has a faculty and staff that genuinely care about student success.
GG: IC is not too big and not too small—it’s just the right size. It’s also not siloed. You can really work across school boundaries, and that’s critically important because that’s the way the world works. Lastly, because of its size and basic core principles, you get hands-on experience. Students learn from professors who have practical experience, and you’re not just stuck in a textbook.
JS: I think the opportunities for hands-on learning and how that is integrated with a liberal arts education. To me, the future belongs to college grads who have a broad education to deal with the ambiguity of the world around us but also have a deep understanding of a particular field. I think an IC education gives you a healthy mix of both, and that’s something that many other colleges are struggling to provide.
JT: Ithaca College isn’t just about an academic track, or a major field of study. It’s also about cultivating personal life skills and learning lessons along the way. There’s something in the fabric and the tenor of Ithaca College that creates an environment that’s so ripe for learning, a place where students can have an experience where they can flourish and grow.
What excites you about the college's future?
DF: Some of this goes back to what I like the most about IC. Also, in general I would say the launch of a new presidency is always an exciting time at an institution, and I’m looking forward to providing President Collado with the support and guidance to help her lead the college to greater heights.
GG: The college’s future is really based on its past: it’s about preparing students to reach their full potential in the real world and finding out how you best do that. The challenge today is that we have to adapt what makes IC great to fit today’s model. We need to get out there and explain why the IC experience is even more relevant than ever before.
JS: I love the potential and the vision President Collado is bringing to the college and the fact that she is of my generation and as a result can take a long view in understanding the challenges students face in the decades ahead.
JT: What comes to mind immediately is certainly the vision of new leadership. I am excited about the new president, her wealth of experience and her background. I also know the college does an exceptional job of preparing students for their futures, and I am excited about helping find ways to continue combining the academic rigor IC is known for with the type of learning skills that students will need throughout their lives. I am also excited about helping build a culture on campus that ensures cultural competency.
What’s something about you that people might be surprised to learn?
DF: I selected Ithaca College without having seen it once. The first time I saw Ithaca was day one of my orientation, and, as they say, sometimes you just get lucky.
GG: I have started taking Norwegian lessons. Half my family lives in Norway and when I was a kid, I spent summers there and spoke a little bit of Norwegian at the time. I love learning new things, and for me learning this language is exciting — I’ll be able to speak with my family in their native tongue.
JS: I first got to know Ithaca College because of its roots as a music conservatory. My father is a professional musician and a high school music teacher and he really instilled in me a love of live music and musical theater, which of course are both strengths of IC. To me, the arts make a campus come alive, and I’m thrilled that IC still holds to the trust of its founding as a music conservatory.
JT: I enjoy traveling, particularly to different cities and countries in which I have a chance to be an outsider and learn the culture of that community. When I go to international cities, I don’t go to the touristy area or hotel. I want to be within the communities and learn from the locals.