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For Tanya Levy-Odom ’90, it started almost before the ink was dry on her diploma.
For Robert Bernstein ’55, it began more than 45 years after he tossed his cap and doffed his gown.
Levy-Odom and Bernstein share more than memories of Memorial Hall. Despite their differences in years, backgrounds and life experiences, each has found that giving their time to support the growth of Hofstra and its students is a rewarding experience all around.
They aren’t alone. More and more graduates are discovering one of Hofstra’s great and growing strengths: our doors are always open – both ways. Every year, men and women leave with freshly minted degrees, ready to face the challenges ahead. As they say goodbye, these new grads rub shoulders with alumni who re-enter, in person or in spirit, to give something back.
“Commencement isn’t about endings,” said Alan J. Kelly, vice president for development and alumni affairs. “It reminds students that they are beginning a lifelong relationship with their alma mater. As much as we need the financial support of our alumni, we also value the time, wisdom and old-fashioned moral support they have to offer. That’s why we’re redesigning our volunteer programs and finding new ways to get alumni involved in things that interest them and that benefit our students and the University as a whole.”
Even before Levy-Odom graduated with a B.B.A., Deanna Hunter, former director of Hofstra’s CSTEP program, made it clear that she expected Levy-Odom and her fellow students to return and share their “real-world” experiences. (CSTEP is a state-sponsored program designed to encourage minority students in the sciences and technology.)
“Deanna was my mentor in school, and one of the founding members of the Black/Hispanic Alumni Association,” noted Levy-Odom, who now serves as that organization’s president. “She kept BHAA alive through some lean years, until we developed a core group who could carry the torch forward. It was Deanna who recruited us to come back and participate in panel discussions for the benefit of CSTEP students, to help them learn about what they could expect after graduation and how to prepare themselves. And although we’ve grown to the point where we can provide scholarships to minority students and offer expanded networking opportunities to alumni, that central idea of sharing our time to help the next group of students has remained strong.”
Indeed, Levy-Odom has a great deal to share. As a financial analyst and vice president at Alliance Growth Equities, the Brooklyn resident has achieved the kind of success many young Hofstra students hope to realize. She noted that a number of minority college students might be the first in their families to pursue a degree, and might not have a relative who can offer advice about how to have a successful college career. That is one reason why she has passionately championed the launch of a new mentoring initiative in partnership with Hofstra’s Career Center.
“We’re starting this spring by matching five to 10 students with mentors who share common majors and career paths,” said Levy- Odom. “They will keep in touch throughout the semester and, hopefully, long afterward. Mentors will be able to give them advice about managing their time, staying focused and grooming themselves for entry into the workplace. If the program proves successful – and I believe it will – we hope to expand it in the fall. It’s a great way for alums to get involved, and it means a lot to the students to know there are people behind them, cheering them on.”
Speaking of cheering, what would a sporting event be without fans to fill the seats? Unimaginable, as far as Bob Bernstein is concerned. After seven years on the board of directors, he was recently elected president of Hofstra’s athletic booster organization, the Hofstra Pride Club. The Pride Club not only works to build attendance at games, but also raises money (nearly $1 million in 2007) to help support Hofstra’s athletic programs, and helps ensure that Hofstra’s student-athletes maintain solid academic records as well. Bernstein can be found at sporting events year-round, vocally supporting the teams and actively recruiting new Pride Club members. But his own athletic pride was put to the test when he was a student in the early 1950s.
“I was a sportswriter for The Chronicle, but I decided to go out for wrestling,” he recalled, chuckling. “I gave it my all, but after a couple of weeks, the coach, Brick Stone, took me aside and said, ‘you know, Bob, I really think you should stick to writing.’”
Although Bernstein followed Coach Stone’s advice in college and became The Chronicle’s sports editor, he dropped his journalistic pursuits after earning a B.A. in history, which was followed by master’s degrees in education and history from Columbia University. His illustrious teaching career carried him to Paris’ American School and, eventually, to The Wheatley School in East Williston. While at Wheatley, he was named Teacher of the Year, and later earned the Outstanding Educator Award from Cornell University. While his teaching career kept him busy, it wasn’t until 2001, sometime after his retirement, that Bernstein began getting more involved in Hofstra alumni activities. In addition to his work with the Pride Club, Bernstein is now chair of the Nassau County Alumni Chapter, vice president of Hofstra’s Veterans Club, and second vice president of the Alumni Organization’s Executive Council. In 2007 he received the Executive Council Member of the Year Award.
“I got involved right around the time [President Emeritus] Jim Shuart retired,” Bernstein said. “I had always respected his vision and appreciated his hard work, and I was proud of the University’s growth. When I heard Stuart Rabinowitz’s inauguration speech, I was impressed with his determination to strengthen Hofstra’s academic programs, and I wanted to be a part of making it happen. As a retired teacher, I might not be able to donate as much money as some alumni, but I can give my time to help the University