Four Who Said Yes
First-Time Donors to the UMass Boston Fund
They all remember the exact moment when they made the decision. Jonathan Spath ’01, a master’s degree holder from the College of Education and Human Development (CEHD), was standing on his front porch in Somerville. The middle school math teacher recalls taking a phone call from a UMass Boston student asking him to make a gift in support of the university.
Dave Novak ’10, a newly minted College of Science and Mathematics master’s graduate, was watching the news when he took a similar call.
Ervin Cobo ’03, ’08, College of Management, and Frederick Laskey ’79, College of Liberal Arts, both responded to a letter in the mail.
The motivation to say “yes” was different in each case, but in 2011 these four alumni decided to make a gift to the UMass Boston Fund for the first time.
Jonathan Spath says that after years of building his career in the Boston Public Schools he recognized the significance of the “real-world” education he received at CEHD. Looking back, he views his teaching vocation—particularly his rewarding experiences at Fenway High and the McCormack Schools—as central to his development as a person.
The Northwestern University alumnus appreciates the range of perspectives and prior experiences of his UMass Boston classmates. “My undergraduate education, while great, was more philosophical than practical,” Spath points out.
UMass Boston, he says, provided the grounding he needed to teach successfully in the challenging context of urban schools. “I finally felt in a position to give back to a place that helped pave the way for me,” says Spath, recalling the spring evening he made his first gift to the Fund.
Dave Novak, a career changer and Vietnam veteran, says, “How could I not give back to a place that has guided me to an exciting future, blending my greatest passions?” In 2010, the 64-year-old received a master’s degree in marine science and technology, which he will use to combine a lifelong concern for protecting the ocean environment and his prior professional experience in adult education.
The benefits of alumni association membership were what motivated Novak to give, but his desire to support UMass Boston was about much more. UMass Boston gave him the solid start he needed to pursue his dream—first as he took preparatory courses in physics and advanced math, then later when he engaged in formal graduate studies in marine science.
“With the support of the Veterans Affairs Office,” Novak says, “I took advantage of UMass Boston’s fine faculty, library resources, ocean science research centers, and rich connections with the UMass system.”
Ervin Cobo said “no” at first. “I was less mature then, back in 2003, right after I earned my undergraduate degree in finance,” he says. When the UMass Boston student caller asked for his support, he continues, he had not “put together” what the university had done for him or for his wife, Kaltra Kamberi ’03, ’07, also a two-time College of Management graduate.
Immigrants from Albania, Cobo and Kamberi work for EMD Shared Services, a subsidiary of Merck KgA, and Fidelity Investments, respectively. “When I answered the phone last spring, I felt differently,” Cobo says. He now sees that the rigorous instruction he and his wife received in their degree programs has been instrumental to their success.
Cobo believes that great universities are not just born. Referring to the legion of strong private universities in Boston, he says that they became great because alumni and others believed in their promise, saw their potential, and chose to support them.
One word sums up why Frederick Laskey decided to make his gift: “quality.” The Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA) executive director traces his success in public service back to the quality education he received at UMass Boston and a State House internship that the university facilitated for him.
“The opportunity to do legislative research as an undergraduate offered a precious real-world experience,” he says, adding that it launched his career. His UMass Boston education is constantly put to the test, he adds, especially when the drinking water system is in any way threatened.
“The university served a vital niche in the education marketplace when I was a student, and it continues that tradition today,” Laskey says. Having held the top posts at both the Executive Office for Administration and Finance and the Department of Revenue before becoming head of the MWRA, Laskey has a “bird’s-eye view” of our state’s need for a highly skilled workforce.
“It is critical for the Commonwealth’s future,” he says, “that we continue to provide access to first-rate higher education that will not saddle our young people with a lifetime of debt.”
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