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Campaign for Syracuse University travels to strategic SU regions

November 22, 2010

Veronica Hotaling
(315) 443-4944

Boston-area alumnus Michael Thonis ’72 challenges Boston alums to join the effort

Officially launched in November 2007, the five-year Campaign for Syracuse University is now at a critical juncture. With a total of $787,777,055 raised as of Sept. 30, and a little over two years left to achieve the $1 billion campaign goal, the University has launched a series of regional campaigns to reach out to geographic areas with large concentrations of SU alumni, parents and friends.

“Focusing our energies on these geographic areas will ensure that everyone is invited to be part of SU’s campaign,” says Karen Spear, executive director for regional advancement. “When we get to the end of the campaign, we want to be able to say we engaged our friends and alumni in an urgent and personal way to help move Syracuse University forward.”

Spear says the primary purpose of these four- to six-month focused initiatives is to motivate alumni to become more actively involved with their alma mater. “Our success will be measured not only by the total dollar amount raised, but by the increase in the number of new donors and young alumni who participate in giving, and by the number of alumni who step forward to volunteer as mentors, campus speakers or alumni representatives for the admissions office,” she says. “By volunteering their time and talents, including the University in their philanthropic priorities, and providing opportunities for internships and immersion programs, our alumni and friends can have an immediate impact on students who are just getting their start in life.”

bostonThe first of the six regional campaigns is under way in Boston, to be followed in succession by campaigns in Los Angeles; Washington, D.C.; New York City; and two other key cities. “Boston is a logical place to start because SU already has a core group of alumni volunteers ready to help strengthen the region’s Orange presence,” says Brian Sischo, SU’s vice president for development. “This group has evolved into the 21-member Boston Regional Council, whose members volunteer their time hosting alumni gatherings, school and college lectures and events, and, in general, help spread the word in the Boston community about Syracuse University’s strengths, values and vision of Scholarship in Action.”

SU alumni, parents and friends can support their passions by directing their gifts to whatever part of the University is meaningful to them, from individual schools and colleges to academic programs, the general scholarship fund, athletics and student services like the Syracuse University Library and Hendricks Chapel. Undesignated gifts are used to support the University’s highest priorities.

To encourage participation in the campaign, SU trustee and Boston-area alumnus Michael Thonis ′72 has pledged a $250,000 challenge gift. For all new cash gifts made before Dec. 31 by Boston-area alumni, parents and friends—including initial payments on new pledges—the Thonis Challenge will give an equal gift to the University’s Boston campaign in support of his passion, up to a total of $250,000. That means that the amount—and the overall impact—of each gift is doubled.

Thonis earned a bachelor’s degree summa cum laude from The College of Arts and Sciences and a master’s degree in geology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and then became a geotechnical consultant for the engineering firm Stone & Webster. After earning an M.B.A. at Harvard, he worked as a strategy consultant at Bain & Co., before joining Harvard Management Co. in 1979, where, as director of research, he helped guide Harvard’s endowment-investment program. In 1998, he co-founded Charlesbank Capital Partners, where he currently serves as managing director and chief operating officer.

While his work prevents him from more fully pursuing his passion for geology, Thonis serves on the board of overseers at the Boston Museum of Science and pursues a range of outdoor interests, including hiking and kayaking. He also is a trustee of the New England Conservatory.

Thonis remains very involved with SU as well. He is an SU trustee and sits on the board of visitors for The College of Arts and Sciences. He has been particularly generous to the Department of Earth Sciences, and was honored with the University’s Distinguished Alumni Award in 2008. “Syracuse University may be 300 miles away, but it is a big part of my life and my genome. I know other Boston alumni feel this way, too. I hope they will step up and demonstrate our common roots and show their loyalty to SU in a lasting way,” he says.

Gifts to the Boston regional campaign will be counted in The Campaign for Syracuse University’s total and support five key areas of the University:

  • Student Access and Support, to increase support for scholarships, assistantships and fellowships;
  • Faculty Excellence, to endow deanships, chairs and professorships, and to provide funds for faculty recruitment and retention, start-up costs and professional development;
  • Cross-Connections, to advance interdisciplinary teaching, research and community engagement initiatives, particularly in the areas of technology and science, social policy, community and economic development, the humanities, communications and the arts;
  • Building Futures, to enhance teaching and research facilities and provide state-of-the-art technology on campus, as well as at the University’s regional centers in New York City, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., and in its study centers abroad;
  • Annual Support, to provide flexible, immediately available dollars that enable the chancellor, deans and other division heads to funnel dollars wherever they are most urgently needed.

A website to support the Boston effort is available at and features many alums who got their start at SU and have gone on to achieve both personal and professional success in Boston, including Roger Berkowitz ’74, owner of Legal Sea Foods, and Sean McDonough ’84 of ESPN broadcasting fame.

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