When alumni return for Reunion, they never know what’s going to bring back the strongest memories of UVM days. For Ron Hertel ’65, it was pushing the envelope on punctuality. A Lake Champlain cruise Reunion event, departing from the foot of College Street, was at 1:30 on Friday. The problem was Hertel stood at the top of College Street as the clock ticked toward 1:20. When a UVM staff member encouraged him to hop in the electric golf cart he drove to shuttle Reunion guests, Hertel took the ride, joking, “Man, oh, man, forty-five years later and still dashing for class.”
Ron Hertel didn’t miss the boat and neither did the more than one thousand fellow alumni and families who joined him in Burlington for Reunion 2010. More than seventy years and many generations of UVM history were represented for the three-day event in early June.
Reunion highlights included the “Voices of Vermont” speaker series with faculty and alumni, campus tours, lake cruises, career panels, book signings, artisan displays, the alumni awards ceremony, the annual reunion picnic on the Davis Center/Bailey Howe green, and, of course, the individual class gatherings–from the senior alumni’s Green & Gold breakfast to the Class of 2005’s first trip back in mass since graduation.
[ALUMNI AWARD WINNERS]
UVM AGAIN POISED TO BUCK THE TREND IN FUNDRAISING
A year ago, the University of Vermont was one of a very few institutions of higher learning to report an increase in private giving over the prior year’s results. While the national average was an 11.9 percent decrease, according to an annual Voluntary Support of Education survey conducted by the Council on Aid to Education, UVM was able to report a 1.2 percent increase over the prior year. That nearly 12 percent decline nationally was the steepest ever recorded in charitable contributions to colleges and universities nationwide. “The survey’s findings were grim but not unexpected,” said The Chronicle of Higher Education. “During the period of the survey–July 1, 2008, to June 30, 2009–college fund raisers had reported ‘hitting a wall’ with donors who had either lost significant portions of their wealth or were nervous that they would.”
It now appears that UVM will buck the national trend again this year, as total voluntary support through June 11, 2010, stands at $25,582,711, up from last year’s very gratifying results for the same period. “Development and Alumni Relations is now focused on reaching and possibly exceeding $27 million by June 30, 2010,” said Kathleen Kelleher, interim vice president for development and alumni relations.” Last year’s final result was $26,667,814. “These are remarkable results given the economic times we’re experiencing and a real testament to the willingness of our donor community to stay by our side in good times and bad.”
An important part of the annual fundraising objective is unrestricted giving–gifts that give the university the flexibility to direct contributions where they’re needed most, for instance, student financial aid. This year, Development and Alumni Relations is working to achieve an ambitious unrestricted goal of $2,890,000. As of June 11, $2,662,767 had been raised in unrestricted funds from 14,670 donors.
On another development front, an architectural feasibility study for the site of the future Alumni House at 61 Summit Street was completed last winter, and Development and Alumni Relations is now working in close coordination with the Alumni Association Board of Directors on a fundraising plan for the renovation and preservation project. The cost estimate for the project, including site work and building construction, is $13.5 million. Naming opportunities with suggested gift amounts for the project have been drafted, including a $5 million level to name the building as the University’s Alumni House.
IN MEMORY OF 9/11 VICTIM MATTHEW C. SELLITTO '00
Matthew C. Sellitto ’00 was one of eleven UVM alumni killed in the September 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York City. Just months into his new job at Cantor Fitzgerald, Matthew was twenty-three at the time of his death. The Matthew C. Sellitto (MCS) Foundation was created by his friends and family to focus on Matthew’s life rather than his death and to accomplish something positive out of a tragic loss.
Since its inception in 2002, the foundation has made approximately fifty awards to young people attending various educational institutions and summer programs including Middlebury College, NJIT, Harvard, Bucknell, Seton Hall Prep, Camp Dudley– and now the University of Vermont.
This fall, a $2,500 scholarship will be awarded to a UVM student affiliated with the Urban Partnerships Program, which has significantly contributed to the university’s commitment to achieve greater racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic diversity on campus.
According to its mission statement, the MCS Foundation awards grants and scholarships to deserving students demonstrating financial need, academic excellence, school participation and community service; and awards grants to educational institutions involved in organizing 9/11 service and remembrance activities in accordance with the guidelines set by the Federal law passed on April 21, 2009. The foundation also supports other worthy causes that are representative of those that Matthew cherished during his life. To learn more about the MCS Foundation and its work, visit the website at www.MCSFoundation.com.
It is anticipated that the $2,500 scholarship award will be made on an annual basis in celebration of Matthew’s life.
[PROFILES IN GIVING]
Charles Walker and Thomas J. Votta ’89
A FUND FOR THE FUTURE
Graduate assistance for environmental best practices
Thomas J. Votta ’89 was dedicated to the environment. It was during his high school years that Tom’s intellectual curiosity led him to develop his passion for environmental issues. He chose to attend the University of Vermont because he believed UVM was the best school available to him for furthering his interests in the environmental field. Because he was from a large family of eleven children, his decision to attend UVM rather than a home-state university created a substantial financial burden for him, but he rose to the challenge and completed a degree in civil engineering with an environmental option, at a time when environmental engineering had not yet bloomed to maturity. After graduation, Tom went on to earn a master’s degree in environmental management and policy at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and earned national and even international respect as an environmental consultant known for his commitment to environmental policy and best practices.
After his death of leukemia in February, 2009, Tom’s friends and family, including his lifetime partner, Charles Walker, decided to establish a graduate fellowship in Tom’s name. The idea was first proposed to the university by one of Tom’s professional colleagues, Jill Kaufman Johnson, who recruited Charles; Tom’s college friend Paul Ligon ’90; Jack Hills, family friend and fundraising consultant; Tom’s brother, Dennis Votta; and his nephew, Geoff Votta. Together, they worked with the university to establish the Thomas J. Votta Fund for the Environment.
“Tom’s close family, friends, and business associates were proud of his professional accomplishments and the good work he was doing,” says Charles Walker. “His loss was made all the more devastating because of recognition that his promise for the future would be forever lost. The establishment of a graduate assistance program seemed to be the most effective way to advance, in a general way, his work, and perpetuate his legacy.”
According to the language of the agreement establishing the fund, the Thomas J. Votta Fund for the Environment is to be used to establish an endowment “to provide annual graduate-level scholarship assistance to students who, like Tom, wish to make a difference in solving environmental problems using Environmental Best Practices to meet this goal.” Those who receive the fellowship will be known as Thomas J. Votta Scholars.
Should the endowment one day reach or exceed the $1 million mark, half of the endowment will support the original purposes, and half will support a Seminar Series in Environmental Best Practices. The Seminar Series will bring one or more scholars to campus each year to share their expertise in topics ranging across the environmental spectrum, with preference given to those leaders using best practices to solve environmental problems.
The Votta Fund is not far from reaching the $100,000 preliminary goal needed to endow the fund, and any donor may contribute. To do so online, visit: http://alumni.uvm.edu/giving/tjv
Or, contact: UVM Development and Alumni Relations, 411 Main Street, Burlington, VT 05401
Phone: 802-656-2010; Toll Free: 888-458-8691; Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Class of 2010 gift will serve as memorial
The Class of 2010 has looked to the work of a fellow alumnus in leaving the university with a class gift that will bring a striking piece of art to campus, create a memorial for members of the UVM community, and serve as a central gathering place for vigils. The Senior Class Council has worked with internationally-renowned sculptor and alumnus Richard Erdman ’75 to create a sculpture of a tree that is symbolic of connection with the environment, pursuit of knowledge, and community.
The Erdman sculpture will be prominently located in the oval gardens at the top of the hill along Main Street, a place that has emerged as a crossroads of campus since construction of the Davis Center and this summer’s opening of Jeffords Hall.
Ryen Russillo ’97
photo by Jon Reidel
RYEN RUSSILLO '97
Three years after graduating from UVM, living on Church Street above the Rusty Scuffer and working as a bartender at What Ale’s You wasn’t quite the life Ryen Russillo ’97 had envisioned for himself. Unsure of his next step, the current co-host of ESPN Radio’s highly acclaimed “Scott Van Pelt Show” and host of the radio network’s “College GameDay,” decided to rededicate himself to what he loves best: talking about sports.
Russillo had started on that track with an internship at Burlington’s CBS affiliate, WCAX, during his senior year. When hopes that might grow into a full-time position didn’t materialize, he kept tending bar and widened his search for work in the sports media field. The door finally cracked open when he landed a play-by-play position with the Double A Trenton Thunder. Six months later, the team relocated and Russillo decided to move on himself, launching what would prove to be another frustrating search for work in the Boston radio market.
“I thought it might be over at that point,” says Russillo, named Best Radio Voice of 2007 by Sports Illustrated’s Richard Deitsch, who praised the young broadcaster for his reasoned approach and knowledge across sports. “But I kept pushing for any air time I could get. I was relentless and probably annoying as hell.”
Russillo’s perseverance led him to the lobby of WWZN in Boston four times–and four times he was told the program director was too busy to see him. Eventually serendipity smiled when Russillo ran into the director outside of the Garden on the way to a Celtics game and was offered the chance to fill in at WWZN part-time on Saturdays.
Russillo earned a reputation at WWZN for deftly merging entertainment and sports knowledge while hosting “The Die Hards” between 2003 and 2005. But staff layoffs at the station once again left Russillo scrambling for part-time jobs in the Boston area. After a brief gig at WBCN as part of the station’s pre- and post-game Patriots coverage, the Martha’s Vineyard native started filling in at ESPN. Foot in one of sports media’s biggest doors, Russillo quickly sought every opportunity for precious air time.
In an industry filled with communications majors (Russillo jokes that nearly all of them seem to be grads of the Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse), the Vermont alumnus brings a different skill set and background to his sixty-hour-a-week job on the road and at ESPN headquarters in Bristol, Connecticut.
“Taking a broad range of courses at UVM has definitely helped me over the years,” says Russillo, who earned his degree in political science. “I wasn’t a great student early on at UVM, but I completely revamped how I studied and had some success my last few years. It’s that focus that helps me to make things easy for people to understand but also entertaining. Fortunately, I’m close to being the same guy on air as I am off it, which isn’t always the case.”
Shadowing Russillo on a typical fall Monday at ESPN is both entertaining and exhausting. Pro athletes and legendary broadcasters pass nearly unnoticed in the flurry of activity as one show ends and another begins. (Unlike the network’s famously deadpan promo spots, there are no furry college mascots to be found hanging out by the water cooler.)
Russillo’s week starts with a production meeting with six members of the “GameDay” team, all of whom look weary from a weekend on the college football road. One of them–ESPN college football analyst Trevor Matich–likens Russillo’s ability to handle the multiple moving parts of a typical “GameDay” broadcast to that of a symphony conductor.
“He’s got talent and he works really hard,” says Matich. “He’s running a show with four other guys on the set and somehow makes it look easy. The fact that he can run the entire show while handling all this information that comes in and somehow make it sound simple to the listener is extraordinary.”
Following the meeting, Russillo grabs a quick bite at the ESPN cafeteria, consults with his producer, and walks to another building to record his “NBA Today Podcast” for ESPN Radio. He talks basketball with NBA insiders and listeners, taking on the sorts of questions–will Le-Bron James leave Cleveland for New York?–that sports fans can endlessly gnaw.
Then it’s off to his main gig: “The Scott Van Pelt Show,” broadcast nationally between 2-4 p.m. on all ESPN Radio affiliates. Russillo is relaxed on the air while joking with Van Pelt about his weekend in Tuscaloosa, but turns up the intensity as he explains what head football coach Nick Saban has done since arriving at the University of Alabama, repeatedly pumping his open right hand forward as he drives his point home.
Working at the highest level of sports radio hasn’t been easy. The road is fun, but it doesn’t leave much time for a social life. At one point, Russillo says, he had four big-screen televisions in the living room of his Hartford apartment in order to keep pace with the sports world.“It’s a lot of work, but I love it,” says Russillo. “It seems like it took forever to get here, but now that I am it feels like it happened really fast. You always want more, but right now I’m really trying to enjoy what’s going on in my life.”