Donor Profiles section of AlumNotes Spring 2019, a feature in which we interview alums who have supported programs at the school.
Our first interview is with Esther Rose’71, M.D. a physician who does research for Janssen Pharmaceuticals.
AN: Why did you want to give back to the school?
ER: Of all the schools that I have attended, I think my Hunter experience has had the most significant impact on shaping me as an individual. And since [Hunter] is a publicly funded school, they need our contributions to help enhance the students’ academic experiences.
AN: What led to you funding the Philadelphia trips?
ER: I had reached out to HCHSAA Executive Director, Elyse Reissman, because I was interested in funding some kind of a special project. We went back and forth and she described some of the things that were being done. I gave her an idea of how much I wanted to contribute and what the budget would be, and she came up with several suggestions. I found this one the most attractive because it involved all of the students in the 10th grade and provided enough opportunity to expand on the classroom activities by visiting sites that most students don’t typically get to see. I remember that as a child my parents took me to Philadelphia, they took me to Colonial Williamsburg, and other historical places. Then, when I got to study them in school, I was able to make that extra connection with the places we visited in person and it helped bring history alive.
AN: How are you connected to the 10th grade social studies program?
ER: It was really Elyse who made the contact with Ms. Jawanda, the Chair of the Social Studies department. They actually initiated the trip for the first time in October 2017. Ms. Jawanda wrote up a brief report, and I said I wanted to support the program. One of the things that impressed me was that on the trip I went on, I could see she had made some tweaks in the way the trip was conducted based on the experience they’d had the first year. Accordingly, they got to visit more places because she moved it to come later in the sequence of curriculum so that the students would have already had some experience learning about the places that they were visiting.
AN: What has been the most satisfying part of supporting this program?
ER: Having the opportunity to meet the students and to see them exploring and discovering. This was particularly true in the Benjamin Franklin Museum, where a lot of the exhibits are very interactive. Independence Hall is more passive—we sat and listened to the guide talk about what happened. “This is the room where it happened.” And then in the Museum of the American Revolution we were more scattered around to a number of different exhibits.
AN: What do you do professionally?
ER: I am a physician and I do clinical research on drugs to treat patients with blood disorders and cancers. I work for Janssen Pharmaceuticals, which is a part of Johnson & Johnson.
AN: Does Johnson & Johnson provide a matching gift for your underwriting of this trip?
ER: Yes. Johnson & Johnson has a very broad and generous matching gift program, and I have taken full advantage of it over the years to expand my own contributions to education and arts organizations. The matching gift from this year’s trip is paying for next year’s trip!
AN: Were you able to interact with the students during the trip?
AN: Did the faculty and students follow up with you after the trip?
ER: Yes. I sent a few photographs I’d taken to Elyse and to Ms. Jawanda. Then, a couple of weeks later I received some really lovely thank you notes. There was one from each class. I was most moved by a note from one individual student. She described a lively discussion she’d had at the museum about the Daughters of Liberty and why their important activities weren’t better known. She concluded her note by saying that she would have never had these conversations had this trip not happened. I don’t think it gets any better than that.
AN: What memories do you have of your social studies classes at Hunter? Or what recollection do you have of your days as a Hunter student? ER: I remember that my favorite social studies teachers were Mrs. Morello and Mr. Plass. Social studies was not my favorite subject—academically I was more drawn to mathematics and foreign languages. What comes to mind are some of my most enduring memories from my Russian class with Mrs. Ellberger. We each chose a Russian name to be called in class. I was Xena. In some cases, these names actually stuck to the people and became their name outside of class. We even signed each others’ yearbooks using our Russian names. The second year we met we faced a problem with scheduling, as they couldn’t find a slot in the day that everybody was able to make. We wound up having our class before school, which meant that we had to come in at 7:30 in the morning before school, and everybody was there. Now that’s motivation! There were others, but that one stands out the most to me because it represented the biggest sacrifice.
AN: Are there other initiatives at the high school that you have supported?
ER: No, this is the first.
AN: What other ways have you interacted with high school students? This is your first supporting gift.
ER: This is the first one and I would really be interested in learning about other opportunities.
AN: How do you hope that your gift will help Hunter students?
ER: I am looking for some niches that the school budget cannot cover. Preferably, it would involve some kind of an outside activity that can complement classroom work and also raise awareness of a particular topic. For instance, some place where there is kind of a synergy between what [students] are doing in class and what they might like to do if they had an opportunity to go outside of the classroom.
AN: You are a part of the class of 1971’s innovative Gold Campaign. How has that been rewarding for you?
ER: It’s been rewarding to see how well we’ve been doing . . . to realize how many of our classmates feel the same way about our Hunter experiences and are so positive and are now willing to give back for the benefit of future generations. We are actually about to do another mailing to the class this month. We started back at the end of our 45th reunion, when we said, “We have five years to do this.” I think that we also benefit from one of our classmates, Alice Bruce ’71, being a professional fundraiser for the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and sharing all her wisdom with us. That has really gotten us going. Plus, it is fun when we have these little mini reunions to get together and prepare mailings.
I remember taking the pictures. We did it at the end of the mailing prep and we posted it to Facebook. Immediately we started getting some responses, including from one classmate who had since relocated and was worried she wasn’t going to get her letter. She gave us her new contact information so she wouldn’t miss out.
AN: What other interests do you have?
ER: Photography has been my hobby since high school, and I actually have to credit a woman who was in the class ahead of me for sparking that interest through college. She also went to Cornell and became my role model for becoming a photographer for the Cornell Daily Sun. That became one of my first post-Hunter connections with an enduring impact.
Thank you, Elizabeth . . . and thank you, Esther!