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Meet John M. Elizandro: NYIT Vice President for Development
By Briana Samuels
When John Elizandro was a child, his father told him that education was the pathway to future opportunities. This early encouragement inspired a career, as Eliz-andro's passion for education has led him to contribute to the success of several American universities. With more than 35 years of experience in alumni affairs, development, and public relations in higher education and health care, NYIT's new vice president for development is building a far-reaching program to garner new levels of support for NYIT, its mission, and its campuses.
Elizandro comes to NYIT from Westchester Medical Center, where he was the senior vice president for development. Before that, he spent 18 years at Villanova University as the vice president for development and later, the vice president for institutional advancement. He was responsible for all alumni, development, and public relations initiatives, and served as a senior advisor to the president. Elizandro also has held senior development positions at Pennsylvania State University, University of Missouri, and several other universities. Raised in Arkansas, he earned his bachelor's degree in sociology from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. Here, he shares his plans:
Why did you join NYIT?
I was attracted to NYIT because of the passion that resonates among its leadership. In the first 10 minutes of my initial conversation with President Edward Guiliano, I learned of his vision and passion, and his commitment to creating a successful alumni and development program. This kind of support resurfaced over and over as I met senior administrators, deans, and faculty members. Almost everyone I talk to at NYIT references the goals of the 2030 strategic plan as a guiding force for what NYIT can be and speaks about how they are working collaboratively to meet those goals. People here understand how important alumni, parents, and friends of NYIT are in helping to plan for the future.
What projects, resources, and opportunities are available because of external support?
As budgets are challenged and traditional funding sources are limited, the role of philanthropic and external support for scholarships and capital projects is essential to ensuring that NYIT can meet its mission and strategic goals. Philanthropy is something people around the world can embrace as a culture. By helping people realize their passion for a specific program, we can help them understand how their support might benefit a student, faculty member, or program.
That's what the Office of Development does here at NYIT—we help bridge relationships and help people understand how they can make a difference, not whether they can make a difference. Part of that is helping to articulate the priorities of the institution and understanding what people's interests are. The good thing about NYIT is that it's broad enough and diverse enough for everybody. There are so many areas you can support, including alumni programming, advisory councils and boards, or fundraising. While NYIT has enjoyed fundraising success in the past, there is more to be done in order to broaden the university's base for the future.
As you expand the alumni and development program for NYIT, how will you engage alumni in the United States and throughout the world?
I have reviewed the traditional kinds of alumni and development programming here at NYIT, and an increased presence both domestically and internationally will be important as we reach out to those who have been most affected by NYIT: alumni, parents, and friends of the school.
Recently, NYIT opened three new offices of Career Services and Alumni Affairs at its campuses in Amman, Bahrain, and Nanjing to build connections with alumni, community, and business partners in each region. These offices will engage and foster relationships with the growing network of NYIT graduates, provide career advice for students and alumni, and coordinate special events and online initiatives. But we will not forget the special connection we have with our alumni throughout the New York area.
Many alumni speak passionately about NYIT, representing a broader view of how others feel about the university. As we prepare for new fundraising programs, it is important to build on the strength of strategic planning to capitalize on projects that are most important to advancing NYIT's mission.
How are you fulfilling fundraising goals in the current economic climate?
This is the toughest fundraising climate I've seen in my entire career. I have gone through slumps in the real estate market, a hard-hit Wall Street, and the aftermath of 9/11. Those economic environments—as painful and as awful as they were—pale by comparison to the past couple of years. We've seen a reduction in overall contributions over time. People have become paralyzed in their thinking about philanthropic support. And those who are philanthropic are trying to maintain existing levels of support without expanding current levels.
It's important to note that in the beginning of 2011, we've experienced a different market. We're seeing philanthropy rebound, though how robust it will be is still in question. Luckily, for now, we are moving in the right direction. As a result, institutions need to focus on their priorities, be more deliberate in articulating their needs, and be more responsive and understanding of the current economy. Our challenge is to maintain our existing base while understanding how the economy has affected so many people.
How can people support NYIT?
There is something for everybody. There are opportunities for alumni to actively contribute to NYIT through mentoring students, career counseling, contributing to the annual fund, and much more. There are also different ways to connect, whether you have an interest in education, architecture, business, health care, or communication arts. It is almost impossible not to develop some type of affinity with NYIT because we offer such variety.
My sense is that people want to become involved. They just need to find their niche, and our job is connecting them with the people that run programs related to their interests. Beyond philanthropic contributions, we want to see people involved and contributing to NYIT in a variety of ways based on their experiences.
What is the importance of alumni giving?
While each institution has a unique character, the common theme among universities is the affection and backing garnered from its traditional base of support: alumni, parents, and friends. NYIT is no exception. People want to support something that has served them well. The same affinity exists for those who have gone to school here, or those who have sons and daughters who have graduated, and for those who have interacted with our graduates.
NYIT has impacted many lives, so those who can make a contribution at some point in their lifetimes will do so. Sometimes, there is a reluctance to give because people do not believe their gifts are meaningful in terms of amount. But, in fact, every contribution is important. It allows for something at NYIT that would not occur without additional funding. Throughout my career, I've seen generous gifts of $100 and gifts of $1 million. Generous is a relative phrase, depending on an individual's personal circumstances.
What is NYIT's role in the future of higher education?
Higher education has changed so much over the years. The management of higher education has become much more sophisticated and more accountable. Those institutions that rise to higher levels are the ones that will continue to do well over time. NYIT is one of those institutions. The 2030 strategic plan is critically important because it dictates a firm direction and provides a platform that distinguishes NYIT from other colleges and universities. As I become more acclimated to NYIT, I am encouraged that this is a place that will do well, and frankly, I'm enjoying the opportunity to be a part of it.
How did you become interested in the field of higher education development?
Through early encouragement from my father, I developed a strong passion for education as I realized the importance and amount of opportunities that exist because of an education. If you are going to be successful in the field of development, you need to love it. In this business, your primary responsibility is to build relationships and interact with others all the time. When I graduated from the University of Arkansas, I was placed by a search firm at the American Heart Association without experience in the field of development, but I liked it. And today, I will tell you that I love it.