Heading back to New York after completing his time at Concordia University in Montreal, Russell Makofsky (M.B.A. ’09) moved in to his brother’s apartment on the Upper West Side as he weighed his next move. “After completing an undergrad degree in finance, I was eager to explore the financial industry in New York City,” says Makofsky. “I had taken a job at a midtown brokerage firm when the financial crisis hit. Jobs became scarce and the opportunity to pursue higher education at New York Tech presented itself.” His father taught physical therapy at New York Tech at the time, so Makofsky already knew a lot about the university.
He enrolled in classes on the New York City campus. “This gave me direct exposure to the most exciting city in the world,” he says. “I was not only able to navigate my academics but was also exposed to the experience of living, studying, and working in New York.”
After receiving his M.B.A., Makofsky, an avid chess player, combined the skills he developed while playing and coaching chess and his business training to create his dream job. He founded Impact Coaching Network, a network of high performing chess programs for young students, where each school embodies their own unique chess culture while still maintaining a network-wide commitment to excellence. The organization has grown to approximately 10,000 students across the organization’s Manhattan and Brooklyn networks.
One of the network’s biggest success stories is that of Tanitoluwa Adewumi, an 11-year-old chess champion from Nigeria, who enrolled in the program. Adewumi left Nigeria with his family in 2015. They were living in a shelter when he heard about the program and asked his mother about joining. Upon hearing the family’s situation, Makofsky generously waived the registration fee. Earlier in 2021, he became a national chess master, making him the 28th youngest person to hold that title.
It is success stories like this that make Makofsky’s mission so rewarding. He went on to found and co-found two other organizations that introduce young New York City students to the game. Her Move Next, which launched on International Women’s Day on March 8, 2021, is sponsored by the HerMoveNext Foundation, Inc., and offers K-12 female chess players a safe place to play chess.
COVID-19 forced these programs to move to virtual sessions. “This presented many challenges but also unique opportunities,” Makofsky says. “We were able to use the technology and the nature of virtual learning to engage many more students by providing each of our partner schools access to their very own chess technology.” Makofsky leveraged virtual conferencing through Zoom to create school-wide chess engagement opportunities through pep rallies. “Quickly, we engaged an entire new layer of students who discovered chess during the pandemic.”
He also started the not for profit The Gift of Chess. “As these kids were learning and playing chess entirely virtually, we created The Gift of Chess in order to give each one of these students their own chess set,” explains Makofsky. “Our hope was that this would encourage them to take what they had been learning virtually and encourage them to share it physically within their own local communities, fostering greater human interaction and spreading the game exponentially.”