Nancy Fuld Neff '76, P'06, P'14
This interview is dated 3/28/17.
Nancy Fuld Neff ‘76, P’06, P’14 cannot remember having one single female professor. While she found acceptance and encouragement from then-Director of Women’s Athletics Arlene Gordon, Ms. Neff still wishes she’d had a true female mentor at Brown, one who could have helped guide her post-collegiate plans. Since departing the Van Wickle Gates, Ms. Neff has remained active in many parts of University life, and has had the pleasure of working with both President Ruth Simmons and President Christina Paxson. She served as a member of Brown’s Corporation from 2008-2016, was a Co-Chair of the WLC, as well as a Co-Chair of the Brown Annual Fund, and on the Sports Foundation. Ms. Neff is also a member of the Brown Hall of Fame for Tennis. In addition to co-chairing the 125 Years of Women at Brown Conference and being a member of the WLC, Ms. Neff also co-chairs the President’s Advisory Council on the College and is a member of the University’s Advisory Council on Athletics. “The WLC would not exist without President Simmons,” Ms. Neff says, “and the Council continues to thrive today because of the enormous support we receive from President Paxson.” It was five years ago that the Women’s Leadership Council welcomed President Paxson to the community at the 120 Years of Women at Brown Conference. Now, at the 125 Years of Women at Brown Conference, Ms. Neff encourages members of the community to reconnect with Brown and to further engage with the University.
What does leadership mean to you and how do you feel Brown is encouraging the next generation of women leaders?
Leadership means the ability to influence and inspire others to take action, including to effect change. Organizations encourage leadership by establishing role models for future generations to emulate, and by creating structures, mechanisms or cultures that provide opportunities for women to develop into leaders. Brown is encouraging the next generation of women leaders by providing outstanding role models with its large number of outstanding senior female administrators at the University, led by President Paxson, as well as with those female members of the Corporation in leadership positions such as the Vice-Chancellor and Treasurer. The University is further motivating future women leaders through a broad array of Presidential Advisory Councils, including importantly the WLC. Although I am clearly biased, I think that the WLC plays a unique role in developing female leaders by offering a forum for alumnae to learn in-depth about the University, to impact female students through the WLC’s mentoring program, and to be recognized for the power of women’s philanthropy through the WLC’s extremely successful fundraising efforts. Furthermore, the University’s support of WLC events and conferences, such as the 125 Years of Women at Brown Conference, inspires alumnae to stay connected to Brown and potentially emerge as leaders at the University.
Did you have any mentors while you were a student at Brown? Why is mentoring important?
When I was a student in the early-to-mid 1970s, mentoring was not prevalent, and I do not remember having a single female professor during my four years at Brown. None of the senior administrators were female, and I think that only one Dean was a woman. However, the one female who came closest to being a mentor for me – and who supported my love of athletics – was Arlene Gorton, the Director of Women’s Athletics. Ms. Gorton was a passionate advocate for women in intercollegiate athletics before the passage of Title IX, and helped to dramatically improve the opportunities for female student-athletes at the University once the new law was enacted. She listened patiently to my complaints as a freshman regarding the lack of women’s intercollegiate varsity sports at Brown, and the limited schedules for the teams we did have. Moreover, she appreciated the competing demands on the lives of student-athletes, and worked to ensure that I could take the LSAT and GMAT tests at other universities during intercollegiate basketball and tennis tournaments, respectively. Despite Ms. Gorton’s influence, I wish that I had had a true female mentor at Brown as I could have benefitted greatly from advice on post-college plans, career choices and the work-family balance issue that ultimately was so challenging when I entered the investment-banking world. The lack of mentoring I experienced at Brown was instrumental in my desire to be involved in the mentoring program of the WLC.
Is there anyone in the Brown community who inspires you to be a leader and a mentor to the next generation of students?
A number of women in the Brown community inspire me to be a leader and mentor, but there are three who truly stand out. I have been extremely fortunate to work with two extraordinary presidents, President Simmons and President Paxson, from whom I have learned a great deal about leadership. Both of these remarkable women are role models who, with their extraordinary talent, intellect and passion, have inspired me to be an involved and supportive member of the Brown community. The WLC would not exist without President Simmons’s vision and encouragement; and the Council continues to thrive today because of the enormous support we receive from President Paxson. Interestingly, President Paxson’s introduction to the WLC occurred five years ago (before she officially began at Brown) at the 120 Years of Women at Brown Conference, and we are thrilled that she will preside at the 125th celebration as the University’s leader. The other woman in the Brown community who is an inspiration to me is Liz Chace ʼ59, who strongly encouraged the creation of the WLC and has been an invaluable source of support for its mission and programs. Liz embodies the philanthropic spirit of women at Brown and pushed me, as well as others on the WLC, to set high goals for ourselves.
What is your favorite part of being a member of the WLC? How has being a member of the WLC positively impacted your professional life? How has it impacted your relationship with the Brown community?
This is a difficult question to answer because I enjoy so much about being a member of the WLC! My favorite parts, however, are the friendships I have made on the Council, often with women of different generations, and the important work that we have done in a relatively short period of time since the organization’s inception. There is a special camaraderie that exists on the Council with its diverse group of talented alumnae who all love the University, and are seeking to create intergenerational connections among Brown women. I am extremely proud of the work of the WLC, and in particular the mentoring program which is in its 10th year and has touched the lives of more than 1,000 students and alumnae. Through this program, I have observed first-hand the powerful impact of mentorship (on both the mentors and mentees), and am amazed each year at the talents of our students and generous spirit of our alumnae. Most recently, I am thrilled to have served for the past 18 months with Marcia Dunn ’82 as co-chair of the 125 Years of Women at Brown Conference. My involvement in the Conference has been fascinating … and, at times, exhausting! Most importantly, it has greatly enhanced my relationship with the Brown community through the remarkable teamwork of the many committees involved in the planning efforts, and by exposing me to the broad array of talented alumnae who are participating in the Conference as keynote speakers, performers, moderators, and panelists.
Why is Brown a philanthropic priority for you?
Brown is a philanthropic priority for me because it has been, and continues to be, an important part of my and my family’s lives. Brown provided me with my life-long mate whom I met freshman year in Religious Studies I; gave our children a first-rate educational, social and athletic experience; and, enabled me to meet some of my closest friends. With its open curriculum, Brown allowed me to continue my interests in political science and music, while simultaneously exploring new academic studies, one of which led to my desire to pursue an MBA after graduation. I am further motivated to give back because Brown supported my passion in athletics and ensured that I could pursue my academic and career goals while also playing two varsity sports. Our children were fortunate to have had similar experiences at Brown, and it only seems fitting to do what I can to perpetuate this culture of excellence, passion and balance. Last, Brown is a philanthropic priority for me because, with its openness to change and culture of participation, it is welcoming to those who seek to become involved and have an impact with new ideas and support.
You are co-chair of the 125 Years of Women at Brown Conference in May. What are some of your goals for the conference?
Our goal for the Conference is that it will provide generations of Brown women − undergraduate, graduate and medical school alumnae − an opportunity to celebrate their shared experiences and challenges, to forge connections across the decades, and to examine the evolving role of women at Brown and in the world. We hope that the Conference will encourage alumnae to come back to campus to hear and see what is new at the University, to share special time with friends, and to be inspired by the accomplishments of our female students, faculty and fellow alumnae. In this time of divisiveness, our further goal is to enable our alumnae to come together and be united as one, large and powerful community of women to honor the past and be confident in our future.
What do you hope to see for the community following the celebration of 125 Years of Women at Brown?
I hope that the Conference will encourage members of the community to re-connect with Brown if they have not done so in a while, or to further engage with the University because of the positive feelings engendered from the 125th celebration. I hope that those who come to the 125th Conference, or the pre-conference events, are motivated to participate in other WLC events or those sponsored by the University in the future, and that they will consider becoming mentors in the WLC’s mentoring program. We hope that the spirit of the 125th will not end after the Conference, but that the community will build on its momentum and continue the conversations at post-conference Brown events in cities around the world relating to women-centric issues. Last, we hope that the 125th will instill pride among our alumnae community, who will support the University in every way possible.
This interview is dated 1/2014.
What's your favorite Brown memory?
My favorite memory was meeting my husband at Brown in the fall of my freshman year. He had noticed my picture in the freshman picture book and, although he was a junior at the time, we were enrolled in two of the same courses. He later told me that he took those two courses in order to meet a freshman girl! He introduced himself to me late one night in the "Rock," we had our first date at Smith's (an Italian restaurant in Federal Hill that unfortunately no longer exists), and we have been together ever since.
Do you see a difference in the college experience of your daughter and son as compared to your own?
In many important ways Brown has remained the same intimate college-university as in the 1970s with its emphasis on undergraduate education, the opportunity to work closely with professors, and extraordinary students who are heavily involved in activities outside the classroom. However, the physical layout of the campus has changed dramatically (and all for the better), including the connection of the Brown and Pembroke campuses, vastly improved dormitories, and phenomenal new facilities and renovations such as the Stephen Robert '62 Student Center, the Friedman Study Center, Nelson Fitness Center, Morgan Coleman Aquatics Center, and Zucconi Strength and Conditioning Center, to name just a few. Providence has also improved significantly over the past few decades, creating a much broader array of social opportunities for our children than we enjoyed. Lastly, intercollegiate athletics has changed since the 1970s with increased competitiveness as well as better facilities, training, and travel opportunities, particularly for female athletes due to the passage of Title IX.
"The role of women at Brown has changed significantly since the 1970s. First, there were no women in leadership positions at Brown when I was at school, and now we have our second consecutive outstanding female president (and third if one includes Sheila Blumstein)."
How has the role of women at Brown changed since you went to school?
The role of women at Brown has changed significantly since the 1970s. First, there were no women in leadership positions at Brown when I was at school, and now we have our second consecutive outstanding female president (and third if one includes Sheila Blumstein). At the 120 Years of Women at Brown Celebration, I was amazed at the number of top administrators at the University who are women, including Executive Vice President for Finance Beppie Huidekoper, former Dean of the College Katherine Bergeron, General Counsel Beverly Ledbetter, Vice President for Campus Life Margaret Klawunn, Vice President for Public Affairs Marisa Quinn, and Vice President for Human Resources Karen Davis. In the past year, another outstanding female leader has been added with Pat Watson joining Brown as Senior Vice President of Advancement. Another important change has been the increase in female faculty, as my children seemed to have had a fairly balanced female-male ratio of professors, while I can hardly remember a single female professor when I was a student. Finally, the role of women has changed due to the passage of Title IX which has expanded athletic opportunities for women with respect to the number of teams, availability of facilities, and travel opportunities.
Why do you feel the Council is important to Brown?
The Council began as an invaluable way to re-engage women, especially from the 1960s and 1970s, who no longer felt connected with the University. Over the years, the Council has evolved into a highly energized organization of alumnae from all generations who foster philanthropy and provide programming that helps maintain the special bond among the University's alumnae. Specifically, the Council plays a crucial role by demonstrating the power of women's philanthropy through extremely successful fundraising challenges; by establishing the Women's Launch Pad, a one-on-one mentoring program that pairs alumnae with female students who are seniors at Brown; and by hosting events and conferences focused on women's issues that bring together Brown women in various cities in the U.S. Furthermore, the Council plays a unique role by developing future female volunteer leaders at the University, as evidenced by the number of WLC members who are on the Brown Corporation or serving in important development positions and on other key advisory councils.
Aside from your Women's Leadership Council involvement, what are some of your other passions at Brown?
I have been very fortunate to be a member of the Brown Corporation the past five years, and specifically on its Campus Life Committee which focuses on the non-academic areas that affect students such as housing, athletics, diversity, security, and psychological services. Most recently, I have become Co-Chair of the Brown Annual Fund and am trying to live up to the very high standards set by my predecessor and fellow WLC member, Andrea Baum. I am excited to be involved in the University's fundraising efforts, most importantly to support President Paxson's strategic plan and the Brown Annual Fund's priorities of financial aid, faculty support, and programmatic enhancements. My other Brown passion is athletics, and I have particularly enjoyed being a member of the Brown Sports Foundation and the Athletic Advisory Council. Anyone who knows me knows that I love Brown sports, especially women's tennis and basketball which I played, women's squash which our daughter Jen '06 played, and men's tennis which our son David '14 is currently playing at Brown.
What does philanthropy mean to you and what is it about Brown that motivates you to give back?
To me, philanthropy means giving back to the institutions about which I passionately care. I do not believe that "giving back" consists exclusively of providing financial support, though the financial aspects of philanthropy are clearly crucial. Equally important, however, giving back encompasses one's time, judgment, creativity, and expertise to better organizations and provide opportunities for those who might otherwise not be able to benefit from them. I feel very fortunate to be able to give back to the University as Brown has been, and continues to be, an important part of my life. Not only did Brown provide me with a lifelong mate, but it also enabled me to meet some of my closest friends and to obtain a world-class education. With its open curriculum, Brown allowed me to continue my interests in political science and music, while simultaneously exploring new academic studies, one of which led to my desire to pursue an MBA after graduation. I loved my interdisciplinary courses and was grateful that I was taught by leading scholars in their fields, even as a freshman. I am further motivated to give back because Brown encouraged my passion in athletics and ensured that I could pursue my academic and career goals while also playing two varsity sports. With an institutional flexibility that is Brown's hallmark, Brown permitted me to take the LSATs and GMAT tests respectively during tennis and basketball tournaments. Our children have been fortunate to have had similar experiences at Brown. It only seems fitting to do what I can to perpetuate this culture of balance, excellence, and passion.
Two additional reasons motivate me to give back to Brown. First, the University has had extraordinary leadership for more than a decade, and I have been inspired – and continue to be inspired – by two remarkable presidents from whom I have learned a great deal. Second, Brown is an unusual institution where, despite its size, it is a relatively easy place to have an impact. I am particularly motivated to give back because, as I have experienced with the WLC, the University welcomes new ideas and programs, an attitude that is consistent with its openness to change.
Has there been a specific woman in your life that you look up to as a role model or mentor?
My maternal grandmother was a remarkable woman who was a wonderful role model for me. Though she came from a humble background and did not attend college, she was a very wise, cultured, and capable woman who could as readily change a flat tire as lead an organization. She was a major presence, and was highly esteemed in her community for her work in bettering the lives of less fortunate youth in Philadelphia. In an era when most women stayed in the home, my grandmother became active in philanthropy, starting a camp for inner-city youth that still bears her name. She began a multi-generational tradition in my family of women giving back to their communities.