Alumni: Nolan gift offers ‘incredible opportunities’ for Hotelies

Kevin Jacobs ’94 knows firsthand just how important, how life-changing, financial aid can be.

“My wife (Amanda ’94) and I both received a lot of financial aid in going to Cornell – otherwise, a Cornell education wouldn’t have been possible for either of us,” said Jacobs, a graduate of the newly named Cornell Peter and Stephanie Nolan School of Hotel Administration and now chief financial officer and president of global development for Hilton Worldwide. “Financial aid certainly provided incredible opportunities for us in our lives.”

That’s why, Jacobs said, the $50 million gift from Peter Nolan ’80, MBA ’82, and Stephanie Nolan ’84 – herself a Hotelie – which established the Nolan School, is so important.

Kevin Jacobs

Gilda Perez-Alvarado

Scott Berman

Rohan Thakkar

Kassie Henderson

“It’s a wonderful gift,” he said. “Cornell is a need-blind [admissions] school, and the more funds they have available to support a student of any background who has financial need, the more the school can curate the best classes they can to develop the leadership of tomorrow.”

“We want to make sure the Nolan School attracts, prepares and develops the most brilliant minds, regardless of economic background,” said Gilda Perez-Alvarado ’02, a Nolan School graduate who is the global CEO of JLL Hotels & Hospitality. “Gifts like this one make sure that we can even out the playing field and focus on brilliant minds.”

The Nolans’ gift will support financial aid and expand educational access in the Nolan School. A one-to-three match of $16 million – by challenge funds from H. Fisk Johnson ’79, M.Eng. ’80, M.S. ’82, MBA ’84, Ph.D. ’86, and the SC Johnson company – will support financial aid for students in the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management and in the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management.

“Cornell has always had a very diverse student body,” Perez-Alvarado said, “and by providing additional financial support, the school will ensure all students can focus on their education.”

“The Nolans’ generous gift creates a significant opportunity to bring real change to underrepresented groups, who otherwise could not afford a world-class hospitality education at Cornell,” said Scott Berman ’84, partner and U.S. hospitality leader at professional services multinational PwC. “The timing of their gift is significant as it aligns with the hospitality industry’s recognition and commitment to hire and train a more diverse workforce.”

The gift was announced just prior to Cornell announcing its five-year, $5 billion “To Do the Greatest Good” campaign, a key element of which will be increasing affordability for low- and middle-income students. The campaign will include a goal of raising $500 million for undergraduate financial aid.

Rohan Thakkar ’08, senior vice president for development and strategy at London-based hotel group Yotel, said the Nolans’ gift will help graduates follow their dreams, instead of solely the money.

“This amazing gift could allow them to go into a field that they may have a passion for, rather than necessarily looking at who’s going to give me the highest salary because I have to be a bit more practical,” he said. “It could allow people to recognize their passions earlier on and where they want to go in the industry, which may not always be the highest paying role.”

Current Nolan School student Kassie Henderson ’22 said attending Cornell has been “one of the greatest experiences of my entire life,” and that not having to worry about finances has been a key. “If I would have been distracted about money the entire time,” she said, “I would have missed it.”

Henderson said future students, including those from diverse backgrounds, will be afforded the same chance because of the Nolans’ generosity. “The Nolans’ gift helps to level the playing field among students,” she said, “and allow for students to prosper and enjoy the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity they are given.”

And the prospect of leaving school with a Cornell degree and little or no student debt is huge, Perez-Alvarado said.

“This [gift] will help remove a meaningful burden for those who benefit from the scholarship,” she said. “And I would love to see those students also give back to the school by providing opportunities to future alumni, collaborating with the school and its curriculum, making time for students and making sure Cornell remains at the leading edge.

“Giving back,” she said, “is at the heart of what it means to be a Hotelie.”

Thakkar also expressed pride in being a Hotelie, and the strong feelings that brings.

“This [gift] just reaffirms the passion of our alumni, and that’s still going strong,” he said. “The Nolan School is still the school that we all left and loved.”

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Abby Butler