Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Humanities Center

An architect's rendering of the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Humanities Center on Cuyahoga Community College's Eastern campus in Highland Hills.

Education has always been a major area of interest for the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Foundation.

“Higher education is one of our top priorities. The path to the future for a better Cleveland, a better Ohio, a better world, is education,” said Morton Mandel during a recent telephone interview with the Cleveland Jewish News.

Mandel, who is chairman of the foundation, said two other major areas of interest include leadership and the humanities. The humanities happen to be the focus of the Mandel Foundation’s and Mandel Supporting Foundations’ recent $10 million gift to Cuyahoga Community College.

The gift, which is the largest in Tri-C’s history, will establish the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Humanities Center. The center will bring together faculty, students and community members to participate in classes, seminars, lectures and special events that will contribute to the development of civic engagement.

“The Mandel Humanities Center was visualized and designed primarily to provide individuals with a strong foundation in the humanities and provide them with the skills and expertise required to take on meaningful leadership roles in the community once they graduated from a college or university,” said Tri-C President Alex Johnson.

The Mandel Foundation has a longstanding relationship with Tri-C that began with former President Jerry Sue Thornton. Mandel said he was impressed by Thornton, along with the mission of the school, so he funded the Mandel Leadership Development Program to help faculty and staff develop more leadership capability.

That program laid the groundwork for additional leadership opportunities for students.

“As we talked about the foundation’s continued involvement with the institution, Mr. Mandel felt very strongly that we should create opportunities not only for staff to develop their leadership skills, but also for students,” said Johnson, who has served as president of Tri-C for the last two years. “As we talked about that particular interest it became apparent to us that there was an opportunity to create something monumental in that regard.”

Mandel said leaders at Tri-C expressed interest in creating something important with regard to the humanities. The Mandel Foundation responded to that request with a $10 million gift.

“Over time, as succeeding generations of students go through learning about the great ideas of the world, learning about philosophy, poetry, English, reading, geography, that’s all in the humanities, which is really going in the wrong direction,” Mandel said. “People are concentrating on how to get a job, so they learn a trade or become a lawyer.

“But that doesn’t mean that that’s sufficient. I don’t think it’s sufficient if you don’t see the beauty of all the things in the world, about how to be a parent, how to be a partner – you get that from reading and learning. It’s not just that college represents an opportunity to learn a trade, it teaches you how to fulfill yourself and your journey through life. That’s why we here are such supporters of the humanities.”

The gift will establish a permanent endowment within the Tri-C Foundation to support the center and its specific initiatives, as well as establish a chair for a dean of humanities to lead the center. Johnson said the college has enlisted the help of a search firm to find the right person for that dean position.

The gift also enables a scholars academy to be formed. At least 200 students will be selected each year to receive scholarships from the foundation.

Johnson believes the creation of the scholars academy will help raise the profile of Tri-C.

“It provides the opportunity for us to attract more qualified students. It raises our profile, particularly for individuals who are interested in the humanities and then going on and leading certain aspects of the community,” he said.

The college will use other sources of funding to renovate the existing Liberal Arts and Performing Arts building on the Eastern campus in Highland Hills to create the humanities center. The second floor will be renovated to create spaces for students to engage in group activities with professors, and technology will be available to allow students and faculty to research their ideas. Johnson said there also will be “ideation” stations where students in small groups can toss back and forth ideas about the humanities and the role it plays in leadership development.

The renovation is scheduled to be completed over the next eight to 10 months, Johnson said.

The two most recent gifts to Tri-C – the Mandel donation and a gift from The Lerner Foundation to fund the Alfred Lerner Veterans Services Center – have focused more on students and their success, Johnson said, rather than creating new buildings on campus.

“The Mandel gift quite honestly is the centerpiece of a more focused effort on student success and completion and making certain that students can take their rightful places in leading the development of the community,” he said.

Mandel stressed the importance of funding both bricks and mortar and scholarships. He said his foundation decides on which areas to fund on a case-by-case basis.

“We try and meet the needs at the time,” Mandel said. “The needs at the time might be scholarships, a dean position or remodeling. It’s a question of what the needs are with the universe that we’re in contact with. We do it all.”

Unlike other public and private universities, community colleges are generally new to fundraising, Johnson said. Most have relied on government sources of revenue, but as those have started to erode, it’s now a challenge for community colleges to compete for private giving dollars. The Mandel Foundation gift shows that Tri-C is up for that challenge.

“This $10 million gift is recognition that the community college mission of access, equity and success is important,” Johnson said. “It positions us to be competitive for other large gifts that might be available to us, either at the local level or the national level.

“This gift has been provided to us because I think Mr. Mandel recognizes our value. We’ve demonstrated over time that we can do what we said we can do.”

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