Giving Back Through Service—
Michele Esposito ’96CC is a very active volunteer at Columbia College: She currently serves on the Columbia College Alumni Association board of directors, the Columbia College board of visitors, the Columbia College Alumnae Legacy Circle (of which she is a founding member), and is the fundraising co-chair for her 25th reunion that takes place this year. In addition to her many volunteer roles, she and her husband, Michael Crandall, established a scholarship fund several years ago—and they recently added a gift to Columbia in their wills that will be used for the College’s unrestricted support.
“My husband and I were creating our wills and the attorney asked, ‘Is there anyone other than your children that you would like to include?’ ” Michele recalls. “We said, ‘Oh! Yes, of course!’ because we hadn’t yet discussed charitable beneficiaries, but I knew I wanted to give back to the college that gave me so much.”
Michele, a retired hedge fund manager, explains that her grandparents were immigrants from Italy—and her parents were the first in their families to attend college. They made clear to Michele the importance of a college education.
“Education was a game-changer for my parents; it changed their experience so much from that of their parents,” Michele says. "I think it is important to give back to Columbia and to those who require financial assistance—to help provide them with an education they will benefit from throughout their life."
From Columbia to Wall Street
Michele grew up in Fort Lee, New Jersey, just across the Hudson River. “You could see Columbia from my house,” she says.
She knew she wanted to attend college in a big city and decided to apply to Columbia. At Columbia she double majored in economics and political science and graduated in three years. “I walked in ’95, but I definitely affiliate with the class of ’96 that I came in with,” she says.
Michele worked for the BlackRock investment firm during her third year of college and remained there for the next four years, helping clients invest while she went to night school to earn her MBA from the NYU Stern School of Business. Eventually, she switched from the “sell side” of Wall Street to the “buy side,” picking stocks for Pequot Capital—which at the time was the largest hedge fund in the world—and then for Dawson Herman Capital Management, where she became a general partner.
“I liked picking stocks,” Michele says. “It’s hard work but I loved it; and when you do what you love, it doesn’t feel like work. Every day was different, and I traveled a lot—I visited factories and mines and businesses throughout the United States, Chile, Brazil, and all over Europe.”
She married her husband in 2006 and retired for the first time in 2009 when they were expecting their first child, a son. They later welcomed a second son in 2014. She then returned to work in 2016, picking stocks for another hedge fund. After a couple more years picking stocks, she retired for good.
Grateful to Columbia
Michele says that Columbia College prepared her extremely well for her career in the financial industry, thanks to the content of the courses, the approach of the professors, and the way the College is structured.
“When you start working so young, it’s about maturity, how you present yourself, being confident,” Michele says. “You get that confidence in the classrooms at Columbia because of what is expected of you by your professors. They give you a lot of responsibility, and that prepares you for life.”
“There is such a good mix at Columbia; you don’t feel coddled, but you do feel cared for in a struc-tured environment. The Core Curriculum is a big part of it. Going to college is such a stressful time: you are leaving home, going to a new place. With the Core you already know what you are going to take; there is less stress because your courses are set up for you.”
Michele lauded the attitude and approach of the professors—and particularly Carl Hovde, an English professor who was already famous for serving as dean during the student protests of the late 1960s and helping the College heal during that difficult time.
“He was so calm, so steady, so smart, so thoughtful,” Michele says of Hovde, who taught at Columbia from 1960 to 1995 and died in 2009. “He enjoyed teaching us the Literature Humanities Core class. I will never forget him.”
Giving back in so many ways
Michele has been endlessly supportive of her alma mater. In addition to being a leader in her class and at the College for her consistent and generous philanthropy, she has served as a class agent and fund development council member for the College for more than a decade, soliciting participatory and leadership-level gifts from her classmates. She also previously served on the CCAA student/alumni journey committee. Currently Michele is a Centennial Circle member for those who supported the Core Curriculum during its 100th anniversary last year and is the College’s 1754 Society Chair to encourage other College volunteers to make planned gifts. Rounding out her involvements, Michele is a loyal supporter of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and Zuckerman Institute.
“It sounds like a lot, but it’s really not that much—and I have the time to do it,” Michele says. “I like being a part of an important institution like Columbia, and I like giving back to a place that did so much for me.”
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