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Supporting the Next Generation of Scholars

Photo of Ethelyn Katz Geschwind ’84SEAS

For Ethelyn Katz Geschwind ’84SEAS, philanthropy has always been deeply personal, a strong sense of charity and responsibility to one’s community being long-held Geschwind family values.

It is just this deep sense of personal connection that underlies her relationship with Columbia Engineering. In particular, Geschwind recalls two professors who had a profound impact during her time on campus and after: Carl Gryte and Ed Leonard. Gryte changed the trajectory of Geschwind’s career. As she was contemplating whether to major in chemistry or chemical engineering, Gryte fired her imagination by explaining the power engineers have to scale up solutions so that good ideas make the greatest impact. Leonard, known for the high bar he set for his students, challenged Geschwind to reach for higher levels of achievement.

Geschwind began her career at Colgate-Palmolive in the production of active ingredients for detergents, traveling internationally to set up production facilities. During these trips, Geschwind developed an aptitude for supply chain management, leading her to the intersection of engineering and business. Later, she further broadened her own horizons by complementing her experience in engineering with an MBA.

Shortly after earning her engineering degree, Geschwind ran into Leonard while out and about in New York one day. Inspired to hear how his research was progressing, she made a commitment which was soon amplified by a Columbia challenge as well as a corporate match from Colgate-Palmolive, leveraging her modest donation to help buy a much-needed piece of equipment for her former mentor.

It’s typical of Geschwind that her giving would be inspired by these types of connections. Mindful of the impact Columbia Engineering has had on her life’s trajectory, she supports a wide variety of projects, often with an eye to how they can help launch young engineers, from underwriting student conference costs to bolstering the recently established Class of 1984 Scholarship. Ultimately, Geschwind and her family decided to take responsibility for supporting an individual student and established the Ben and Ethelyn Geschwind Endowed Scholarship Fund.

Now, Geschwind looks forward each year to meeting her scholar, finding small moments of magic in these connections, such as the recipient who hailed from a small Texas town where Geschwind used to work. Mentoring these scholars has long been a highlight.

It’s also a lifelong passion. After 35-plus years working for Colgate-Palmolive, Sterling Drug (Sanofi), and Verizon, from which she retired in 2017, Geschwind decided to pursue her love of teaching and went back to school to receive a masters of arts in teaching, which she completed in 2020. She now teaches ninth-grade mathematics at Inwood Academy for Leadership.

Entering the teaching profession amid the COVID-19 pandemic presented more challenges than she could have imagined. Now, more than ever, Geschwind feels privileged for her upbringing and understands the value of supporting financial aid. Thus, even beyond her scholarship, Geschwind continues to give regularly and leverages corporate matching programs whenever possible. Deeply impressed by the return on investment to her scholarship fund, she made the decision a few years ago to grow its legacy by including the Geschwind Scholarship in her estate planning. Her combination of giving now and planning for the future ensures the Geschwind Scholarship will continue to exponentially impact young lives in perpetuity. Geschwind shares her story in hopes that others will be encouraged to support the future engineers who are poised to address the grandest challenges of our time, from climate change to COVID-19.

If Geschwind could impress one thing upon people, it is that “anyone can do this.” Think of it “like contributing to a 401(k),” she says. “It’s that simple to impact someone’s whole life for the better.”

Ethelyn Geschwind’s choices reflect the strong sense of charity and giving back she was raised with and support priorities she hopes to see upheld long into the future. To learn how you can bring your values to life with a legacy of lasting impact, visit columbia.giftplans.org or call 212-851-7857.

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