New NC State Foundation Chair is Leading by Example
Donating food to NC State’s Feed the Pack food pantry has become a common practice for Mike Constantino and his wife, Lori. The couple’s efforts to combat hunger on campus, of particular importance in 2020, have reinforced Constantino’s long-held belief that “student need” goes far beyond simply paying tuition.
Mike sees a new face in the line almost every time he visits the pantry. Some are first-generation college students trying to hang on in order to fulfill their dream of a diploma. Some are international students trying to find relief in their home away from home. Some are simply close — so very close — to graduation, trying to find the food that will enable them to cross the finish line.
Each one is different, yet each one is the same: a member of the Pack in need of assistance. Constantino can empathize with them.
Tragedy Leads to Triumph
Mike’s time at NC State was a pivotal period in his life. He met Lori (’84) while double majoring in business management (’84) and accounting (’85). He was active in Alpha Kappa Psi, a loyal fan of Wolfpack athletics and more.
What he wasn’t? Confident he could return for his senior year.
“In the early ’80s, a person could actually work during the summers and pay their way through school. Maybe not completely, but [tuition] was affordable enough that, with some government aid and scholarship assistance, you could make it work,” Constantino said.
Summer jobs and part-time work while in school, as well as some Pell Grant money, made Mike’s first three years at NC State possible. However, scheduling issues threatened to cut his education off in the fourth quarter.
Constantino wasn’t able to make enough money that last summer to come back in the fall, and some of the accounting courses he needed for his senior year weren’t offered in the spring. If he missed those classes, he would need to invest even more time and money in order to graduate.
That’s when help arrived.
Constantino was invited by a faculty member to attend a banquet at which students would be recognized for academic achievement. The hitch was, there was a fee to attend the event. Already strapped for cash, Constantino thanked the faculty member but politely declined.
“Well, you really don’t have a choice,” the faculty member joked, “because you’re getting an award.”
Naturally, the surprised Constantino reconsidered.
Constantino was awarded the Kevin Ihnen Memorial Scholarship, which was notable for two reasons. For one, Constantino was the first recipient of the then-inaugural scholarship. The other was that Kevin Ihnen, the son of an NC State professor, had passed away just a few months before in a tragic accident. Kevin was a college senior at the time, so his parents decided to honor his memory by creating a scholarship for NC State students.
“The scholarship actually paid for tuition and fees for two semesters, so it was just a perfect fit,” Constantino said. “I didn’t have to delay school. I went on to finish on time with the business management degree and then could work enough to wrap up the accounting [degree]. It really came at the right place at the right time.
“It had a profound impact on how I feel about philanthropy,” he added. “To pay for somebody’s college for one year could really keep them on a trajectory that would give them opportunities to be successful.”
That night, Constantino vowed that he would endow an NC State scholarship of his own as soon as he could afford it.
From Getting to Giving
Degrees in hand, Constantino began working for the Ernst & Young accounting firm, more commonly known as EY. The firm’s Raleigh office had a history of donating to NC State via an annual fundraising campaign, and the office’s partners and NC State alumni were encouraged to contribute to the EY Development Fund each year.
Constantino followed through on his personal scholarship vow when he made partner — he was the first of many Wolfpack grads to do so at EY — by co-creating the Michael and Lori Constantino Endowment Fund. The fund provides fellowship awards to students in the Poole College of Management’s Jenkins Master of Accounting program.
“Since I have known Mike, he has been an individual that believes we all have a responsibility to create better opportunities for future generations,” said Dr. Frank Buckless, Stephen P. Zelnak Jr. Dean of the Poole College of Management. “Through his giving of time and financial resources, Mike has helped many learn that it is much more fulfilling to give than to receive.”
The Constantinos also have given to NC State athletics, the College of Veterinary Medicine, the Entrepreneurship Clinic and more over the years in order to benefit students across campus.
“Mike and Lori are amazing examples of what giving can do at NC State,” said Brian Clark, executive director of development and external relations for the Poole College of Management. “Their commitment, of both time and resources, is a catalyst for providing opportunities to impact future generations.”
Supporting students in the College of Education is of particular importance to the couple, as Mike’s mother and Lori’s mother were both educators.
“Our College of Education students arrive with some of the most impressive academic credentials in North Carolina and with a deep passion to make our communities stronger through a career in teaching,” College of Education Dean Dr. Mary Ann Danowitz said. “They do so even knowing they have an incredibly high need for financial aid and could have chosen a higher-earning profession. Unfortunately, these same reasons have also deterred many promising students, especially students of color, from even pursuing a career in education, which is a terrible loss for our school children and our state.
“With additional scholarship support, we are able to prepare more extraordinary educators who go on to empower children, families and communities throughout their careers. Through their gift, Mike and Lori Constantino are not only touching the lives of the College of Education students who will receive the scholarship, they are impacting the lives of all those children and youth whom our students will teach for years to come.”
Constantino retired from EY in 2017 after a career spanning 32 extraordinary years. Mike’s day job ended, but that hasn’t slowed his giving to NC State. He now has more time than ever to devote to his alma mater, a fact that is helping him in his new mission: serving as chair of the NC State University Foundation Board.
Leading From the Front
Constantino has served in multiple positions with NC State over the years, including as a mentor to Jenkins MAC students and as chair of the Poole College of Management’s Board of Advisors. His latest role came in June when he was named the chair of the NC State University Foundation Board. The foundation also oversees several other college and unit foundations including those of the Division of Academic and Student Affairs, NC State University Libraries, the Colleges of Design, Education, Humanities and Social Sciences, and Management, and the Graduate School.
While Constantino is certainly honored to be named to this prestigious position, he views the chair as yet another opportunity for him to give rather than any personal recognition.
“When you volunteer to serve on a board at NC State, you have to have the passion to do it, but I think there are also other responsibilities that come with just being passionate,” Constantino said. “Some people believe that a college education is transactional — you pay your tuition, and when you earn your degree, your financial commitment to the university has ended. I believe that a college education is more than that and requires a lifelong financial commitment to your alma mater, particularly if you attended a public university.
“In addition to financial assistance from your family, government grants and/or scholarships, the citizens of North Carolina also paid for a portion of your education,” he added. “Truck drivers, farmers, factory workers, restaurant workers and hourly wage earners, many of whom did not have an opportunity to attend college, support public university students through paying taxes. They have invested in the future of North Carolina, and it is incumbent on graduates to reinvest so that others can have the same or even better opportunities.”
Providing those opportunities is sometimes difficult to do, though. Despite the success of NC State’s ongoing Think and Do the Extraordinary Campaign and other financial-aid efforts, many NC State students graduate with significant debt.
“As a university, we are not able to meet all of the financial needs that our students have,” Constantino said. “Right down the road at Carolina, if you get accepted, they’ll find a way to make it work with whatever financial resources you can contribute. They have the financial resources to fill the gap. We don’t, and it creates some real challenges for us.”
Thankfully, there’s a new giving opportunity available this year for donors looking to help students close those financial gaps.
All for One, One for All
The Extraordinary Opportunity Scholarship Initiative (EOSI) is a new part of NC State’s Think and Do the Extraordinary Campaign aimed at empowering students who normally couldn’t afford a college education. EOSI provides a 50% match for donations of $50,000 or more. With the average annual cost of attending NC State as an undergraduate at more than $24,000 and the average student need at $16,000-plus, the need for such an initiative is all too clear.
The Constantinos were some of the earliest donors to take advantage of EOSI by establishing a scholarship endowment with a preference for a recipient in the College of Education. They’re also passionate advocates for the initiative, urging others to follow their example.
“This is a way to help people that never thought they could endow a scholarship — ‘here’s some money on the side that we’re going to bring alongside what you’re doing,’” Constantino said.
EOSI is a universitywide effort, meaning donors can impact students in any college or major. A donation could mean the difference between that first-gen, international or home-stretch student becoming the latest alum of NC State or having to drop out altogether.
And the need for EOSI’s type of direct support has never been greater than it is in 2020. With students facing so many obstacles, receiving a college education is more challenging than ever despite also being more important than ever.
Constantino keeps that in mind when he thinks back on his time as an undergrad and when he considers the future of NC State.