Privilege, Parking, and Philanthropy
Conner Wolfe ’16 shares his favorite Brockport memories, what being a GOLD means to him, and why he wants to inspire his fellow alums to support the next generation of Golden Eagles. He has challenged all faculty and staff in the History Department to reach 100% participation in this year’s Faculty and Staff Campaign: Celebrating Community, with a gift of any size, to any campus fund. If that participation goal is met, Conner will donate $1,000 to the Department of History Fund.
Q: Tell us a little bit about yourself and your connection to SUNY Brockport.
I graduated from Brockport in 2016…I was a history major. I went to Genesee Community College for two years, not really knowing what I wanted to do. But I found that I really loved my history courses, and while I didn’t know what to do around that as a career, I ended up going with a history major because I liked the content.
I absolutely loved the History Department at Brockport. One of the stories I like to tell that I think is really representative of my time at Brockport is of my first class. It was with Dr. Meredith Roman, teaching The History of the Soviet Union, and the first day, first class, she was wearing like three-inch heel leather boots and a Black Power t-shirt. And that was the perfect set up for the rest of my time at Brockport. It taught me so much about people in the world, it showed me a lot of the privilege I had, and the areas I had to learn, and it had a huge impact on my life. While I don’t use the content I learned so much anymore, I use the skills around research, critical thinking, and reading and writing every day with the work I do.
Q: When was the last time you visited campus, and how did that feel in comparison to when you were a student?
I try to stop by every time I’m in the area, even if it’s just to drive through. I always forget that that road is closed behind Hartwell. Every time, I try to drive through there and I remember I can’t [laughs].
The last time I was back was sometime around the Fourth of July. I mostly wanted a [trash] plate. And when I was done at Jimmy Z’s, I did a drive through campus. Right after I graduated it felt very surreal and different. I don’t have that feeling quite so much anymore, and it seems like campus has changed a good bit with the construction, the renovations and stuff. It’s always fun and good to be back. I was really involved in student government, and for the first year or so after I graduated I would park in the BSG [Brockport Student Government] Reserved Parking spot, just to say that I could. Hey, it was a free place to park without a pass!
Q: Do you recall your very first gift to Brockport?
I don’t….last year was my first leadership gift of $1,000 or so, and I remember that because I worked with Nicole Dumbleton in Advancement to do the Challenge for the giving day and GOLD Campaign and stuff. And I like to do those challenge gifts because it motivates other people to give and it means my gift has a bigger impact. I mean, I can just write a check and never talk to anybody [about it], but hopefully by inspiring other people to give I can make the most of it, share some of the love, and make other alumni feel as proud about Brockport as I do.
Q: What inspired your decision to start giving back, especially so soon following your graduation?
So as a student I was really grumpy whenever Advancement would ask me to give, because I had already given so much to Brockport with my tuition. But after I graduated, it started with just giving so I could be counted. Because for better or for worse, that alumni giving percentage matters, as far as college rankings and stuff.
But having graduated [grad school] later and looked back and reflected on how much Brockport has changed my life and what a great privilege it’s been for me to attend Brockport, I started to give back to hopefully share that privilege and that experience with other people, so other students and future students can have the same life-changing experiences that I’ve had. And I like to give unrestricted because I know that’s always hard to ask for. Someone has to pay to keep the lights on, and I know most people don’t want to pay for that [laughs]. I think challenge giving is the best way to maximize the impact of my giving by inspiring others to do the same.
Q: What impact do you hope your support will have on others?
That’s a big question because it’s like, “What should the College’s mission be?” So, I want to make Brockport even better than it was when I was a student and share that experience as widely as possible. I think especially for people from underprivileged backgrounds, who otherwise couldn’t afford the opportunity to attend.
Q: What are you most passionate about in regard to SUNY Brockport?
I’m just so proud to be an alum. It was a really “woke” campus for me, especially the History Department, they were all about it. Like I said, my first class was The History of the Soviet Union, and that was just crazy to learn about. But then also finding a really supportive environment with BSG and the clubs and other groups on campus, and then eventually throughout the SUNY system. I got to travel and meet students from other schools who were really leading system-wide advocacy to make SUNY affordable and accessible.
Q: Why does giving back to your alma mater matter to you?
It’s that alumni giving percentage [laughs]. No, only partially. I know it makes the college look good, so I’m happy to give the ten dollars for that. But I try to give back so other people can have the same incredible experience that I had.
Q: What inspired you to participate in Giving Day through a Challenge Gift? What was the process like for you in regard to considering the idea of a Challenge Gift all the way through actually doing it?
I think I had thought about doing a match or challenge gift previously but didn’t have the means. By 2020, I had been sustainably employed and saved up enough to make a leadership gift. I contacted Nicole about making a gift. Thankfully, she was very receptive to what I was looking to do. On the Giving Day, I messaged just about every alum I could via Facebook and personally asked them to give. We didn’t hit our goal, but I hope I inspired at least some other GOLDs to give.
This year, I offered to do another challenge with my leadership gift. [Advancement] came up with the idea of a History Department faculty/staff giving challenge which is something I had already considered. Some of my giving this year will be in honor of Dr. Salahuddin Malik, a much-respected professor of mine who retired recently. I try to not be very picky about what, and how, I give. I trust that the Advancement Division knows what will be most impactful much better than I do some 400 miles away.