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Lindy Lee Gold

A $500,000 gift establishes the School of Business Endowment for Leadership Development at Southern.

From left: Lindy Lee Gold, president of the Amour Propre Fund, presents a $500,000 ceremonial check to Ellen Durnin, dean emeritus of the School of Business.

Lindy Lee Gold’s commitment to Southern is inspired by a core belief. “Public education is the vehicle for breaking the cycle of poverty,” says Gold, who has dedicated her life, both professionally and personally, to serving the community. In February, a $500,000 gift made through the Amour Propre Fund furthered Gold’s commitment by establishing the School of Business Endowment for Leadership Development at Southern. It is the largest contribution ever made in support of business students at the university.

Gold, who is president of Amour Propre, made the gift to enhance and expand programs offered through the Leadership Center in the School of Business. These include the Women’s Leadership and Mentoring Program and IMPACT Greater New Haven, which places Southern business majors as interns at nonprofit organizations, with the university covering the cost of students’ stipends. Looking forward, the fund will support other leadership initiatives, such as a Peer-to-Peer Mentoring Program; a Student Leadership Council, uniting business majors with community and business leaders; and global experience programming.

In recognition of this visionary donation, Southern will establish the Lindy Lee Gold Business Leadership Suite, generously supported by the Amour Propre Fund, within the new planned home for the School of Business. The 60,000-sq. ft. building is slated to open in 2023, with a ground-breaking ceremony set for the spring. Southern hopes to inspire others to contribute to the fund, ultimately raising an endowment of up to $2.5 million to support future leadership programs.

The impact of Gold’s support is far-reaching. More than 1,100 undergraduates and nearly 125 master’s degree candidates are enrolled in the School of Business. In the past 30 years, 8,000 alumni have completed their degrees through the business school — with about 85 percent remaining in Connecticut to live and work after graduation.

The gift also comes at a pivotal time. Southern’s School of Business is in the candidacy stage for initial accreditation by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB). Accreditation is a premier level of distinction held by only five percent of business schools worldwide.

Change for Good

In step with Southern’s commitment to social justice, the School of Business curriculum focuses on sustainability and a commitment to “doing good while doing well.”  The goal: to encourage students to give back to their communities as they become well-rounded professionals.

Gold’s beliefs match this commitment. “Education is a great equalizer,” she says, referencing the importance of early childhood development and the advantage to children who enter preschool knowing thousands of words compared to those who know hundreds. “The same thing happens when you look at social and leadership skills, mentorship, and even family connections,” says Gold, who serves on both the SCSU Foundation Board of Directors and the Business Advisory Council of the School of Business. “When our students graduate, I want to make sure they are on a more level playing field. . . . Education doesn’t just change the career trajectory and life of the person involved. It alters the paradigm for generations to come.”

Gold, one of four sisters, was raised in the Elm City. The family’s home was on Ellsworth Avenue, around the corner from Southern, and Gold attended Hamden Hall Country Day School before enrolling at Emerson College. Both of her parents were prominent attorneys; her father, Marvin Gold, was also a real estate developer. “He did a lot to bring people with low incomes into home ownership,” says Gold of the man who served on numerous community boards, sometimes alongside her.

“It’s in my DNA,” she says of her parents’ commitment to social justice. She recalls a family road trip; the four “Gold girls” and their parents driving from Connecticut to Florida. “In a sedan. Not a wagon. It’s amazing we were still talking to each other at the end,” she jokes of the journey to look at colleges for her eldest sister. Even then, she knew the family’s trek had a deeper meaning. “It was to bear witness to the segregation and the pain. The further we went, the more you saw that hatred, which was not only vetted against Blacks but against Jews as well,” says Gold, who remains active in the Jewish community.

The late Rabbi Robert E. Goldburg, who led Congregation Miskan Israel in Hamden until 1986, was also a guiding light. A vocal supporter of civil rights, Rabbi Goldburg was arrested in 1961 alongside Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. at a civil rights protest in Georgia — and he welcomed Rev. King and Stokely Carmichael as guest speakers at the synagogue. “Justice was the basic tenet of everything he spoke about or taught. I don’t know any other way,” says Gold of his influence. She also points to a driving Jewish principle as shaping her actions. “It’s called tikkun olam, which means repair your world,” she says.

An early entrepreneur, Gold owned a wholesale and retail travel business in addition to a construction company, all of which she eventually sold. Her second career drew on this business experience — as well as leadership skills honed working with numerous philanthropic organizations, including some she established in New Haven. Since 1998, Gold has worked at the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development. A senior development specialist, she is responsible for business retention, recruitment, development, and expansion, and sits on all work-related boards connected with job training, workforce investment, and education as well.

Gold’s philanthropic leadership efforts also are extensive — too numerous to cite in this article. Her commitment is heartfelt and hands-on. In New Haven, she’s recently worked with the nonprofit organization ’r Kids on a program for teenage girls in foster care; joined forces with Christian Community Action to renovate and help furnish 18 apartments for families in need of transitional housing; and provided critical support to Y2Y, a student-led organization for homeless youth, age 18 to 24.

At Southern, she previously provided a pivotal $150,000 grant to support the Women’s Leadership and Mentoring Program in the School of Business. The program was conceived by Judite Vamvakides, ’98, M.A. ’18, associate vice president of alumni and donor engagement, who developed it as a thesis project while completing a master’s degree in women’s studies at Southern. Ellen Durnin, dean of the School of Business at the time, served as Vamvakides’ thesis adviser and collaborator on the program.

Gold’s funding took the pilot program to the next level. It includes guest speakers, workshops, and seminars; informational sessions on topics ranging for salary negotiation to networking; and even the creation of a virtual tool kit, equipped with webinars and more. The latter was so successful it was shared with all School of Business majors who graduated in May 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Additionally, an optional one-semester course is offered each spring semester, led by Yue (Christine) Liu, assistant professor of marketing. Liu, a first-generation immigrant from China, notes the transforming nature of the program. “This opportunity helped me explore my potential as well,” says Liu of her heightened role as a mentor. “It’s the same for our students, who have found their confidence, a support network, and even a new job. Often, they are surprised by their potential and capabilities. It’s the first time they see themselves as future leaders.”

That was certainly the case for Mariam Noorzad, a senior majoring in business administration with a concentration in accounting. “I literally had no confidence in myself. My biggest fear was not being able to find a job because I couldn’t get past the interview stage,” says Noorzad, who had left the workforce for several years to care for her two young daughters. She signed on to the Women’s Leadership and Mentoring Program looking for guidance and support — both of which she found in abundance.  “I learned how to interview, how to negotiate my salary, and how to network and create long-lasting connections,” she says. She also mastered LinkedIn, and inspired by successful women guest speakers, started a job search before graduating. She received about a dozen job offers — and, while still a junior, was hired to work for Big 4 accounting firm Ernst & Young after graduation in May 2021. “This is surely something I didn’t realize I would ever be able to do,” says Noorzad.

“She represents my goals for the program,” sums Gold.

Dean Emeritus Durnin has repeatedly witnessed similar transformations.  “Our students are smart, hardworking, and resourceful. They also usually have multiple responsibilities and complicated lives — and they are putting it together and managing it all,” she says.  According to data from the 2019-2020 academic year, about 30 percent of Southern’s undergraduate population is considered “non-traditional,” or 25 years or older, and 41 percent identifies as an underrepresented minority.

Financial obstacles are among the hardships facing students. Approximately 55 percent of Southern undergraduates receive need-based Pell grants for those with high levels of financial need.

“Often times they are the first in their family to go to university. Many do not have an educational or professional role model. That’s why building these leadership experiences is critical for our students to compete. The academic component is vital. But this piece is just as important,” says Durnin.

Others agree with Durnin’s assessment on the importance of leadership training. At the national level, only 47 percent of human resource professionals believe their organization has the leaders needed to fill critical roles, according to the 2021 Global Leadership Forecast, conducted by DDI, a business consultancy.

Clearly, something is missing. But where some note a lack, Lindy Lee Gold sees an opportunity. “We are responsible for making sure that people have a chance to reach their full potential,” says Gold, who is both an optimist and a pragmatist. “When I see a problem,  I look for possible solutions — and figure out the best way I can to assist and help fix them.”