Brandeis International Business School

Paying it forward — with interest

Brandeis International Business School's generous donors change the world for students

Amy Kessler, MA '90, co-founded the Peter Petri Fellowship, one of the school's important scholarship programs.
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Amy Kessler, MA '90, co-founded the Peter Petri Fellowship, one of the school's important scholarship programs.

A serious family illness nearly derailed her academic career. Thankfully, the Brandeis community stepped up to support Amy Kessler ’89, MA ’90.

"I almost had to leave school when I was a junior because my father got sick and couldn’t work,” Kessler recalled during Reunion Weekend.

In short order, Prof. Ann Carter and Peter Petri, founding dean of Brandeis International Business School, identified a donor who helped keep Kessler at Brandeis. Kessler persevered, earning a bachelor’s degree and master of arts in international economics and finance. Today, Kessler works as a senior vice president at Prudential.

As she built her career, Kessler always remembered something her mother told her just after receiving the good news: “Amy, you will pay that money back with interest.”

Together with philanthropist Ron Ansin, Kessler founded the Peter Petri Global Fellowship at the International Business School in 2006. The fellowship recognizes accomplished students from different continents who demonstrate financial need and have overcome difficult challenges in their studies and personal lives. Ansin put money up front to launch the fellowship, while Kessler has contributed funding over time to keep it growing.

“I wanted to recognize Peter and his generosity toward this community and especially those of us who have received a scholarship,” said Kessler. "As alumni, our ability to help today’s students is more important than ever. I worry in this world that someone growing up in the circumstances I grew up in might not have the same opportunity to succeed. All of us can change that.”

Ebube Iheme, MA ’20 of Lagos, Nigeria, is a Petri fellow with a passion for data analysis. He said the data analytics concentration in the MA program feels as if the program was tailor-made just for him to launch his career.

“The fellowship made it possible for me to do this,” said Iheme. “This support has encouraged me to push forward in my academics.”

A home for ‘academic entrepreneurship’

Students and alumni like to think of Brandeis International Business School as a startup. It’s young, nimble and was created to tackle the challenges of a new, emerging world.

So it’s no surprise that entrepreneurship is at the school’s heart — and that supporters who know how to start and grow a business are keen to foster that entrepreneurial spirit.

Leonard J. Asper '86 is the current CEO of Anthem Media Group and the former president of CanWest Global Communications, Canada's largest media conglomerate. He created the Asper Center for Global Entrepreneurship at the International Business School to promote and invest in entrepreneurship both at Brandeis and in the larger business world.

“I thought entrepreneurship was something the school should teach,” said Asper. “I like to see Brandeis graduates building things, helping to create new parts of the economy. And I think Brandeis is a great place for this idea because it’s the poster child for entrepreneurship — it’s academic entrepreneurship.”

Every year, the Asper Center recognizes an International Business School graduate that best exemplifies the center's values of entrepreneurial spirit and independent thinking with the Alumni Entrepreneurship Award. The center also hosts the 3 Day Startup (3DS) program, a weekend-long startup competition at Brandeis, and partners with MassChallenge, a Boston-based incubator that strengthens the global innovation ecosystem by accelerating high-potential startups across all industries.

Galen Karlan-Mason ’16, MA ’17 exemplifies Brandeis’ entrepreneurial spirit. With a boost from the Asper Center, he turned his idea for a sustainable grocery-rating app into reality when he founded GreenChoice in 2017.

Karlan-Mason leveraged 3DS to help develop the app and earned a startup award to continue research. Now he’s competing in MassChallenge with hopes of winning seed money.

“Brandeis took us seriously,” he said. “The school’s commitment to innovation and entrepreneurship played a really pivotal role in our trajectory.”

For love of finance ... and fiancées

Just about every student at Brandeis International Business School has had at least one class there. One student loved it so much, it’s where he proposed to his girlfriend.

Lee Hall, located near the World Court, is a state-of-the-art classroom that has hosted more than a decade of learning and memories.

“Lee Hall is the premier lecture hall at the International Business School,” said Dean Kathryn Graddy. “It is busy from 8 a.m. through 9:30 at night and popular among students and faculty alike.”

The hall is named in honor of Thomas H. Lee, a financier who has given generously to Brandeis and the International Business School.

Lee has donated more than $5 million to the International Business School, including $1 million for the classroom. In all, Lee has given more than $7 million to Brandeis University. He is a former member of the Brandeis Board of Trustees, serving from 1988 to 2009. Additionally, two of Lee’s nieces attended Brandeis.

Brandeis is proud to attract successful philanthropists like Lee, a veteran of the private equity industry who currently heads two investment advisory firms, Lee Equity Partners LLC and Thomas H. Lee Capital LLC. In his best-known transaction, Thomas H. Lee Capital bought Snapple for $140 million in 1992, then sold it to Quaker Oats Co. for $2 billion in 1994.

However students express their love at the International Business School — for finance or for their fiancée — it’s the generosity of Lee and others who have helped make it possible.

The experience of giving

Experiences are a cornerstone of learning at Brandeis International Business School. Generous donors support innovative hands-on programs that get students out of the classroom and into the real world.

The Hassenfeld Fellow Overseas Immersion Program is one of the premier opportunities available, sending more than a dozen students abroad each semester to learn about finance, innovation and business in some of the world’s most dynamic economies, including China, Israel and India.

“It’s incredibly important for our students to understand the global work environment — to really immerse themselves and understand a culture because they might work in it some day,” said Alan Hassenfeld, co-chair of the International Business School’s Board of Advisors, who established the program. “It’s also invaluable for students to meet entrepreneurs in other countries and actually evaluate their startups.”

For Alexander Bespalov, MSF ’20, the Hassenfeld immersion trip to Israel in 2019 was eye-opening because he witnessed first hand how startups in the country worked internally, found funding and made a difference in Israeli society.

“Talking to business leaders in Israel showed me how important the business ecosystem is to the success of any venture,” said Bespalov. “I also discovered the impact startups founded on humanitarian ideals can have on people’s lives.”

In addition to overseas immersion, the new Student Experience Fund will expand opportunities for transformative experiences like field projects with Boston companies, treks to companies like Google, Apple and Adobe, and much more. The Student Experience Fund was founded with donations from alumni in the runup to the International Business School’s 25th anniversary.

“Experiential learning is central to how we prepare students for their careers,” said Dean Kathryn Graddy. “While these opportunities are amazing and often life-changing experiences for our students, they also keep Brandeis connected to top employers and raise our profile across the United States and around the world.”

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