#2 Alumni (and Friends) Spotlight Initiative: Making Connections with Lee S. Schwebel

Hannah Park 0:05
All right. Welcome to the EHHS Alumni and Friends podcast! I'm Hannah Park, and we are so happy to welcome Lee Schwebel as our guest today. 

Lee Schwebel 0:17
Well, thank you very much, Hannah. It's great to be here, and thank you for welcoming me today. That's great.

Hannah Park 0:24
So we wanted to start by asking you if you could tell us a little bit about your personal journey and what led you to become involved in philanthropy?

Lee Schwebel 0:37
Well, I don't know if I would use the word philanthropy, but that's a big word, but I think it does apply in many ways. But I think giving back and caring really is in my DNA. I'm sort of rooted in caring, and it also is part of my family DNA. So I've learned a lot by living and seeing my family as an example, and I think that's been very, very important to me.

And it's sort of led me in many different directions. I think giving, generally, if you give from your heart, there's really not that much effort involved. If you really feel something, if you feel you really want to give to someone or an organization, that once you've made up your mind, mentally, and from the heart, then it's really not very difficult. It's sort of just an exercise in maybe writing a check, or giving, or being present, and being available.

Hannah Park 1:40
Right, right. Awesome. So, tell us a little bit about your connection to Kent State. Because unlike our first guest on this [podcast], you didn't go here. You weren't an alumni of Kent State. So tell us a little bit about your college career, and then afterwards, how you got connected to Kent.

Lee Schwebel 1:58
Sure. Well, actually, I graduated from Emerson College in Boston in 1990. And ironically, there is an Emerson connection with Kent State University, and that goes back, sadly, to May 4, 1970. And my professor at Emerson, Dr. J. Gregory Payne, he wrote the docudrama and has done a lot of research on what happened May 4th. His dissertation was about May 4. And he felt so inspired to want to sort of document what happened that he has a class at Emerson called Rhetoric of the 1960s, or a class about Kent State and Jackson State. So I took that class in 1989, and I actually came to Kent State as a student from Emerson. And we... We're here for May 4th, and we took part in a lot of the activities. So, that's one way that I'm connected to Kent State.

The other way is I'm really paying homage to my ancestors, to my family that came before me. Because in 1968, my grandparents and my great aunts and uncles came here, and they dedicated a room to Kent State. It's called the Schwebel Garden Room, it's upstairs at the student center, some people may be aware of that. And that really helped to set a certain standard for working with Kent State. So, when I say I'm paying homage, I'm following really the example and the lessons of my people that came before me from my family. Not just my grandparents, or my great aunt and uncle. But my father was on the board, the advisory board for Kent State Hospitality Management. And when I came to work in our business in 1995, he recommended that I hop on the board and maybe learn a few things. And eventually he went off the board and I became a full member. So, that was in 1999. So my involvement really came from my Emerson experience in 1990 and then in 1995 I was on the board or very much involved. And since 1999 I've been on the advisory board.

Hannah Park 4:22
Yeah, absolutely. So we saw on the hospitality website that you and your family, you've been involved with hospitality here for over 20 years. And the Schwebel family established the Schwebel Guest Lecture Series. Can you tell us a little bit about that and how that came to be?

Lee Schwebel 4:44
Yeah. That really was my father, Joseph Schwebel, who really is my mentor in a lot of ways. One of my most important mentors. And he really felt that the program needed sort of a basis for the greater population or, you know, prospective students and for hospitality in general to know about this program, for it to not just to be another college program.

So we came up with an endowment for a lecture series that was in 1993, I believe. And so we've had about 30 different lectures. And so that's really a credit to him and his vision. He really wanted great things for this program, and I think his leadership really helped that. He also was integral in making sure that the program was accredited. And so he was very involved in that process with, uh, Barb Scheule, Jeannie Sneed, with the entire team here at Kent State Hospitality. 

Haley Dees 5:54
So, what inspired you in terms of like the specific initiatives or causes that you're passionate about here to support Kent State and the College of Ed?

Lee Schwebel 6:03
I really think that it's a personal - it has to be a personal kind of journey because it has to come from within you.

It's not just about writing a check. You have to be inspired to do that. So I think... I think I've had maybe a willingness to be vulnerable and to be relatable and to connect, to connect with others, and then feel that people are connecting with me. So that's been, I think at the very heart of it is, is that willingness.

It's not, again, it's not just writing a check. It's actually feeling connected. I think that research will tell you and, you know, that. You have to feel that emotional boost. You have to feel emotional boost to want to give, and I think by participating, by being involved in a board and also getting to know the students, I've really been involved and it's not just I show up for a meeting. I'm really involved. I just came from a meeting with Mandy [Ulicney] upstairs and you know, we really connect and we talked about, how do we improve the program? How do we? How do I, you know, maybe help my father's legacy, his dream for the program, you know, he instituted it and maybe I'm trying to continue that and maybe expand on it.

Hannah Park 7:23
So speaking of students: Hospitality and Event Management student Audra Lininger is currently enrolled in the Disney College program down at Walt Disney World. And she would like to know what's your favorite thing about your connection and partnership with the Hospitality Management Program and students?

Lee Schwebel 7:44
I mean, it's pretty obvious. It's seeing people like Audra move on, you know. College is just for a few years. It's temporary. So, if students are inspired to do well, and if we can help maybe in the Schwebel Lecture Series, in some ways, or making connections, then that's what it's really all about. It's about students doing well in their lives, being independent. It's beyond, the real good story, the positive story is about what happens beyond Kent State. And for me, it's also about what happens beyond Emerson College. That's also part of what I feel is my legacy or my mission, is to do more. You know, much really has been given to me, and I really feel much is expected of me.

So I feel an obligation in many ways. And when I see people like Audra, I mean, there's probably at least 100 or more since I started in 1999 who have done extremely well and they're connected with me on LinkedIn and we go back and forth and they ask me for information or for advice. So, uh, that's inspiring. And that that creates a wheel, right? When you have that kind of rapport and that kind of feeling from students, what do I want to do? I wanna go back and help others. It's just a natural reaction, so it's very encouraging, you know, what this program has done and the students have really excelled. These are very interesting jobs. Disney, it's not like you're just sort of going to some sort of, you know, international company that's publicly traded. These are real jobs working with people and helping people.

Hannah Park 9:31
I like this question. So what role do you believe colleges and universities play in driving positive change in society? And how does philanthropy align with that mission? 

Lee Schwebel 9:45
I would say that the key role that I see really in going to college in some ways is very basic. It's about establishing a routine and establishing discipline in your life. We don't always love all the classes that we take, but we don't always love all the jobs and tasks we have to do on the job. So I think at a very rudimentary level, I see college, uh, being that, being an opportunity to separate from your family, maybe, and become an individual. So I see college as being really crucial.

It's a hard thing for a lot of 17 and 18 year olds to leave home. It sounds like, oh, I can't wait. But then when you do that, you don't have any, you know, there's the food's not there, you have to do your laundry. So I think it's the beginning steps to becoming an adult. And how does philanthropy pit, you know, I think that if you've been, I've been that 17 year old, I've been that 18 year old. So I understand the path, and it wasn't always easy for me. It wasn't just a cakewalk or whatever. So I've had my own trials and tribulations and challenges. And I have my own lived experience with depression and really conquering some things that were very challenging to me in my life. And I think that I see so many young students and I think there's a great program here about stigma.

So. I guess the philanthropy part just helps to move people along either by seeing that you're supporting, by understanding that you're giving money, and by knowing that you really do truly care about people. So, philanthropy is not just about money. It has to come from somewhere deep inside. And I think when students, and I've encountered a lot of students, when they feel that, it's not so much about a check. It's about the way that they feel and their sincerity and that we're helping them. And I think that other thing about saying being vulnerable, I want to connect. And if we can connect, then the students say, yeah, that guy, he was 17. He was 18. This was scary, right? This was new to him. And, you know, he seems to be doing okay. You know, maybe that can be my path. So. I think you got to be real, you know, you can't come up from a position of being, you know, almighty or, you know, my family this or we do this or we have this money or whatever. I think you have to connect and I think when I've been able to do that, I think there's been positive comments and maybe some positive results.

Hannah Park 12:28

Haley Dees 12:30
So what's one piece of advice that you'd give to either your younger self or to a student considering a career in education, health, or human services?

Lee Schwebel 12:42
To my younger self, I would say be patient with yourself. I would say it's very important that you don't compare yourself to others. And if you get into a bind, if things get tough to remember, this is not your forever. That it may be hard for right now, but it's temporary. And I see so many sad stories of people who are really stuck in the moment, and stuck with something that is vexing and may be personal, may be psychological. And I think that the advice that I would give to myself is to... continue to hope and seek out other people.

And I think it's easier now for people who have mental health issues to get help. So, to my younger self at 17, I had some real challenges. And maybe I wish that there was a program about stigma. Or about something, you know, you're fortunate as students or graduates that there is such a program. So, I think my younger self would have wished That there was a program and that, you know, by the grace of God, by a wonderful family, mother and father, I'm doing well. But, uh, so that would be my advice. And then, the second part, Haley?

Haley Dees 14:06
A student considering a career in education, health and human services.

Lee Schwebel 14:10
Well, obviously, I'm rooted in education. And I really think that when you create, if you think of sort of satellites, and you think of the mothership, you know, I don't know if you know Star Trek, but there was the mother ship, right? And that's the hub, you know, education. I think this major, being in this school, you know, you're really working on the basics and the fundamentals of life, of becoming an adult. Definitely education is at the root of it, and I think Kent State really gets that. I think the students that come here understand that, and I think that's why they have aligned themselves with the university. And with this major and with, you know, education, very important hospitality, of course, working with people. I know it sounds basic, fundamental. Oh, work with people. But I think it's really important. I think, you know, I've had some experiences with Dean Hannon and a lot of professors here. And I can tell you that this is a very good program and very much, you know, rooted in community. Good people, and good practices, and an excellent education system.

Hannah Park 16:01
In what role do you see yourself in that? [Higher Education and Philanthropy]

Lee Schwebel 16:05
I don't know about myself being a fundraiser, but, you know, the reason that I've agreed to do this is because I want to help. I want to help Kent State.

And if I could be someone that people look to, maybe as someone, uh, who has given, who continues to give, Then that would be great. That would be satisfying in itself, but there are a lot of really worthy causes, and I can't tell you how many emails, how many text messages I get daily from all kinds of organizations.

So I think it's the job of Kent State University, all universities, and really all causes to somehow connect in a way that creates what I would call the emotional boost. If you don't feel that, then you're less likely to want to contribute. And maybe, in some ways, I could help here or help other causes with connecting.

My background is in communications, in marketing, in public relations. And I think that there are a lot of, uh, causes that make the appeal that actually falls flat, unfortunately. And there are a lot of people who are experts now on how do you get people to read the subject line? How do they click? Uh, and all those things I think relate to being motivated emotionally by storytelling.

I think storytelling is essential. Um, and you know, that's something that I have worked on and done and participated in myself. 

Hannah Park 17:41
Absolutely. Speaking of your background in marketing and PR, advertising, what would you say is like a dream collaboration on like a project that you would do with someone?

Lee Schwebel 18:20
A dream would be to sort of meld together all my interests.

So I'm a trustee at a fairly major art institution. called the Butler Institute of American Art. I'm also an avid sports fan, and, uh, something, the dream, of course, would be to bring it all together in some way, um, but I think the dream really gets back to really helping, whatever level it may be, to see, to have that reward of seeing progress.

I work with young kids from the inner city now, and just to see a little bit of progress, incrementally, is so Rewarding. It feels so worthwhile that you're helping to make a difference. I mean, we're only here for a short period of time. We're just a thin coat of paint on humanity. So while we're here, you know, I'd like to join other people to help make a difference, to truly make a difference.

And that's not just cliche. And what, and what that means in some ways, sadly, is that we can only do about this much, but it's a lot more. And if we collectively can do that. While we're here on this planet, we can help move, move it forward, okay? Because I'm going to be gone. But if I can, while I'm here, if I can just help a little bit, then that might inspire someone else.

I might be talking to someone here, or the two of you, and you might do something. So, it's sort of a collective experience sometimes, and it's about kindling, it's about sparks, and about bringing all that together to create this sort of fire, this passion. Otherwise, it doesn't happen. It doesn't, you're not pushed, right?

If you don't feel that as your sort of life mission, there's nothing going to push you. There's nothing going to motivate you enough. So, if it comes from here, from your heart and your soul, you're more likely to really want to help and be sincere about it and, you know, be available. Truly available.

Hannah Park 19:56
Absolutely. That was like, perfect, like... Ending, per se, but I have more questions for you. Thought you were off the hook.

So, I guess, as a final thought, for those listening who may want to support educational institutions, whether it be Kent State or elsewhere, what would you suggest as a starting point for getting involved?

Lee Schwebel 20:29
I would say, remember where you came from. Remember yourself in elementary school. Remember yourself scared to go to kindergarten. Remember who that person is, or was, and who that person is now. And the way that that happened, the way that you've grown as an individual, as a member of society, right? Is by through your education and through all the people that have influenced you.

I remember myself as a young kid. I was scared. I was scared, a little bit scared of everything and I needed my mom. You know, somehow, you know, she was there for me, but somehow I was able to surmount all those fears. And I'm still a work in progress. I still hear a thing here. It says work in progress, but, um, you know, I've been able to move along the continuum of life and have some important sort of rites of passage. And so I'm still on that path, I always will be. But I think there has to be some recognition of where you came from. That's got to be the start. Because if we all think that we're perfect and we've got it all figured out, you're not going to help anybody. Nobody wants to hear that. They don't want to hear someone talk, you know, talking at you. So I go back to vulnerability and being relatable and in connecting. You know, so those are really important things. Not easy. It's not easy to be vulnerable. But, if you want to make a difference, you realize that's the only way you really can connect. And that's the way I connect. When someone gets up in front of me and makes a speech, sometimes they will talk at me. Sometimes they will talk with me. And sometimes I will be sincerely motivated because they shared their own story, and that moves me. That moves me to act. And that moves me to, you know, want to do better.

So, that's really, I see as part of my job. I know it's your jobs too. You would not be doing. Haley and Hannah, what you're doing now, if you didn't feel the same way, you would not be in your jobs. So I congratulate the two of you for sitting here with me and being so well prepared, so honest, and so open. Because I know you share the same mission. And there are a lot of people out there that share the same mission. But I really respect you and I thank you for inviting me. And, you know, talking about these things, your questions have been great.

Hannah Park 23:13
Thank you so much. We appreciate you taking the time to talk with us today. We thank you so much.

Lee Schwebel 23:19
So happy to be here and so wonderful to not only meet both of you, but get to know you better through your questions. You are on the rise and I look forward to following your careers.

Haley Dees 23:24
Thank you!

Lee Schwebel 23:45
Thank you again.