David Scott Holloway
Good fortune paid forward
Ohio State has given Bernie Savarese the chance to wear many hats, and he’s committed to providing like opportunities to others.
Fortunate. Talk to Bernie Savarese ’00, ’11 MBA for even a few minutes about his experiences as a student, alum and staff member at Ohio State, and you’ll hear that word more than any other. He spent the better part of two decades attending or working at Ohio State, including a few years when he wore both hats. He took his talents to New York University a few years ago, but he remains fully invested in Ohio State through his vast Buckeye network and service on the alumni association board.
- What led you to work in higher ed?
I’ve chosen to work at places like Ohio State, and now NYU, because of the transformative power of higher education. I knew that if Ohio State could take someone like me, from a small town in Belmont County, Ohio, and open up a world of possibilities, there were so many other students who deserved that experience. By my senior year, my experiences as a resident advisor, university ambassador and student organization president left me wondering how I could make sure all students were having the same transformational experience. Now, at NYU, the largest private university in the country, I’m helping leaders across academic and student affairs find ways to deliver on the promise of higher education and ensure that all students thrive.
- What is your most memorable day as an alum? As a student?
As an alum, taking my sons to their first Ohio State football game will always be a special memory. While they probably enjoyed their trips to the concession stand more than what was happening on the field, there was just something special about watching them sit in awe of the marching band and then singing “Carmen Ohio” together after the game. In the spring of 2019, Ohio Stadium became the space of another special memory for our family as we gathered there to watch my wife, Krystyne, graduate from Ohio State with her PhD in higher education and student affairs.
During my freshman and sophomore years, I lived in the stadium scholarship dorm on the west side of Ohio Stadium. The dorm’s cooperative scholarship program supported more than 300 low-income, high-ability students like me each year. I met so many amazing people and have such great memories there. In many ways, my job as a stadium dorm office assistant put me on a path to a career in higher education.
- Who was your mentor as a student at Ohio State?
The one person who stands out is Mabel Freeman ’66, ’75 MA, ’88 PhD. I first met Mabel during my time as an honors student. For so many honors students in the ’90s, Mabel, or Dr. Freeman as we knew her, was our person at the university. Fast forward a little more than a decade and I also had the privilege of working for Mabel when she hired me to lead the Office of First Year Experience. To this day, Mabel is still the first person I text or call when I need someone to bounce an idea off of or talk through a challenging issue at work. She’s just the best!
- What is your most meaningful piece of Ohio State gear?
I still have the first Ohio State sweatshirt I bought my freshman year. I remember going to the bookstore in Central Classrooms, now the Enarson Classroom Building, to make the purchase after getting my first paycheck as an office assistant. I must have worn that thing to every home football game that year! I was so proud.
- What do you miss the most about working at Ohio State?
Ohio State is a special place because of the people, so there is no doubt that I miss my colleagues the most. There is just something special about the dedicated people I worked with across Academic Affairs, Student Life, Undergraduate Admissions and First Year Experience. They work hard, each and every day, to make sure that Ohio State is delivering on the promise of higher education, especially for the students who need them most. While many universities say they put students first, my former colleagues at Ohio State really do.
- How has the alumni board remained cohesive and moving forward during the pandemic?
As I said, Ohio State is a special place because of the people, and that couldn’t be more true for our board of directors and the team at the alumni association. We’ve been committed to delivering a more personalized and high-impact experience for our alumni, and not letting the pandemic hold us back. I credit our board chair, Catherine Baumgardner, and the association’s leadership with thinking of ways to keep us connected and focused on our mission and goals. Like many of those reading this today, we’ve had countless Zoom meetings and phone calls, focusing on topics from increasing virtual engagement to advancing equity and racial justice. I really couldn’t be more proud of how we’ve approached the work on behalf of our alumni.
- What are your thoughts on how alumni clubs and societies are remaining energized during a pause in in-person gatherings?
I also couldn’t be more proud of our clubs and societies! As former president of the Stadium Scholarship Alumni Society, I know how challenging it can be to lead during normal times. I’ve seen and heard about the creative ways that our clubs and societies are not only connecting with their members, but also making a difference in their communities and supporting fellow alumni during these challenging times. I have no doubt that our clubs and societies will emerge stronger — and with more tools at their disposal — to ensure that our alumni feel connected to each other and the university they love.
About the author
Dan Caterinicchia (he/him/his) is assistant vice president for strategy and administration in the Office of Advancement, where he has held various positions in the last five years. He previously taught in the School of Communication, overseeing the Lantern Media Group and its incredible students for much of his time there. Dan lives in Columbus with his wife and three children.