Portrait in Philanthropy: Fran and Skip Sykes P'96
This portrait appeared in The Wick magazine: Spring 2011
Take Care of Business
You may not see their names on a building, a scholarship, or a plaque; that's not their style. Yet over several years the support and influence of Fran and Skip Sykes P'96 have pervaded Hartwick College, from academic programs to outdoor activities to infrastructure.
They have remained interested in the Religious Studies department, for example, where their daughter Tiernan Close '96 studied with favorite faculty such as Professor Gary Herion.
"We appreciate what the teachers did for our daughter," Mr. Sykes says. "Tiernan started college thinking she would be a geologist, but it wasn't right for her. She took a required course, uncovered her talent, and developed long-lasting relationships with faculty members."
A faculty-led J Term trip to Israel and Jordan in her senior year was a milestone for Tiernan. A personal highlight was meeting her future husband, Matt Close '97, on the trip. She graduated with a degree in Religious Studies and is now a Religion teacher.
"The faculty is the backbone of the College; that was our experience;" Fran explains. "Hartwick is not an institution; it's people. Skip and I feel that giving to Hartwick is personal."
Much of their philanthropy is directed behind-the- scenes, literally. The couple has championed
renovations and safety upgrades in the residence halls and facilities. They most recently committed to A Greener Hartwick, helping to fund energy-saving initiatives and sustainability practices across campus.
"Skip and I take a back-to-basics approach to giving," Fran explains. "Certain things in a college are core and must be supported. Certain things have to be done to protect the integrity of the facility. Curb appeal is very important; it indicates care and pride. But it's what's underneath, the infrastructure, that's at the source of strength."
The couple works closely with President Margaret L. Drugovich, whom Fran calls, "the right person in the right place at the right time for Hartwick. She is able to do what has to be done. She recognizes people's strengths and is able to encourage leadership and sustained long-range planning."
The Sykeses understand the complexity of running a not-for-profit organization: Fran is the president of the Pascale Sykes Foundation in New Jersey; Skip, a retired head of school and an educational consultant, is the Foundation's co-treasurer.
Fran is also a member of Hartwick's Board of Trustees. Being appointed in 2005 was "an honor," she recalls, and a role that aligns with her approach to business. "Look after the basics-that's what trustees do," Fran says."Our primary responsibility is to preserve the capital. Once you have done this, then you build."
Building informs the couple's philanthropic choices. "You can give to correct something," she says. "Or you can give to build on something wonderful and make sure that another student can have the experience that your child did. I feel strongly about building on our strengths and thinking big."
Fran and Skip appreciate the value of Pine Lake, calling it "an alternate experience, and an important one." Tiernan participated in Awakening as a freshman and helped lead it in subsequent years. She worked at Pine Lake throughout her junior and senior years, coordinated school groups, and became certified to do challenge education. Tiernan recently participated in President Drugovich's Pine Lake Task Force.
"If your child had a good experience, contribute enough so that someone else's child can do the same," Fran advises. "If it was a J Term experience, contribute for another student to go. If it was Pine Lake, support that. If you appreciate the strong faculty, give to fund their work and to build on their relationships with students. This kind of support allows the college to do something else, something more."
Budget relief can feed advances in the classrooms and around campus. "It's exciting to see what's happened at Hartwick in recent years," Fran observes. "At a time when many colleges are cutting back and many students need five years to graduate because they can't get their courses, Hartwick is at the forefront. Not only can all our students graduate in four years, some may do it in three. Hartwick is innovative in meeting the needs of students."
Fifteen years after Tiernan graduated from Hartwick, Fran and Skip Sykes still deeply appreciate the opportunities and experiences she had here. As a Trustee, Fran has insight into college priorities and needs. Through their informed philanthropy, these alumni parents are helping to ensure the College's core strengths, sustainability, and advancements well into the future.