Couple’s gift seeks to ease the burden of first-generation students

While pursuing a bachelor’s degree at Syracuse University’s School of Education, Mindy (Meyer) Sosne ’81 worked in a campus dining hall to ensure she’d get something to eat, at least on the days she worked.

As much as she felt at home and awash in opportunity as an undergraduate at Syracuse University, Mindy sometimes felt alone in her worries about having enough money for food and other needs. 

“Students who are worried about money don’t have the same college experience as those who come from families who have the ability to provide financial support,” she says.

Forty years later, Mindy and her husband, Kenneth ’80, reside in Delaware, retired from successful careers that spanned the private and public sectors. Mindy’s experiences back then are never far from the surface and serve as a driving force in their work to uplift others.

The Sosnes have pledged $100,000 to establish an endowed scholarship at their alma mater. The Kenneth and Mindy Sosne Scholarship will be awarded to first-generation students at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. “We’ve made a path for ourselves, professionally and financially, and now we want to give back,” says Mindy. “We want to make others’ lives easier.”

Maxwell Dean David M. Van Slyke says the gift fits well with the school’s efforts to foster a culture of diversity, equity and inclusion. “Many of our first-generation students come from communities that have been underrepresented or marginalized,” he says. “This generous gift will help remove financial barriers, enabling our students to focus on being successful in their academic pursuits.”

Van Slyke says the gift is also reflective of the University’s cross-disciplinary ethos. While Mindy received a degree from the School of Education, Kenneth is a graduate of the Whitman School of Management. They say they chose Maxwell in part because of its nationally recognized public affairs program—both retired from federal service careers—but also because the instruction they received taking courses at schools across campus provided a breadth of skills that enabled them to seamlessly change careers.

Kenneth says some of his most relevant courses were in the social sciences at Maxwell with faculty members like Robert McClure, professor emeritus of political science and public affairs.

The Sosnes both came to the University as transfer students. They met at a noisy dorm party during Mindy’s junior year. That chance encounter turned into a walk to the still popular Varsity Pizza where they shared a slice and a soda. Kenneth tried to pay but Mindy insisted otherwise—despite her limited financial means, she was too proud to let anyone cover her expenses, even on a date.

Shortly after Mindy graduated, the pair married and moved to the suburbs of Washington, D.C., where Kenneth took his first position working in finance with a large defense contractor.

The Sosnes’ careers followed winding paths.

After working for 10 years in the private sector, industry changes at the end of the Cold War forced Kenneth to consider another career. In 1991, he joined the civil service as a budget analyst in the federal judiciary. Eventually, he went to work for the Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families. Before retirement he served in a dual role: as a regional grants director and a loaned executive for the Combined Federal Campaign, the workplace giving program for federal, postal and military employees.

Mindy, meanwhile, started her professional journey in retail. She advanced quickly before taking a support position with the Bell telephone system, where she rose to senior project management. After 20 years of service, she found herself looking for work.

For over a year, Mindy worked as an independent contractor. Then she joined Kenneth in public service, taking a position in operations for the FBI’s Washington Field Office. “Taking the oath of office was so touching—it overwhelmed me,” she says. “I knew I was making a very important commitment joining the federal government.”

Mindy retired in late 2016 with just over 10 years of service. Kenneth followed suit three years later. Together, they spent just over 38 years with the federal government.

The Sosnes continue their commitment to public service as tireless volunteers to a local pantry, where they help collect and distribute food and raise funds for a much-needed building. They’ve supported various other nonprofits and community organizations and are helping with a local lighthouse restoration.

Giving is their greatest joy. They hope their gift to the University inspires others who have the means to consider how they can make a difference.

“We can’t wait for the first scholarships to be awarded,” says Kenneth. “Seeing the smile on someone's face, knowing you’ve helped make life a little easier, is one of life’s greatest gifts.”

By, Jessica Youngman, 10/22/21