Building a sense of community to meet a shared objective

Impact of Annual Giving 2014

A wise person once said that philanthropy is a fancy word for building community. What it means is people with diverse backgrounds, different career goals and wildly differing resources coming together for a common good.

At the McGill Faculty of Engineering this spirit of community enables past graduates to serve as benefactors for today’s students. And when each new class of graduates goes into the world, they, in turn, become benefactors for future generations.

“In that sense philanthropy is the glue that links the generations,” says Julia Gersovitz, BArch’75.”

And if anyone should know, it’s architecture grad Gersovitz. The daughter, wife, mother, mentor and business partner of McGill grads, her ties to our University run deep.

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Dave Cameron interned and worked part-time for more than two years with alumna Julia Gersovitz at the firm of Fournier Gersovitz Moss Drolet et Associés Architectes. The firm’s partners take pride in mentoring future generations of architects. (Photo: Owen Egan)

Julia’s father, Benjamin Gersovitz, BSc’40, BEng ’44, MEng ’48, recently celebrated his graduating class’ 70th reunion; her husband, engineer Mark Boretsky of Rolls-Royce Canada, earned two McGill degrees, BEng ’77 and MBA ’98; a son, Jesse, BA ’12, earned an honors in Poli Sci and History before heading off to Yale; and all of Julia’s business partners in the firm of Fournier Gersovitz Moss Drolet et Associés Architectes (FGMDA) are classmates or fellow grads: Alain Fournier, BArch ’75, Rosanne Moss, BArch ’79 and Georges Drolet, BArch ‘84.

The firm’s two Senior Associates are McGill BArch graduates, too: John Diodati ’90 and Dima Cook ’95, as are three of the seven Associates (Matteo Cendamo ‘87, Konstantin Nifakos ‘89 and Eric Stein ’91).

“There’s enough of a cast there to launch a TV sitcom,” the genial Gersovitz quipped in a recent interview at FGMDA’s head office in downtown Montreal.

Education is not free

And oh yes, Gersovitz has also taught for 34 years as an adjunct professor at our Architecture School. She began that aspect of her career after earning a master’s degree at Columbia University.

Along the way she played key roles in prestigious building projects like Montreal’s La Maison Alcan and Old Montreal’s historic Harbour Commissioners’ Building, as well as restoring or rehabilitating many historically significant buildings at McGill.

Highly respected across Canada, FGMDA’s 90-member team has worked on everything from Ottawa’s Parliament Buildings and Toronto’s Union Station to projects for aboriginal cultures in the North.

Gersovitz herself became an annual donor in the 1980s. Like most alumni/ae, her initial gifts were modest, but as her career advanced she found herself in a position to provide a little more.

“Canadians―and Quebecers in particular―tend to look upon education as free,” she says. “They assume that governments pay for everything. The reality is that governments pay for the basics—the minimum, Printbut a quality education requires additional funding on an ongoing basis. That’s where graduates like us come in.

“The actual amount of support that people provide is up to each individual, but the important thing for alumni/ae to remember is continuity. If universities like ours are to plan properly, they need to know that they can rely on regular, annual gifts from their graduates.”

In addition to financial support for McGill, Gersovitz and her colleagues put in considerable time mentoring students (see article in this issue titled “Alumni see potential in us”).

They employ McGill architecture students, as well―part-time during the school year and full-time in summer. And to further demonstrate her commitment to our Faculty, Gersovitz is helping to organize next year’s 40th anniversary reunion for the Architecture Class of 1975.

“It’s a combination of responsibility and affection,” she says, and a determination to maintain excellence at McGill. “I do it for the School of Architecture, but the rationale that underlies philanthropy applies to alumni/ae in every Faculty.”

With multiple engineers in her life, Gersovitz is particularly mindful of the links between architecture and engineering. “Increasing interdisciplinarity in the workplace places a special onus on Faculties like ours to tear down silos,” she says, “and to help ensure that students take advantage of the opportunities available at McGill Engineering to prepare them to work in multidisciplinary teams after graduation.”

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