$500K Gift from Nass Family to Address the Stigma of Mental Health in Business
David and Dina Nass
We bleed Orange, and we are grateful for all we’ve received here that has helped give us a terrific life, family and so many good friends.
No one attending business school or aiming for a top job on Wall Street expects it to be easy. Long days and long nights. Pressure to climb the ladder and succeed. Work, work and more work seem to come with the territory. However, so can anxiety, depression, substance abuse, family problems, burnout and other mental health issues.
David ’91 and Dina Nass ’91 (A&S) have gifted $500,000 to the Whitman School to start an initiative that not only promotes greater work-life balance but destigmatizes mental health issues faced by current students and Whitman graduates entering the workforce. The hope is to find ways for those in high-stress business careers to confidently identify red flags associated with mental health issues and seek help for themselves and others.
David, managing director, head of real estate finance, at UBS Investment Bank in New York City, graduated from the Whitman School with a degree in marketing management. Rising through the banking industry, David knows all too well about working around the clock. “There were lots of sleepless nights or times I stayed up two days straight before coming home,” he says.
Dina, who majored in psychology at the College of Arts and Sciences and, for a time, worked as a substance abuse counselor, understands from her training how work pressures, lack of sleep, juggling the needs of a family and many other factors often assumed to be a natural part of the path to success can contribute to anxiety, depression, substance abuse and other mental health concerns. But she also recognizes the stigma that still surrounds mental health issues and the reluctance many may have get the help they need.
While the couple have been talking about how to contribute to tackling this issue for some time, it was the reset that COVID-19 had on work-life balance, as well as enrollment of their daughter Sophie ’24 in the David B. Falk College of Sport and Human Dynamics to study social work, that really got them thinking about how they could help create healthier business leaders and employees through a gift to the Whitman School. The couple, who met during their senior year at Syracuse University and have been married for 25 years, also have two other children, Tyler, a college senior, and Abigail ’26 (VPA). The Nass family also liked the idea of a knowledge transfer with those at Falk who have the kind of expertise that could educate Whitman students on mental health.
“If you Google ‘business school and health,’ there’s not much out there,” says David. “So, there’s a great opportunity to build a program, from scratch, that is impactful.”
To that end, the Nass family’s gift will be used to create more than coursework on the topic but instead will be integrated into the Whitman culture and include expert guest speakers, symposiums, technology and introduction of a variety of mental health topics for both graduate and undergraduate students. While the gift’s use is still in development, the Nass family also hopes that Falk students, like their daughter, who are pursuing traditionally less financially lucrative careers in areas like social work can benefit from lessons in business at the Whitman School.
“Working with those at the University, we’d like to see this turn into some kind of program that brings Whitman and Falk together for an exchange of ideas, and I’d like to see an advisory board formed with students from both programs,” says David. “It may start with guest speakers or events so students can begin to understand how to spot their own red flags that signal a need to pay better attention to their own mental health or look out for those signs in others. We’ve already begun to look into the use of technology, such as apps that give immediate access to the resources of a social worker or therapist. And, most of all, we’d like to help destigmatize mental health and the reluctance to access resources that are available to students or business professionals who are struggling.”
“A lot of what’s involved in taking care of yourself seems like common sense,” adds Dina, “but, if it’s not taught to you, it probably won’t happen. Employees in high-stress jobs shouldn’t have to fight for time off or simply push through their struggles because they don’t want to appear to not have what it takes. People need to recognize the signs and have places where they know they can go for help without judgment.”
According to Interim Dean Alex McKelvie, “This is something we haven’t seen at many other business schools, despite it being increasingly important for young professionals to understand. The type of program we are creating through the generosity of the Nass family is forward thinking and unique. It’s asking our students: ‘What does happiness look like to you?’, ‘How will you prioritize the important things in your life?’ and ‘How will you deal with the challenges?’ At the end of the day, our goal is to better prepare our students for professional and personal success. Creating this signature program, including leveraging expertise from across campus, will help students do just that. And we are very grateful to the Nass family for helping us make this possible.”
The Nass family generosity stems not only from their concern for others but also from their love of Syracuse University and the opportunities it has given to their family. As part of their continued commitment to the University, David and Dina are both members of the Hill Society and the Joseph I. Lubin Society. David is also a member of the Whitman Real Estate Advisory Board and serves on the board of the Syracuse Chapter of Delta Upsilon. Dina is a board member for the Syracuse chapter of Delta Phi Epsilon.
“We bleed Orange, and we are grateful for all we’ve received here that has helped give us a terrific life, family and so many good friends.
— David Nass ’91
“We bleed Orange, and we are grateful for all we’ve received here that has helped give us a terrific life, family and so many good friends. We are proud to be a part of Syracuse University’s unbelievable alumni network and want to encourage others to become involved, as well,” David says. “Right now, this initiative is still a blank piece of paper where only the first few paragraphs have been written. But I’m certain there’s a good story at the end, and we are excited to be a part of making that happen.”
By Caroline K. Reff