Neil P. DeFeo ’68
Neil DeFeo had just earned his engineering degree from Manhattan College when he faced a novel career choice: applying those skills in a position at Procter & Gamble or seizing the opportunity to play trombone with The Jackie Gleason Show.
“The Gleason spot definitely had an appeal for a kid my age,” says Neil, who was already an experienced musician. “And it paid twice as much as Procter & Gamble.” But Neil wanted a solid career, not a gig. He sought advice from his father, a pragmatic A&P store manager. “My dad said, ‘Procter & Gamble’s a solid company — do it.’ And so I did.”
The position, as an engineer at the company’s former Staten Island plant, launched his corporate career. Over the next half-century, Neil excelled as a top executive and entrepreneur in the consumer products industry — leading respected businesses such as Playtex, Remington and Clorox; reviving faltering businesses; and launching new ones. Today, he is an executive partner at Nonantum Capital, which he co-founded in 2018. He also has served as a trustee at Manhattan College and on a wide range of other public and private boards.
Looking back, Neil cites life lessons from three principal influences: studying engineering at Manhattan, performing as a musician and embracing the standards upheld by his parents. “Engineering,” he explains, “teaches you to think analytically and in a disciplined way. Playing in a band also depends upon discipline but adds teamwork. And my family, they told us to keep trying. You may fail, but never stop trying.”
Those “traditional Southern European values” propelled Neil and his brothers to success. Noah Jr., the oldest, opened two businesses after graduating from college. He was in his twenties when an accident took his life. Neil’s identical twin, Philip, headed San Francisco’s Pacific Exchange; he suffered a fatal heart attack in 2007. Ron, the youngest brother, is the Terex Corporation’s former CEO and a co-founder of Nonantum, where he is an executive partner with Neil.
The brothers spent their childhood in the family’s bustling Mount Vernon, New York, home, near the Bronx border. Though born in Minnesota, Neil’s father, Noah Sr., was raised in his family’s hometown in Italy. Originally from Boston, Neil’s mother, Mary, began working outside the home when the boys entered high school. Their parents encouraged each of them to learn to play a musical instrument.
Neil played trombone professionally throughout college. A commuter, he left early each day for the two buses to campus. After morning classes, he studied in the library before taking the subway to engagements at Greenwich Village nightclubs and, occasionally, on radio and television, including The Ed Sullivan Show. Neil also worked part time at a grocery store. “That’s what you do when you need money for school,” he says.
His initial job at Procter & Gamble was as a department manager in charge of handling raw materials. Promoted twice in three years at the factory, Neil managed a staff of 26 professionals. One day, a team from the marketing division made a presentation at the plant. “They were showing us the sales side of what the company does,” Neil recalls. “As I listened, I thought, ‘Wow, that’s what I want to do.’”
With his transfer to marketing, Neil moved to the company headquarters in Cincinnati. “It was a step down in position,” he reflects, “entry-level, no one initially reporting to me.” At headquarters, many of his colleagues had MBA degrees from Ivy League universities. “It was a bit intimidating at first,” Neil admits. “Marketing was a whole new way of thinking — market share, gross rating points.” Working his way up the ranks, he eventually was appointed to vice president and managing director leading strategic planning and coordination of Procter & Gamble’s worldwide laundry detergent and cleaning businesses.
Leaving Procter & Gamble in 1993, Neil served as group executive vice president in charge of North American operations at The Clorox Company. Three years later, he became president and CEO of the Remington Products Company. While there, he led a team that turned around the business and successfully sold it. “It was struggling at the time,” Neil recalls. In 2004, he joined Playtex Products as CEO, heading a team that tripled the share price in three years, resulting in the successful sale of that company as well. Neil founded the Sun Products Corporation in 2008 with backing from a private equity firm. He served as CEO until retiring in 2011.
After 50 years, Neil remains active in business and philanthropy. In addition to Nonantum Capital, he serves on a wide range of public and private boards. He also continues to play the trombone. At Manhattan College, Neil, his wife Sandra and their three daughters — Julia Swan, Lauren Duchene and Elizabeth DeFeo — have established a scholarship fund honoring Neil’s brothers Noah and Philip. During his 15 years as a trustee, the family also supported numerous other Manhattan College initiatives, including the Raymond W. Kelly ’63 Student Commons and the Anniversary Class Gift program. “If you’ve been blessed with any kind of success,” says Neil, “you need to give back, to get involved — to help others.” There are many ways to do so, he notes. “I’m grateful to be able to provide financial assistance for students. I’ve also lectured over the years. We never know what life is going to bring us, but every one of us can do something to help others. Get involved. Make a difference.”
Crista (Miranda) Rodriguez Trejos ’21
DeFeo Family Scholarship “Makes College Possible” for Business Major
Crista (Miranda) Rodriguez Trejos ’21 was a high school senior when a visit to the Riverdale campus changed her college plans. “I originally wanted to go upstate,” recalls the 19-year-old Plainview, New York, native. “But my aunt works at Manhattan, and she raved about it. I figured I’d apply.”
When she received her acceptance letter, Miranda scheduled a campus tour. “The College was beautiful,” she says, “and the business school had a great reputation.” With her parents’ blessing, Miranda enrolled, and the experience has changed her life. “That first trip convinced me it was the right fit,” she says. “Manhattan’s been everything I hoped for, and more.”
Now entering her junior year, the accounting major is a recipient of the DeFeo Family Scholarship at Manhattan. Through their family foundation, Neil ’68 and Sandra DeFeo established the scholarship in memory of Neil’s brothers, Noah and Philip. It assists students based on demonstrated leadership, academic excellence and financial need.
“The DeFeo Scholarship really helped to make it possible,” Miranda says. “It relieves so much financial pressure on me and my parents.” The assistance allows her to focus on her studies and reduces the loans she would need to afford her education. With three younger brothers expecting to follow her to college, Miranda adds, the aid is even more valuable.
Miranda’s education has shaped her life in many ways. A gifted math student, she switched her field from business analytics to accounting in the O’Malley School of Business. “My instructors showed me how challenging — and enjoyable — the field can be,” she notes, with special thanks to Dr. Jing (Crystal) Xu, an assistant professor of accounting, CIS and law; and Dr. Marc Waldman, an associate professor of business analytics and CIS.
The DeFeos’ generosity has made a tangible difference in Miranda’s education. “I’m so grateful for my scholarship,” she says. “When you’re struggling with college costs, every penny counts.”
Eileen ’84 and James Motherway ’83
Like many of the young people in his working-class Kings Park, New York, neighborhood, Jim Motherway was the first in his family to attend college. His father, a New York City police officer, headed a household with nine children. Jim was the oldest. “To say we didn’t have enough money,” he notes, “would be an understatement.”
A business career seemed like the path to a good living, and Manhattan College had an excellent reputation in the field. Jim enrolled as an accounting major and excelled in his studies. When he graduated, he received job offers from seven major accounting firms. “I was shocked,” he recalls. “I hadn’t realized Manhattan was that well-regarded in the industry.”
He accepted a position at Price Waterhouse, which awarded him a scholarship to earn an MBA at Columbia University. Rising to senior manager, he left in 1992, advancing to executive positions at Lehman Brothers, Raymond James, Bank of America and BlackRock. Today, Jim is a managing director at Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group Inc. (MUFG) — and a trustee at Manhattan. He and his wife, Eileen ’84 (née Blanchfield), are generous supporters of the College. “Manhattan played a huge role in getting us where we are today,” says Jim. “We believe that giving back is the right thing to do.”
Eileen and Jim met at Manhattan, where she also majored in accounting. During her first semester, Eileen balanced classwork with a long subway commute from the Lower East Side and a part-time job at Salomon Brothers. She was a second-semester freshman when she moved into Overlook Manor. “I truly loved being on campus,”
she says. “There’s such a strong sense of belonging. I’m still close to the friends I
After graduating, Eileen joined Salomon Brothers, where she became a corporate bond analyst. After she and Jim welcomed their first child, the company allowed her to work from home. Eileen left Salomon when their second child was born. Two more children completed the family. Once her youngest was in kindergarten, Eileen began a second career in education. She has served as an assistant teacher for the past 15 years.
Together, Eileen and Jim support major initiatives such as the Patricia and Cornelius J. Higgins ’62 Engineering and Science Center, the Jasper Open and the Fund for Manhattan. In addition to serving as a trustee, Jim also has been a member of the O’Malley School of Business Advisory Board.
“The college deserves support,” says Eileen. “Whether it’s time, talent or financial resources, you’re investing in a school that changes so many lives for the better.”
Kenneth W., Esq. ’65 and Helene Orce
Kenneth (Ken) Orce was ready to start his junior year at Manhattan College when tragedy seemed to threaten his education. An outstanding student, he was used to rushing from classes to work each day at a grocery store near his Yonkers home. As he prepared to resume
that demanding schedule, his father suffered a fatal
“There was no money for anything,” Ken recalls. “I was sure I’d have to drop out of school.” Administrators at the College learned of his plight. “I received a call,” he says. “They told me to come back and not worry about tuition. That’s something you just don’t turn down.”
“It meant so much to him,” says his wife, Helene, who has known him since the seventh grade. “Just when you think it’s the end of the world, the sun starts shining again.”
Ken earned his bachelor’s degree in government with honors. He went on to Harvard Law School, where he became an editor of the Harvard Law Review. When a stroke claimed his mother’s life, the university provided him with on-campus housing at no cost. He married Helene the following summer. After he received his J.D. degree, the law firm of Cahill Gordon & Reindel LLP offered him a position. He remained there for 40 years, ultimately becoming a member of the firm’s executive committee until his retirement in 2010.
“Manhattan made it all possible,” says Ken, now a vice chairman of the College’s Board of Trustees. To encourage other alumni “to give back,” he and Helene have launched their “Jasper Challenge” with a $1.5 million pledge. Serving as a challenge grant, the funds will provide a 10% match for every planned gift alumni and friends make to the effort. Ken and Helene expect the initiative to raise $15 million for endowment and facilities.
“Being a beneficiary of the Brothers’ good hearts, I am very happy to offer support,” says Ken. Helene adds, “It’s the right thing to do. Every bit we contribute helps students with their education. There’s no better cause.”
Some of the world’s fiercest rivals clash around the clock on a battlefield without guns, tanks or borders. The theater of operations is cyberspace, and the combatants wage war over information. “It’s intensified over the past several years — and it will continue to do so,” notes Suni Munshani, CEO of Protegrity, a leader in data protection.
The growing sophistication of hackers, he explains, puts everyone at risk. “They aren’t just targeting banks and credit card companies,” Suni says. “Today, there really are two kinds of people: those who already have lost data, and those who will lose data.”
Companies like Protegrity are on the front lines of the fight to protect data. Over the next two decades, they will need new generations of professionals to join the effort. Skills in machine learning, algorithms and artificial intelligence are especially important. “The demand for trained professionals will rise astronomically,” Suni says. “Institutions like Manhattan College are well-positioned to prepare them.”
An author and leader in the technology industry, Suni joined Manhattan’s Board of Trustees in 2017. “Friends and associates of mine spoke very highly of the College,” he recalls. Clare Cunniffe ’81, a trustee and former Protegrity executive, introduced him to other board members. “I was inspired by the College’s mission,” he says. “It’s been an anchor for first-generation college students, including those from immigrant families.”
Suni also was impressed by Manhattan’s success at preparing students for science, technology, engineering and math careers. “They’re doing a lot that strengthens the level of the College in terms of the latest ideas and technology,” he says. “President O’Donnell's leadership in this regard is very compelling.”
A 1985 graduate of the Indian Institute of Technology, Suni attended Catholic schools as a child. Prior to Protegrity, he was CEO of Novitaz Inc., a provider of customer relations management software; a managing partner at Persephone Investments; and CEO at Synetics Inc., an information technology and services company. He also is a board member at several companies and nonprofit groups.
Serving on Manhattan’s board, Suni observes, is an exciting way to contribute to the College’s tradition of excellence. “Manhattan offers students a great deal,” he says. “There’s the location, of course: a quick subway ride and you’re in one of the world’s greatest cities. But mission and teaching are the core. They’re driven by principles, and principles are the necessary foundation for a sustainable society.”
Connie Pisani Zambianchi, P.E. ’06
“Stick with it,” Connie Pisani Zambianchi advises the young women she
mentors in the College’s School of Engineering. “Sometimes,” she explains,“they may worry about what they’ll actually wind up doing. I tell them,engineering offers so many options — get your Manhattan degree, and you can do anything.”
Connie knows. After earning her bachelor’s degree in civil engineering in 2006, she held a variety of positions in the construction industry. Then, in 2015, she became president of her own company, Amaracon Testing and Inspections LLC. The firm specializes in quality testing for building sites. “We did everything from scratch,” Connie says of the company she founded with a colleague she met at another firm. After raising the capital, she leased and refurbished a warehouse in Hicksville, New York. Today it houses a stateof-the-art lab for testing the quality of concrete and other materials from construction sites across the region.
In 2018, Amaracon received a “Rising Star” award at the 11th Annual New York Construction Awards. This year, the Engineering News-Record ranked Connie among the industry’s “Top 20 under 40.” Yet she never intended to specialize in onsite inspections. “I wanted to be a design engineer,” she says.“But this fell into place quite naturally.”
Connie was still an undergraduate when Manhattan’s connections began opening doors. As a junior, she secured a summer internship with Conti Construction, which offered her full-time work as an assistant field engineer. She went on to increasingly responsible roles at firms including STV Group (headed by fellow Jasper Milo Riverso, Ph.D. ’81), RC Dolner and Materials Testing Group. Gaining experience and certification in on-site inspections, she decided to form her own company.
The work “fulfills a lifelong fascination” with how things are made, says Connie. Raised on the Upper East Side, she had many opportunities to learn. Her parents, immigrants from Malta, were the superintendents of the seven-story apartment house in which they lived. Connie also enjoyed watching as buildings rose at construction sites around her neighborhood. Today, Connie shares her enthusiasm with the young women she mentors at Manhattan’s School of Engineering. In addition to supporting a variety of College initiatives, she also hires many of her mentees as interns. According to Connie, “It’s all a way to give back for the opportunities and the education that I experienced at the College.”
John Vazquez ’84
“There’s no end to the day,” John Vazquez says, smiling as he reflects on his work at Verizon, the multinational communications technology giant. As senior vice president and global head of real estate and supply chain, he supervises more than 3,000 people and $60 billion in projects around the world.
John regularly confers with Verizon offices in 67 locations on four continents. A typical day can begin with updates on real estate and design projects in Boston or Texas, London or Manila. After that, he may confer with members of advertising, legal, marketing and sales teams about such initiatives as launching a 5G network, distributing vital equipment or introducing new product lines.
“I’m involved with every aspect of the business,” John notes. “I enjoy gathering information, solving problems — doing a number of things at once.” He strengthened those skills at Manhattan College, where he majored in mechanical engineering. “I thought I’d be designing engines, equipment, systems,” he says. “But my studies taught me to think in ways that apply to any career, including project management.”
John’s path to corporate leadership began with a summer internship at IBM. “I worked with building engineers in the boiler room,” he recalls. After he received his degree from Manhattan’s School of Engineering, IBM hired him full time as a real estate program manager for headquarters operations. John went on to top management positions at JPMorgan Chase & Co.; Edward and Zuck Consulting Engineers (now Stantec); and MetLife. Along the way, he earned an MBA from Sacred Heart University.
Though his schedule is demanding, John dedicates considerable time to service. “I’ve attended Catholic schools all my life,” he says. “We learned that education is most meaningful if it cultivates a strong social conscience.” Growing up in a hardworking immigrant family in Queens, New York, heightened his empathy for others. He contributes to philanthropic causes such as Aspira, a nonprofit that empowers young Latinos; Sacred Heart University, where he is a trustee; the Special Olympics; and a Verizon fundraising effort to help prepare Latino youth for college.
Of course, John also is a dedicated supporter of Manhattan College. Part of an advisory team for a new real estate concentration in the O’Malley School of Business, John and his wife, Dominica, contribute to Jasper athletics, especially women’s softball. Their daughter, Jennifer, who earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in engineering at Manhattan, played on the team. John and Dominica have two other daughters as well — Nicole and Laura.
For John and his family, “giving back” is a significant measure of personal success. “I would encourage all alumni to do whatever they can to strengthen the College’s mission,” he says. “Whether our support involves money or time, we should never underestimate the value of whatever we have to contribute. Every one of us has to make a positive difference.”
Mark B. Codd, Esq. ’71
Throughout his notable career in law enforcement and corporate security, Mark Codd has embraced a fundamental ideal. “It’s all very simple,” he explains. “Time plus effort equals results. It’s something every student-athlete learns at Manhattan College. We take the lesson with us when we graduate.”
The Queens, New York, native attended Manhattan on an athletic scholarship in track and field. As an undergraduate, Mark grew increasingly interested in public service — a tradition in his family. Many of his relatives had distinguished themselves as New York City police officers, including his father, the late Michael J. Codd, who served as the department’s commissioner in the tumultuous 1970s. “Every one of them set a strong example,” he says.
In his senior year, Mark applied to the FBI. He joined the agency after graduating from Manhattan with a degree in English. He continued his education as he rose through the ranks, earning a master’s degree in criminal justice at the University of Detroit and a J.D. at the Michigan State University College of Law. Mark was assistant special agent in charge of the FBI’s New York office when two jetliners crashed into the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. “It ushered in a new world,” he says. “The concept of ‘homeland security’ became an essential goal shared by government and the business world.”
In 2002, after 30 years of service, Mark retired from the FBI. Today, he serves as director of corporate security at Siemens Corporation, combining business acumen with his extensive law enforcement experience. “My role,” he says, “reflects the very significant partnership between government and private business. If we’re going to reduce risks and combat threats, there has to be a concerted, joint effort between those sectors. That’s part of my job.”
Though his years with the FBI often required him to travel and live across the country, Mark returned to New York to raise his family. “We’re in Forest Hills,” he says, “not even four miles from my childhood home in Elmhurst — the city’s most diverse neighborhood by census tract. I wanted my children to experience the varied cultures that enriched my own life.”
That diversity also enhanced his Manhattan education. “New York has always been a place of hope for people from all over the world,” Mark says. “The College embodies that sensibility. I always marvel at the international character of the students.” As benefactors, Mark and his wife, Christine, strengthen multicultural life at Manhattan by giving to the Diversity Fund, the Gaelic Society and the Pipes and Drums band.
Maureen ’96 and Thomas ’97 Yurcisin
When a mutual friend introduced Tom and Maureen Yurcisin at Manhattan College, she knew the couple had much in common. They liked working with numbers, lived on campus and rowed for their respective crew teams. There was one interesting difference, says Tom: “I was a first-generation student. Maureen was almost like Manhattan College royalty.”
“I wouldn’t put it that way,” Maureen says with a laugh. “But my family does have a very strong connection to the College.” Maureen is a third-generation Jasper. Her father, John P. Nelan, is a 1965 alumnus. His siblings also are graduates: Lucy Farrell ’86, Monsignor Kevin Nelan ’73 and Richard Nelan ’61. They are among many of her family members who attended Manhattan.
One relative played an especially distinguished role in Manhattan’s history. Maureen’s granduncle, Brother August Philip Nelan, FSC, served as the president of the College from 1953 to 1961. “To me,” she says, “he was Uncle Tommy. He always shared books with me, encouraging my love of reading, of learning. I saw how deeply engrained those values are in a Manhattan education.”
Today, she and Tom generously support that heritage — and new generations of Jaspers. They have given to a wide range of College initiatives, including the Raymond W. Kelly ’63 Student Commons, the Stained Glass Chapel Windows Project and the men’s rowing club. Last year, they established the Julia and Stanley White Memorial Scholarship, named for Tom’s grandparents.
“We wanted to assist students who are the first in their families to attend college, as I was,” Tom explains. “We also hoped to honor the immigrant tradition that’s shaped this country.” Tom’s grandmother, Julia, emigrated from Ireland; his grandfather, Stanley, came from Scotland. Maureen’s family also emigrated from Ireland.
After earning his degree in accounting in 1997, Tom began his career at Ernst & Young. He had served as an intern there, an opportunity he attributes to one of his favorite instructors at Manhattan, Dr. Ahmed Goma, an associate professor of accounting, computer and information science and law. Tom remained at Ernst & Young for his entire career. Today, he is a partner at the firm.
“I am where I am today thanks to Manhattan,” says Tom. “The education I received, the professors and my experiences on the crew team taught me the value of learning, commitment and teamwork.”
Maureen received her degree in mathematics in 1996. Interested in finance, she accepted a position as a quantitative analyst manager at J. & W. Seligman & Company. She went on to serve as a marketing analyst at Alliance Bernstein. When she and Tom had the first of their three children, Maureen left business to dedicate her time to raising them.
“Tom and I appreciate the role Manhattan has played in so many lives,” notes Maureen. “We want to do our part to help make the experience accessible and affordable for immigrants and their children, who have so much to add to our country, as our grandparents and great-grandparents did.”
Mary Ann Dooley-Vascotto ’82 and Lorenzo Vascotto ’83
In 1994, only 11 years after earning his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering at Manhattan College, Lorenzo Vascotto was a vice president at Goldman Sachs, leading its real estate, facilities management and finance endeavors. “I was 33 years old,” he recalls. “I decided I should try something I’d wanted my whole life.”
Gathering a team to join him as managing directors, Lorenzo founded VVA Project Managers and Consultants, a project management company and cost advisory firm. “We didn’t take salaries for two months,” he notes, “but we never looked back.”
Today, VVA manages more than $1 billion annually in projects for its clients. The firm’s leadership team has grown to 11 managing directors, including Lorenzo. “I think it took less than a year to establish ourselves,” he says. “We’re like any service firm — we’re available for our clients. If someone calls with a concern or an emergency, you’re there.”
Manhattan, says Lorenzo, provided him with the education, values and contacts to help launch his career. “I found my first job in engineering at Syska & Hennessy, the summer after my sophomore year.” Robert J. Logan ’66 and John Magliano ’66 (currently a trustee at the College) were there at the time. “They found out I was from Manhattan and said, ‘Make a spot for him.’ I stayed for four years.”
The College helped shape Lorenzo’s life in another way as well — he met his wife, the former Mary Ann Dooley, at the Riverdale campus. “We spent our time studying and with each other,” recalls Mary Ann. “After class, we’d go to dinner at the Riverdale Diner or at Luigi’s, across from Overlook Manor.”
After receiving her bachelor’s degree in civil engineering, Mary Ann went to work for Metcalf & Eddy Inc. She also chaired the New York State section of the American Water Works Association. Ultimately, Mary Ann switched careers, earning a master’s degree in education. “I enjoyed engineering,” she says, “but I always wanted to teach.” Today, she is a science teacher at the Friends Academy in Locust Valley, New York.
Mary Ann and Lorenzo also are generous supporters of Manhattan College, where their son, Aidan, earned a degree in mechanical engineering. They have contributed to projects such as the Patricia and Cornelius J. Higgins ’62 Engineering and Science Center, the Raymond W. Kelly ’63 Student Commons and the Fund for Manhattan. “We’re both glad we can contribute to the College,” says Lorenzo. “We know that students are the focus and that the money’s being put to good use.”