Benefactors’ $1.5M gift to support University of Scranton Department of Communication
By Sandra Snyder
A retired businessman who spent decades as an executive recruiter for hundreds of well-known corporations and was once named “Headhunter of the Century” by his peers has, with his media-savvy wife, made a $1.5 million gift to the University of Scranton that will have a transformative impact on its Department of Communication, University President Kevin P. Quinn, S.J., Ph.D., has announced.
Gerard R. Roche ’53, H’82, is chairman emeritus of the international executive-search firm Heidrick & Struggles Inc., and Marie Terotta Roche, a 1952 Marywood University graduate, has spent her life in the arts, as a highly recognized singer, dancer, actor and radio and television personality. The significant gift will support areas of study close to the hearts of both.
Gerard Roche calls himself “a communications manic” and says he and his wife, who now directs The Chappaqua Singers of northern Westchester County, N.Y., are making such a large investment so that what some see as two different worlds might better intersect.
“I’m giving this gift so that the world of communication reaches into the educational world,” said Roche, a longtime friend to the University for whom the Gerard R. Roche Center for Career Development was named.
“Gerard and Marie Roche have a history of philanthropy with the University that goes back more than 50 years,” Quinn said, adding, “This generous gift will help our communication students become leaders in their chosen specialties, well-equipped to use the latest technology available in a global economy.”
Roche emphasized the basic reason for his belief in the power of communication.
“Nothing happens unless someone talks about it,” Roche said, referencing the 1982 commencement speech he made at the University, titled “Beyond Words.”
“Like it or not, communicators rule the world,” he said then and still believes now. “The movers and shakers of this world are good communicators.”
News of the gift thrilled Howard Fisher, Ph.D., chairman of the Department of Communication, who said, “I am so excited. This is such an incredible thing for us.”
Fisher said the gift will be divided equally into $500,000 segments to support endowed student scholarships, an endowed professorship and major renovations to the campus television studio.
The last project has been a long-term dream within the department, he said.
“We’ve had plans on the books for at least five years to renovate the television studio,” Fisher said, explaining that the studio still runs on an analog signal and the plans have been to convert to all-digital production, which is a $1 million project that must happen all at once.
Having half the money needed brings the major project closer to reality.
The other $1 million for the endowed professorship and endowed student scholarships also excites Fisher.
“The fact that they are not just thinking about one aspect of the communication department is incredible,” he said. “They are thinking long-term – let’s help the faculty to develop, let’s help the students to develop.”
Roche is a member of the President’s Business Council and received its inaugural President’s Medal in 2002. He is a former chair of the University’s Board of Trustees and an inaugural inductee into the Kania School of Management Wall of Fame. He was awarded an honorary degree in 1982, when he delivered the University’s commencement address.
He retired as chairman of Heidrick & Struggles in December 2015 after an esteemed 50-year career.
Among their accolades, the Roches also count the Lead On Award, bestowed by Marywood University upon established community leaders who demonstrate their vision to make the region a better place to live, work and raise a family.
Roche emphasized that he hopes his gift will help students become better speakers.
“The world is controlled by good speakers, be it Hitler, be it Roosevelt, be it Reagan, be it Trump,” he said.
Storytellers also are crucial, he said, noting that Jesus Christ was the greatest communicator in the history of the world and he communicated by telling stories.
“He did parables,” Roche said, adding “I do parables.”
Fisher said the gift will help students in the redesigned Communication Department develop in one of the three majors they have available to them: communication, which has a communication leadership and a communication and law track; strategic communication, which has advertising and public relations tracks; and journalism and electronic media, which has journalism and broadcasting tracks.
“We train our students for jobs,” Fisher said, explaining that the Roches’ gift will help to create an editing space within the television studio in which students can begin editing their productions as soon as they are shot, on brand-new Macintosh computers.
“This will be a fantastic change,” he said. “In the past several years, we’ve really been upping our game in the department for academic rigor.”
That means focusing more on writing and speaking as core educational tenets.
“Even though we’re teaching technical, we’ve been emphasizing that you need to be able to communicate in all forms,” he said. “You need to be exceptional.”
The technological possibilities supported by the gift have the department thinking broadly and ahead.
“We’re very conscious that our students live in a changing world and need to keep up with the technologies that go with that,” said Brian Conniff, Ph.D., dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “We really want our students to be intelligent creators of videos and technology. This is a very big part of the world our students are going to be living in.”
Conniff noted the gift ties well into the key components of the University’s strategic plan: integrated, engaged and global.
“There’s clearly a global reach to broadcast and video,” he said, noting the plans for the gift really “cut across all areas of the strategic plan.”
The endowed faculty positions also will help the Communication Department focus on emerging technology.
“We’re going to be hiring faculty in the very near future who need to be leaders in this area,” Conniff said. The gift “gives us the chance to really be state of the art.”