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Office of Trusts, Estates, and Gift Planning
Cornell University
130 E Seneca Street, Suite 400
Ithaca, NY 14850
Phone: 1-800-481-1865
Fax: 607-254-1204


Giving in the Making: Shaping Education through Philanthropy


By Jose Perez Beduya

Laura and Alex Hanson may have graduated in 1987, but their Cornell experience is still unfolding.

They first met in sophomore year, on a gorge hike with their fraternity and sorority friends. By senior year, the two had begun dating. After graduating, they worked in New York City, got married, and began a tradition as devoted donors—making gifts to Cornell every year without fail. When they later relocated to Pennington, New Jersey (a borough close to Princeton), the couple continued to deepen and expand their philanthropy. “As residents of another Ivy town, we see a lot of orange and black, and we want to see red stay up on top,” Laura says.

“Cornell gave me the most formative experiences—chief among them was meeting Laura,” says Alex, a finance industry executive and the current chair of the Major Gifts Committee for the College of Arts and Sciences’ Dean’s Advisory Council. “Cornell was also a huge help in propelling the early stages of my career, with great training in my field (economics) and in critical thinking.”

He adds: “Laura and I were both members of great houses, Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority and Phi Delta Theta fraternity, where we formed a lot of really wonderful, lasting friendships.”

A proud “hotelie” who worked in special events before devoting her time to raising a family and volunteering for environmental and educational causes in their local community, Laura explains: “We believe in the university’s mission, its programs, and its people—students, faculty, and staff who gravitate to Cornell.”

Spurring innovations in undergraduate learning has been a key theme in the couple’s philanthropy. They have funded a substantial program to redesign the core curriculum in physics and biology along the “active learning” or “flipped classroom” model, and they have also established an estate gift designated for improving pedagogical strategies and advising for undergraduates—a gift made through a charitable lead annuity trust.

“It’s an efficient estate-planning method that couples our shared interest in making a permanent and lasting contribution to Cornell with an effort to help manage our estate and plan for our children’s future,” Alex explains.

He says that—apart from helping to sustain learning advancements—the lead annuity trust also allows them to support areas of need at Cornell now, including undergraduate advising for economics.

“We’re trying to make a difference in the present as well as the future, and we wanted to leave places we’ve visited a little bit better off than they were when we started,” Alex sums up.

In a lot of ways, the Hansons never left the Hill. They constantly connect with their college friends, and they visit Ithaca regularly for Alex’s volunteer leadership activities and for Reunion and other events.

In 2012, they found a special reason to return to campus when their daughter Abigail ’16 joined Cornell. Like her father, she is an economics major at the College of Arts and Sciences and is immersed in athletics and Greek Life.

“It’s awesome,” Laura says. “Abby’s in the sorority that I was in and lives in a room that many of my girlfriends lived in. And it’s great for us to be in the stadium, wearing red and white, cheering on her lacrosse team.”

“Abby’s experience is similar to the life that we experienced there,” Alex adds, “but the place is different and better. It’s fun to watch the changes and even more meaningful to play a part in them.”