A giant on the world stage, Gen. Colin L. Powell found his calling in the ROTC program as an undergraduate at The City College of New York. Powell led the Cadet Corps on the Harlem campus, and upon graduating with a Geology degree in 1958, received his commission as a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Army. The first Black American appointed to a series of U.S. government leadership roles culminating in Secretary of State, Powell also spent the last several decades of his life deeply involved with the school he called the center of his life.
As news of Powell’s passing circles the world, this episode captures the tributes of his closest colleagues at CCNY: President Vincent Boudreau, Vice President Dee Dee Mozeleski, and Dean Andrew Rich of the Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership. Joining them is Trevor Houser, a 2006 graduate and an alumnus of the inaugural cohort of Colin Powell Fellows, a program exemplifying the visionary pathways that Powell initiated and that today inspire a legacy of student success across CCNY.
Host: CCNY President Vincent Boudreau
Guests: Andrew Rich, Richard J. Henley and Susan L. Davis Dean of CCNY’s Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership; Trevor Houser, Partner, Rhodium Group, CCNY Class of 2006, graduate of CCNY’s inaugural cohort of Colin Powell Fellows; Dee Dee Mozeleski, Vice President of CCNY’s Office of Institutional Advancement and Communications, Executive Director of the Foundation for City College, Senior Adviser to the President of City College.
Recorded: October 19, 2021
Welcome to From City to the World. I'm your host Vince Boudreau, the president of City College of New York. From City to the World is a show about how the work we're doing at City College matters to people across the city and throughout the world. So over the course of this program, we've discussed the practical applications of our research in solving real-world problems like poverty and homelessness and mental health challenges, affordable housing, really, disparities of all kinds.
Today, we're doing a special show. We are barely 24 hours away from the news that General Powell passed away. This is a moment of tremendous sadness on this campus. General Powell was a graduate of City College class of 1958. Describes his trajectory at City College as he kind of wandered around a little bit in his first year, he discovered the ROTC, joined the Pershing Rifles, which is a group within the ROTC and found his place, found his place on the campus, found his place in the world and went off to achieve all of the things that he is renowned for. National security advisor when he was very, very young. At the time the youngest one star general named as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under George Bush, being named to that position. Leapfrogged over 14 more senior generals to him. Eventually, named first African-American Secretary of State as he was the first African-American Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
On this campus, he is remembered without question one of our most illustrious alums, but also as somebody who came back to the college and contributed to the development of students in really a monumental way. In 1997, he essentially gave permission to the college to use his name in founding The Colin Powell Center for Policy Studies, as it was initially called.
In 2002, when I became involved in the Colin Powell Center, we renamed it, The Colin Powell Center for Service and Learning, and the center went through a number of different name changes in emphasis and what it was doing. Eventually in 2011 and 2012, we decided to take the center which had grown vastly from its initial iteration, where we were running a fellowship program for about eight undergraduates. By 2012, we were running programs for over 100 students and faculty. We decided that it was time to take the Colin Powell Center and turn it into a Colin Powell School. Meaning that we would take the co-curricular activities that would be run out of the center and link them to the degree granting activities of the division of social science.
So in that move, the Colin Powell School combined the ethos of the Colin Powell Center, the emphasis on student leadership development and service and working with the community with the work that had been going on for years and years in the division of social sciences. And these departments are the psychology department, the sociology department, political science, economics, anthropology, international studies. And soon after that, women's studies, Latin American and Latino studies. And so the Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership bares his name and certainly the imprint of his influence.
There's a lot more to talk about in the relationship between General Powell and City College and we'll be doing that today. I'm really pleased to have as my guests today, a fuller menu of guests than we normally have. Three individuals who alongside myself worked very closely with General Powell over the years.
Andy Rich is currently the Dean of the Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership. But what a lot of people don't know is back when I was first director and Andy was an assistant professor in the department of political science, he was also the Deputy Director of the Colin Powell Center and worked very closely with me in setting up the Colin Powell Center at that time.
Trevor Houser, he's a partner with the Rhodium Group and he leads the firm's energy and climate practice. And I'll say a little bit more about him later on in the show, but he was one of the inaugural Colin Powell Fellows back in those early days, 2004, 2005, 2006 but is currently a member of the Colin Powell School Board and he is also directing the Climate Policy Fellows Program here at City College.
And then finally making her third appearance on my show, Dee Dee Mozeleski is the Vice President for Advancement and Communications at CCNY and also served as my Senior Advisor and was apart from myself, the closest person on campus involved in moving the Colin Powell Center into its current positioning as the Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership.
So I want to thank all three of you for taking time out to spend the morning with me talking and thinking about General Powell's legacy at CCNY. And what I'd like to do is just kind of go through a conversation with each one of you in the order that I introduced you and talk a little bit about who General Powell was in your life and what he meant to the campus of City College.
So Andy, I wonder if I can start with you and first kind of just give you an opportunity to talk about what it's been like for you working with General Powell on campus.
Well, thanks, for including me in the conversation. Honestly, working with General Powell has been kind of the honor of a lifetime. I remember the very early days of you putting the Colin Powell Center together, and I remember coming to ask you not long after I got here as a professor, could I help, and you found a place for me. But at the time, General Powell, he was a little busy being Secretary of State. And it wasn't until a little while after that, that I remember he came to visit and to check what are y'all doing in my name.
I remember being incredibly nervous, unsure what to expect. I think we'd already gotten the word and I was reminded of this a couple of weeks ago when he did this event with us, that he wasn't a fan of think tanks. And funny enough, my own academic work had been about think tanks. I'm like, "Well, he's never going to like me or my ideas." And he came and he was just disarmingly humble, kind, engaging, actually interested in us and most of all interested in our students. I remember being just kind of stunned at how easy it was to be in a room with him and how genuine and authentic he was in his belief in the institution.
I know we all remember this early meeting where he met with a group of our fellows and really realized that the students we have today are just like who he was back in the 1950s. And that was that moment where he re-committed himself to the institution. But I honestly think he never stopped being committed to the institution from the time he went there. And somehow that's my strongest memory. It's just that he... I had the chance to work with him at the early days of the center. And now again, of course, as Dean and through it all, his devotion to the institution and most of all to our students, it seems just never wavered. It was kind of obvious to him and no matter what challenges we all faced in trying to move different programs forward, he was there to guide and steer us. And he really set the example of leadership that I think is at the center of what was first the center and now is the school.
Yeah, I remember that first board meeting. We had inherited from the original iteration of the Colin Powell Center a board that really hadn't met since it was first conceived five years earlier. And so one of the first things we did was sit down with General Powell and kind of go through his Rolodex and think about who he wanted to bring on the board. It's an interesting thing. You're asking this man to ask his friends to come and tour the college. So I think you and I both had a clear sense in that first board meeting, as we prepared this elaborate PowerPoint that we needed to make a case for the school and for our vision for the school.
But also, when we think about who is in the room in that first meeting and Barbara Walters was there and Steve Schwarzman was there and Henry Kissinger was there and Fareed Zakaria was there and then all of our illustrious alumni were there. I just have a clear memory of you and I putting a PowerPoint presentation together that was probably a little too long and practicing it like we were going to debut on Broadway. And then getting in the room with him and seeing how proud he was to be able to show the people he had brought to City College, what it was like at his Alma mater and his sense that we were doing something different. You're right. His pride in the institution became from never wavered. And I think that was a real remarkable element of his relationship to what we did.
We ran together and now you by yourself, ran this remarkable board. And I wonder now that you're Dean of the Colin Powell School, and in some sense have inherited the legacy of it, can you talk a little bit about what it means to you to be running this board with General Powell, but now in his name.
It's an extraordinary board of folks who are a combination of leaders from industry, media, culture, politics, government. Many of whom are our alums, but many of whom are just devoted to General Powell. Thinking back to that first meeting, I do remember how much work we put into that PowerPoint and how nervous we were and how much we thought was riding on it. And my memory and I think affirmed by so many other meetings then with General Powell was it was his passion for this place. He signaled from the very beginning of this place mattered to him and therefore he hoped it matter to all of the other folks gathered. And it instantly registered with them.
And I'm not sure it would have mattered so much anything you and I said at that meeting as the passion and commitment he showed for the place. My recollection is, this was going on almost 18, 19 years ago, the college was just kind of climbing out of a difficult moment for CUNY and for City College. And his pride did more than anything I remember in making me feel proud to be at this institution. And I think that's what he's done for the board, and he's done it for our faculty, our staff, our students, so many alumni. In fact, I got so many notes from former fellows yesterday, who remarked on how proud they were to be participants in a fellowship program that had his name on it. It was really quite nice.
But, what struck me then about having this board is how he... I don't know that they needed to be won over, but boy it was all of them have, I think, become passionate advocates for what City College stands for, what we do, our students and about creating opportunities for our students. So as General Powell always liked to describe it, get south of 59th street to get the kind of opportunities that he thinks too often City College students haven't had professionally. And, I feel like we now have a board who matches his commitment and his passion and his energy that we make sure that we're there for every student we teach.
You mentioned how much you and I thought we're riding on our presentation, and there's some truth to that, but probably not as much as we thought. Probably he came to City College determined to make the Colin Powell Center an important endeavor, and he was going to drag us and everybody else in that room forward. I remember in fact, even before the Colin Powell Center was established, whenever there was a scholarship program, we have the Wrangell Scholarship Program that was a congressional appropriation that would give young people from underserved communities in colleges and opportunity to do fully funded graduate work and so go into the foreign service. That was inaugurated when he was Secretary of State. And it was going to be housed in New York City at Columbia University.
I remember clearly getting the news that General Powell said, "You got to go 20 blocks north of Columbia university. This needs to have an anchor in my college, in City College." And so we now have those Wrangell Fellowships that we continue to give out.
And the same thing with the Diplomats in Residence Program. This is a program started on his watch, where in a very small number of colleges around the country, I forget whether it's a dozen or eight, a diplomat comes and spends a year or two years working with students and General Powell insisted that one of the places where this would happen precisely because the program was about diversifying the foreign service, that it had to have an anchor in CCNY.
So I think you're right. He came to committed to making this work at this college because of what it did for him and what he knew it could do for other generations of students. It always struck me in these meetings and in our interactions with him, how much of a teacher he was with students, but also with you and I. I just wonder, as you reflect back on your work with him, what did you learn from him?
Yeah. I do think I kind of learned how to be a leader. One thing that I've been thinking a lot about these last 24 hours is his positive spirit and his optimism. I don't think any of us here today can imagine the challenges he faced professionally as the first black American in every senior post he had. Whatever challenges they were, he wore them with grace and dignity and so many people have mentioned this to me in the last day and it strikes me. When I became Dean, one of the first things I did was frame his 13 rules. If you remember, he's got these 13 rules of leadership. Think that the last one is something like optimism is a force multiplier.
I feel like all of those rules resonate with me, but that one does in particular. He helped me understand how each of us has the ability to take things in a positive direction or not positive direction. And he helped me realize, I guess, my own power in that, which I think we often underestimate particularly in academia. I feel like he did that with both of us. And frankly, I can't put my finger on what he ever said to us that made me figure that out, but I'll tell you one thing is that I sensed early on that he actually had confidence in us, even though he didn't even really know us at first. And that confidence did as much as anything to help me feel like, okay, so we now have this obligation to carry this forward in his name. I took a lot from him from those early experiences.
He did. He had confidence in us. And I think, one of the ways that it was shown, he brought us into his network. Pretty soon his right hand, Peggy Cifrino was available to us and she would confide in us things that were happening in his life that we needed to be aware of. Very, very quickly I think the college and those of us that worked with him got included in what you called the Powell family. And that meant apart from anything else, I don't know if you remember, we had to abide by Powell family rules, and the top Powell family rule was, nobody speaks for General Powell. Nobody speaks for General Powell, we don't broker, people that wanted him to do one thing or another, we would pass those on, but we never got between him and the rest of the world.
I mean, certainly there was a clear instructions for how you and I were supposed to behave and we followed them, I think every day that we worked with him. But also a clear idea that you have to think about how you want to navigate the world when you achieve a position of leadership. You're right, never sort of sat us down and said, "Gentlemen, let me give you a lesson in leadership." But it's just impossible to have sat in a room with him through these meetings, through these board sessions, without thinking, this is how you navigate responsibility.
Yeah, and you're right, he brought Peggy in and it's been a treasurer working with her all these years and he brought his daughter, Linda Powell in. And I remember thinking, at the very beginning, he did that and I thought, my gosh, he's bringing his family to the table. He's bringing some of his closest friends to the table. He's incredibly serious about this and we better get it right. That certainly resonated very quickly.
I'd like to now though, turn and speak a little bit with Trevor Houser. I mentioned he was a partner with the Rhodium Group, but he also co-directs that organizations climate impact lab, and that's a collaboration of leading research institutions that combine climate, economic and data scientists to quantify climate risk around the world and he's brought that sense of the need to bring the science of climate change and an economic analysis of climate change to his work at the Colin Powell Center of founding and now directing the Climate Policy Fellows Program.
Trevor was also a visiting Fellow at the Peterson Institute. He was on leave during 2009 from rhodium to serve as the Senior Advisor the United States State department. When he was a City College student, he was a State Department intern in China. And now, as I mentioned at the beginning of the show, he is a member of the Colin Powell School Board. So he has been engaged in our project, both as a participant in our programs as an advisor and a director of our programs and, as one of the generators of a really exciting initiative that's in its I think third or fourth year right now. Trevor, welcome to the show and thank you for being here today.
Thanks man. Thanks so much for including me. It's a pleasure to be here.
I want to talk about those early days. When I took over the Colin Powell Center, as I said, it was a center for policy studies and it was really spending most of its activity convening conferences and supporting policy research on campus. I had a pretty clear sense that one of the things that was really lacking on campus at the time was a program that would allow students via support and exposure to develop leadership capabilities and service.
At the time we were saying accurately that the average City College student worked an average of 30 hours a week and, there was very little on campus that provided the kind of comprehensive support that I envisioned for Colin Powell fellows. And so you were a member of the first cohort and a participant in that initial meeting with General Powell. He talks about that meeting often with great emotion all the time. He talks about meeting you and the seven other inaugural Colin Powell Fellows as really demonstrating to him that he was on the right path and coming back.
I know it's a long time ago, but I wonder if you can flip that a picture around a little bit and think about what it was like as a City College student. Not so much to participate in the program, but to interact with this guy who's done all these things in the world and has come back specifically to support City College students.
Yeah. You and Andy Rich talking about how intimidating it was for you guys to meet him for the first time. The eight of us were, most were immigrants, most first generation college students. We had applied to the fellowship program because we had a general interest in public policy and public service, but I don't don't think any of us had ever even met like a community board member. No one in our lives worked in policy and we had no idea how to even approach that kind of career.
And so to have your first meeting with any public official of any kind be, former Chairman of The Joint Chiefs, current Secretary of State was really intimidating. But the kind of magic of General Powell like you were talking about was, he had... What I didn't know to be unique at the time but came to learn that it was quite unique, was not a superficial interest in the students, but really a deep, deep curiosity and passion about each of our individual lives, what brought us to City College, what our story was, what we wanted to do.
And he would remember that when he'd meet us again a year later, or two years later. He carried it with him and for us, the way he would talk about his time at City being a bad student, taking a while to figure out what it was that he really wanted to do. In addition to just referencing the day-to-day things that [inaudible 00:23:59] school at City made... I don't want to say that it made us believe that a career path like his was possible, because that's fantastical in many ways, but it opened up realm of the possible for us, for sure and really gave us a sense that we had been fortunate to happen upon an institution that was a special and powerful place. If we wanted to take advantage of what I had of what it had to offer.
Yeah, you mentioned his attention and interest in students and Andy said something the same. I don't know that I've ever told you this, but it goes back to that very first meeting, we is this meeting and, there's a board meeting and then afterwards we Shepherd 250 and we'd arranged the tables so that every table had one or two board members and one or two students. And I remember you came into the program interested in China and knowing a great deal about China and ravenous to learn more. I remember you being seated at a table with Jack Rudin, who is one of our inaugural board members, big supporter of City College, and initial financial supporter of the Colin Powell Center as well, but made his reputation as a builder.
And General Powell and I were standing just a few feet behind your table and you were interrogating Jack Rudin. You had some statistic about the proportion of cranes that were in Shanghai at that moment. And you were asked him about a mode of construction, whether it was hollow block... I mean, it was very, very detailed about, how do you famous New York city builder think the Chinese are navigating the construction of Shanghai? I remember Powell was eavesdropping on the conversation and he pulled me away and said, "See, that's what I'm talking about. If we can get our students in a room with people where they can talk about how their interests intersect with what they're going to do, then we got the whole ballgame."
So I think two things are remarkable about that. I think one thing is that you came to that lunch prepared to grill Jack Rudin on Chinese building practices so, kudos to you. But Powell was spending his time in that room, listening to the waste to students were interacting with the people that he brought in and he was monstrously pleased with what he heard, not just at your table, but as he moved around the room.
The reason why I would've come to that meeting prep to talk about China is actually because of a different program that General Powell had set up the at the college, which you mentioned, so The Diplomats and Residence Program which played as important of a role in shaping my career in life as the fellowship program did.
And just a little bit of extra background on that for people listening, because this goes to what was the most durable lesson and for me from having the privilege to know General Powell over the past 20 years. He goes from in 2001, I guess, from the Defense Department to the State Department and notices something very different at the State Department. Defense department, the armed services holds from all parts of American society. All economic classes, all races and ethnicities. I think it's the State Department and he notices how many of our foreign service officers come from just a small number of Ivy league schools. And that that's the face of America that we're putting out there in the world.
One of the first things he does as Secretary of State is take on this mission of broadening recruitment to the foreign service, so that the face America presents to the world is more representative of the actual face of America. And so he sets up this program with, at the time, I think 10, as you mentioned, senior foreign service officers who would spend a year at one of 10 public universities around the country recruiting for the foreign service. And we were lucky enough to have one of the first 10 and it was a career Asia diplomat, guy named Mark Minton and he taught a class on UN peacekeeping that I took and got to know him.
Before that I had as much clarity about what I wanted to do with my life as any undergrad at that level and wanted to study something generally in the international economics area. And it was Mark Minton who really guided me towards China studies and and then secured an internship for me as you mentioned in the intro at the embassy in Beijing through The State Department. And I saw Mark Minton take the mission that had been given to him by General Powell of being a fierce advocate for students. I saw him take that very much to heart. You would go by his office and he would be on the phone screaming at some State Department employee somewhere in the world about how City College students were the best students they could imagine and they really needed to take a City College student as an intern.
And, he did that on my behalf and on behalf of dozens of other students. For me that story is important because, that's the unglamorous slow, challenging institutional transformation work that I think normally cabinet officials don't try to take on, at least not early in their tenure, because the fruits of it are going to come far after you're gone, and you're not going to get any recognition. It's much less glamorous than negotiating a new international agreement. But that he chose to make that the first thing he did at the state department is really a testament to his integrity and the legacy that he's left in so many of us who benefited from those programs.
It's true. A lot of people would go into the State Department and think immediately that the first task was external. You mentioned his work to try to diversify the foreign service, but he did things as basic as getting the whole State Department, the Diplomatic Corps on computers that would talk to each other. And he talked about that his whole life, about how significant it was to look into the systems of the state department and make sure that they were working and that they were, as you say, representative.
I want to ask you Trevor about what it's been like for you to come back as a board member, both to make your own imprint on the Colin Powell School, but to come in and see General Powell's operation as board chair and how your relationship with him may have changed, or how your observations of his involvement in the college from those early days, maybe things have changed in your life. What's it been like to come back to campus?
What's been most noteworthy to me over the past few years getting more engaged again at City, both through the Climate Policy Fellowship program and being on the board of visitors is how General Powell's level of involvement, passion, commitment to the students and the college only grew in the 20 years after that first meeting and the amount of energy that he continued to bring, to try to put in place this systems that would actually give City College students the tools they needed for the kind of mobility professionally that he saw.
It would've been plenty for him to just serve as a model, as a person over the years, to come give talks at the school, be a source of inspiration where students could maybe see themselves in him, but he knew that modeling while critical is not sufficient, that you needed programs and infrastructure and his commitment to building that, to really using the relationships that he had built up over his career people who had enormous dedication and commitment and loyalty to him to use that precious commodity on behalf of the students at City College, and just how actively he was doing that right up through this year.
It's been a tremendous honor to be able to play a small role in that vision that he has for the college to try to, for me figure out what was a way that I could contribute in a small way in the manner that General Powell had and to help bring to the board of visitors some perspective of a student who had benefited from those programs and just why they were so transformative in the lives and career prospects of City College students.
I want to first of all, thank you, Trevor, for that and pivot now our third guest is Dee Dee Mozeleski. I hired Dee Dee Mozeleski when I was the director of the Colin Powell Center and we were still in the process of doing a fundraising campaign. We thought to build Colin Powell hall on campus. And Dee Dee has worked with me as the Director of Advancement at the Colin Powell Center and then at the school. When I came into the president's office, she came with me both to direct our development operation and our communication operation. In fact, combined those two and has served throughout as my senior advisor.
And, she came in, something Trevor has been talking about General Powell's attention to the operations of a system. She came in at a time when we had been asked and we'd taken on the challenge of building Colin Powell on campus and the cost of that project, our fundraising burden over the course of about three years evolved from about $12 million that we were to have raised to $81 million. And every time the builders or the architects or the construction manager would come to us and say, it's not going to be $12 million, it's going to be $25, or it's not going to be $25 million, it's going to be $45, I would get on a train and go down to Washington and have a meeting with General Powell.
Andy, it was you that quoted his 13th rule of leadership, which is perpetual optimism as a force multiplier. I'm going to tell you, that rule was a great comfort to me as I was on that ride, going to give him yet again, the news that our fundraising goal had moved. He never lost his cool, never lost his perspective, never failed to say, "Okay, if you want to do this, we'll keep going," until the very end when we sat down with one another. The president of City College and I had had a conversation to this effect and I brought it down to Washington, where we said, "if we're going to do a fund raising campaign to build an $81 million building all on philanthropy, we won't be able to have the resources to fund the programs that have been so meaningful to the college and the students, and so let's do something different." Let's talk to the people who had contributed to the building fund and see if they would be willing to convert that money to fund the creation of the Colin Powell School for, eventually we called it the Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership.
He was enthusiastic about it. All of our donors enthusiastically ratified that decision so we were off. And so the person who was at my side and at General Powell's side during that transition is my next guest, Dee Dee Mozeleski. And Dee Dee, I wonder if you could talk a little bit about your memories of that campaign for the school? What stood out for you and particularly, General Powell's role in that campaign.
Dee Dee Mozeleski:
Sure. So, first of all, thank you for having me back again, but may I also say it's really nice to hear all three of you say your first interactions, you were nervous going into them. I should share this with Andy and Trevor, when Vince was doing my second to last interview, we had just walked out of meeting with the then president. And he said, "Okay, it's time for you to go down to DC. I'd like you to meet General Powell and Peggy. And whatever you do pull yourself together before you get there." And I thought, okay, no problem. And then I spent two weeks pulling myself together, and even that wasn't enough. So I feel like I'm in really good company right now.
But how was the meeting?
Dee Dee Mozeleski:
The meeting was really good. I got very lucky. General Powell was in the middle of an interview with Essence Magazine when I got there. So the office was bustling and that kind of diffused my need to be nervous because he was so busy. He stopped the interview, he came over, he introduced himself.
You see it with people where they say, you meet this person, the whole room is electrified. And you think, yeah, sure, that's probably not true. You walk into a room with General Powell and two things happened. The room was electric, and he had a way of making you think that he was only talking to you. I was pretty sure that I was far more nervous than I tried to give off. And I bet you, he knew exactly how nervous I was.
But, I don't know if you remember this. We sat down, we talked about the job. We talked about what was bringing me to City College, what was hopefully bringing me to City College. And he immediately moved on to other things. My ex-husband was in the Marine Corps and years and years earlier, it was General Powell and Schwarzkopf who really inspired the unit that my husband was a part of, they're part of Desert Storm, and Desert Shield. And I remember thinking that of all the ways in which my friend, my ex-husband didn't love the military, they believed that these two gentlemen were studying them to a place where they were doing the right thing.
And we talked about that a little bit, and we talked a little bit about my Russian and last name and that's where we all learned that I don't speak Russian, but General Powell did, and it was a great interview. And what you and he said to me in slightly different ways with the same intention was, did I want to come here and help you build a school? And if I came here, what would make me different from other candidates? I don't know if you remember my answer.
I don't. Must have worked.
Dee Dee Mozeleski:
Apparently so. We talked about legacy building, and if we were doing something that would only matter a few years out, I probably wasn't the right candidate. But if you wanted something that was going to outlast all of us, then I hoped to be the first that you picked.
And I remember you ushered me out of the room, met me down the street and walked in to the Starbucks and said, "So, you want to come help us with the school?" That first meeting for about six weeks, all we did was prepare for the first board meeting, where we were going to introduce this idea of the Colin Powell Center and the social sciences merging into one. And we spent every day for six weeks fine tuning this narrative of how we were going to inspire the rest of this board to understand this transition. And to pivot away from what would've been an independent building on campus with no students associated with it, to this thing that it is now, which is a lifeblood of a university system, a place where thousands of students interact, a place where faculty and staff operate differently than they could have without having the school being built.
So I look back on that six weeks and I think I got so lucky, but even I wasn't prepared for the way General Powell was thinking about seed changes across the infrastructure of the college, things he tasked us with early on, the ways in which we communicate, the ways in which we thought about how the name was going to be developed, the ways in which we thought about infrastructure and staffing. I don't know that any of us were quite prepared for that level of detail to becoming our way.
No, no, I don't think we were. And we'll talk about that in a second. I do want to go back to that interview though, because as you say, you walked out of the room and I stayed behind. What you didn't know is that that answer about legacy building was what ended the interview for General Powell. He was thinking... He said it then and he said it to me a number of other times that he believes when all is said and done his contribution is going to be that in every phase of his life, he was educating and guiding young people, young soldiers, young diplomats, young students.
And he wanted that to be his legacy. He wanted people to look beyond the details or the particularities of the individual jobs and say, this is a man who, as we all know, born of Jamaican immigrants, grew up in the Bronx and made his way through a public education system into a life of great accomplishment. He wanted that to be front and center in his legacy. And when you talked to him about legacy building, he thought, right, this is what we're doing at the Colin Center. Could we talk a little bit about the infrastructure stuff? Andy?
Can I just weigh in with one, I think kind of nice story that relates to that though, which is-
... He was about the legacy building and the legacy building for himself. But one thing that struck me when I came back as Dean and I asked him... I just assumed he wanted to give remarks at, at our commencement because he always attended every commencement that of the Colin Powell school. He said, "Oh, no. I don't want to be the center of attention." And the times I've been here, he wouldn't even go on stage. He shook every student's hand, but he didn't want to be on stage. And we used to joke, I was like, "Well, the school is named for you after all." And he's like, "No, no, this is about the students. This is about the work." And I just thought it was a real lesson in him, in his leadership.
Yeah. When you and I were getting started, you talked about the confidence he had in us, but I remember for whatever reason, we understood that this was going to be about the work. And I remember sitting with you and saying, we're going to have him, his attention, his support as long as we keep in mind that he's here because he values the mission. On the one hand, we, we better live up to that, but on the other hand, as long as we do, we're going to have his engagement and his support.
Dee Dee, let's talk a little bit about... Everybody in one way or another has mentioned his attention to sort of the organizational operational infrastructure of the school. And you came in at a time when the college was troubled I think in ways that most people didn't see. We had some infrastructure issues that we needed to solve if we were going to be successful in building the school. And I wonder if you could talk a little bit about that, but also talk about General Powell's receptivity to what we presented to him really as a kind of daunting task at fixing some things that needed some desperate attention.
Dee Dee Mozeleski:
You know, those conversations taught me something very valuable here and that was put the bad news up front. I don't know Andy, if you had this when you were working with Vince, but Vince early on you said to me, "Don't be surprised if you don't get direct emails from General Powell." And I said, "No worries. Sounds good." And then Peggy warned me, "Don't be surprised if he forgets to copy you or you hear from me not General Powell."
We had just finished our presentation to Sy Sternberg, a board member of this Colin Powell Center, board member of the Colin Powell School, foundation board member and a graduate of our engineering program. And he had written General Powell and I was standing outside in a snowstorm with two of my friends when an email popped up that just said, CP. So I stood for a few seconds, like CP, CO, who's CP? And then I opened it and I stood in the snowstorm for 10 more minutes because General Powell had sent me an email to ask a question about this infrastructure we were talking about designing. And then I remember calling you and saying, "Can I answer this?" and being so nervous that I get it right.
But we put the bad news up front. The bad news was we didn't really have an infrastructure. There were no financial systems in place. There was a pathway forward to build a school and then the inside of the school had to be fully developed. And every step of the way he not only supported, engaged, learned about it, but he pushed us. He pushed us to think bigger, to be more broadly focused, to be really hypersensitive that we weren't trying to do too much at the same time. But you know this. Right down to how we talked about ourselves on our website, General Powell was keyed into that. And, how we welcomed people into the new Colin Powell School, he was keyed in on that.
Gentleman, I should say, keyed in so deeply that I used to joke that we were going to cancel the internet subscription for the world to give us time to catch up.
I'll fill in the blank there. I would say him more frequently than periodically send a note to Dee Dee about something he had noticed that was wrong with our webpage, something that was inaccurate or it wasn't as prominently displayed. So he was deeply involved in going over how we were presenting the face of the school and making sure that it was as attractive and accurate as it could possibly be, and most of that fell on your shoulders to deal with.
Dee Dee Mozeleski:
And it was good. It was a good reminder that the things that we were doing on the academic side couldn't be insular to ourselves, that there had to be a pathway. You wanted students to know that there was a door they could walk through. And you can get bogged down with governance and you can get bogged down with stopping your infrastructure. But at the end of the day, the idea was that students should find their way into the Colin Powell school and we should be there when they're ready to come through.
Right. That's right. So speaking of students being ready to come into the Colin Powell School, you talked about your husband and how important the integrity of John Powell was, and General Schwarzkopf in motivating his service, but you have another family member that had some involvement with the Colin Powell School and I wonder if you can talk about seeing the school in General Powell through her eyes.
Dee Dee Mozeleski:
Sure. And I should say, we often joked that without desert Storm, there would be no Akasha. Her father and I were dating during the lead up to Desert Storm. And when his division got called up, we fast tracked our wedding and then I didn't see him for a year. And a few months after he returned, Kasha came along. She had started like many students, she wanted to get away home. She was ready to leave after high school. She couldn't figure out how far away across the country she could get. She settled at Penn State and she loved it. I thought she was having a really good time at Penn State.
And I often say this, Penn State wasn't designed to build New Yorkers, it was designed to build Pennsylvanians, and so there was lots of ways in which Akasha stood out. She stood out in her thinking, she stood out in her upbringing, she stood out with looking different, thinking different. And I asked her to volunteer at a Colin Powell School board meeting one morning. Just help me set up, come in early, get everything ready. And before the board meeting, as General Powell was talking with all the students that were there and the facilities crew and the public safety crew, he saw Akasha and he introduced himself and asked her where she went to school. And she said, "I go to Penn State."
And I didn't know this was happening. He looked at her and said, "Well, why aren't you coming to my school?" And he told her a little bit about the Colin Powell school, and we weren't open more than six months when this conversation happened. I had been baking this child to come home for about a year, and she never said a word to me. And then that weekend, she called me and said, "Mommy, can I come home? I want to go to your school." And I said, "Well, why do you want to go to my school?" "Well, General Powell said it's the best place for me."
We're getting to the end of the time that we have for the show, but I want to go back over each of the three of you and just ask you if there was something that you wanted to leave us with and thinking about the relationship between this remarkable man and our school, what would that be? Andy? You want to start?
For me, I think it's the pride he had in our students and our mission and our purpose. Every day it inspires me to do the work we're doing and it reminds me why it's so important. He carried that everywhere he went. I'm just struck by how many people across the nation and around the world know about the Colin Powell School because it's what he most enjoyed talking about and that sits with me.
He loved being from the Bronx. He loved having a story of working class beginnings, and he loved the fact that his road to success ran through public institutions in general and City College in particular. He was never more happy than when he was able to tell someone who had asked whether he had graduated from West Point or an Ivy league school that he graduated from City College. Trevor?
I think, related to that, that when you're a trailblazer that you have an obligation to broaden the road behind you. But that what you really could see in him was that that's not a burden but a joy, that that can be one of the greatest joys in your life. And that was apparent every moment that you were with him at City. Being at City, being with the students, broadening that road was one of the great joys of his life.
Yeah. Dee Dee.
Dee Dee Mozeleski:
I think it was watching people who didn't think a traditional pathway for them meet him, we used to see this all the time. He would walk around the neighborhood when he was here and you'd see people who were 50s, 60s, 70s and they would meet him and they'd be in tears because they were so proud of him. And then you'd see him talk with students and they'd be so excited that there was a pathway for someone who looked like them to come here or to do great things.
I said this to Akasha last night, "We always talk about coming to city can change your destiny, but it also changes your family's destiny." I think he never lost sight of saying that to people. He was changed because of City, others could be changed because of City.
And I should just add this that he never failed to say how proud he was of his colleagues, and he meant all of you. I remember watching him sort of navigate the hundreds of people we had in the great hall and in Shepherd and at Daniel, because he was so proud of the work that you were all doing and that's why he was able to be so proud of what was going on at the Colin Powell School. He trusted, he engaged, he encouraged, but he was also a source of pride and I think that matters now too. To people as they learn about us now, it's going to be through the lens of his pride for the place.
These last few days, there's been a lot about General Powell. One of the things that gets replayed a lot is his commencement speech at Howard University in the early 1990s, when he said, and he said it every time there was a crisis, people would ask him about what to do in the face of anti-immigration backlash or anti Muslim backlash or discrimination and racial violence. And his answer was always, "America is stronger than this. Don't get too upset. Be upset, but don't for a moment lose faith in America." He said it at Howard.
He said it to me a number of times when I would ask him about one thing or another, that had been troubling in what was going on in the nation or what was going on in the world. He lived this life of perpetual optimism, but optimism specifically for America. But when he thought of America, he thought of what America should look like, he thought of City College.
So, he didn't see his work on this campus as charity. He didn't see himself as helping the poor kids of Harlem and the south Bronx who were kind of struggling to get through City College. He saw his work as investing in the very best thing about the country that he loved.
If you missed any part of the show, you can go to ccny.cuny.edu and search the title of the program From City to the World to hear this podcast. This version of From City to the World was about really a man who embodies that title. A man who went from the city to the world and we couldn't be more proud of our association with General Colin Powell.
The show is produced by Angela Harden and I help out a little bit. And I'm your host, Vince Boudreau. I am proudly the president of General Powell's alma mater, The City College of New York. I hope you'll join us next time for, From City to the World.