Steve Israel ’66 admits he was not a distinguished student in his high school and early college years. In fact, he said he was “uninspired” and “muddled through” high school and his first two years at Carolina.
“I started as a business major, because it was expected that I would join my father in his small company based in Greensboro. I took one course in accounting, and I realized that was not for me,” he said. “So instead, I switched to English. I loved to read, and that’s why I majored in English. My mother was an English teacher and she inspired me to read good books.”
Then, during his junior year, he wandered unsuspectingly into Professor O.B. Hardison’s course on John Milton. “It changed my whole life,” Israel said. “So much so that I attribute 80 percent of my success, financially and personally, to the two courses I took from O.B. Hardison. He wasn’t merely a good professor. He inspired a love of learning. He made me want to learn. I went from cramming for exams the night before to basically living in the carrels at the library. I made nothing but As and Bs during my last two years. I did everything I could to become a scholar.”
Hardison (1928-1990) was a double Carolina graduate, a popular teacher and a wide-ranging scholar. A biophysicist by training, he wrote scholarly tomes about Christianity, about the Renaissance, and about identity and culture as well as two books of poetry. After leaving Carolina in 1969, he became director of the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C., where he founded the Folger Poetry Series and the Folger Theatre.
“He made Paradise Lost come alive, which was no easy task,” Israel continued. “Because of Hardison, I honed my communications skills so I could speak articulately and think more clearly. I’ve had other great teachers, but it was Hardison who opened the door.”
Israel provides a great answer to that age-old parental question: “What are you going to do with an English degree?” He is managing director of the biotechnology practice at Korn Ferry in New York City. His clients are primarily venture-backed, early-stage, high-science companies that are at the intersection of science, business and medicine. “My colleagues have M.D. and Ph.D. degrees, which I do not. However, it is my communications skills that have paved the way for my success, and I attribute much of that to O.B. Hardison.”
Now Israel wants to honor this life-changing professor and open the door for others to a wide-ranging liberal arts education. He made a gift to create the O.B. Hardison, Jr. Scholarship Fund for the Humanities in the College of Arts and Sciences. It will provide a scholarship for an undergraduate student who intends to study the humanities, with a nonbinding preference for English majors. Israel hopes to raise $1 million to endow the scholarship.
“A well-rounded education is crucially important in today’s world,” Israel said. “I see evidence of this every day in my work. Much of my success is attributable to what I learned at UNC, and I want other people to have that opportunity, too. I hope that other people join me in supporting this scholarship.”
For more information about the O.B. Hardison, Jr. Scholarship Fund for the Humanities in the College of Arts and Sciences, contact Shontel Grumhaus at firstname.lastname@example.org or 919-962-6182.
By Claire Cusick. This article originally appeared in the summer 2015 issue of Carolina Connections.