Kenyon board member Nina Freedman '77 reflects on a career of service.
Nina Freedman ’77 H’92 has devoted her life to the service of others, a commitment that rewards Kenyon through her seat on its Board of Trustees.
Freedman has spent four decades working in a variety of professional and volunteer capacities on behalf of children and families at risk. After earning a master’s degree from the Columbia University School of Social Work, Freedman has been a clinical practitioner, educator, administrator and author.
She has received numerous awards from her alma maters and served on several of their boards.
As a senior at Kenyon, Freedman became the first woman to win the E. Malcolm Anderson Cup, given to the student who best demonstrates extracurricular leadership. “While I am not someone who believes in awards, this vote was the exception because it signaled that our once all-male college didn’t wait too long for women to have equal footing in all areas,” she said.
In 2010, Freedman began working in the administration of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. In January of 2014, she joined Bloomberg LP as a member of its Global Philanthropy and Engagement team, where she supports and advises colleagues on volunteering and board service, and builds relationships between employers and non-profit partners.
Freedman and her husband, Michael, are the parents of two daughters, Leah and Cara. She recently talked about her upbringing and values as well as the continuing influence of her Kenyon education.
You’ve devoted your career to service and philanthropy. What’s the origin of that sense of commitment?
It is definitely rooted in growing up in a vibrant, loving household with two amazing sisters, listening to, watching and learning from our spectacular parents. I am convinced my mother and father helped author the definition of family and service. [Her mother, Doris C. Freedman, was a legendary champion of public art in New York City.] That combined with social justice being a mantra in my household and the gift of being educated, I have been given an almost fail-proof recipe for personal fulfillment and success.
What do you recall about your Kenyon education?
I had incredibly forward-thinking professors and deans who allowed me to create a synoptic major in sociology, art/photography and psychology. Kenyon allowed me to be an adventurer in learning.
As a New York City resident growing up, how did you even hear about Kenyon?
I attended high school [the Ethical Culture Fieldston School] where [Professor of American Studies] Peter Rutkoff was an alumnus. He came back to Fieldston to talk about Kenyon because, as a young professor there, he did not know why our graduates were not coming to Gambier. I was accepted at Kenyon and Bowdoin College, where my oldest sister was a student. I was tempted to follow my sister, but a wise aunt said, “Nina, you go somewhere you can blaze your own trail.”
Do you remember your first visit to Gambier?
It was a dreary day — cold and rainy — but the campus was beautiful and the warmth of the people I met was palpable. I could go to Gambier to learn and come home and appreciate what I had taken for granted in New York City. I benefited from both worlds.
Does your relationship with Kenyon go beyond your duties as a board member?
My husband and I had the rare opportunity to spend a week with Peter [Rutkoff], [Professor Emeritus of History] Will Scott and their incredible research team on Saint Helena Island, South Carolina, collecting oral histories from the Gullah, a distinct sea island culture. On Sunday morning when Will Scott walked us through the Beaufort National Cemetery, the resting place of many Civil War soldiers, I remember thinking at that moment that I was a student again, but this time in the classroom of life.