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Generations of Montclair Alumni Come Together to Pay It Forward

Alumni Frank Colombo ’12, Drew Heimlich ’12 and Frank Nelson ’84 are “Paying it Forward” with a scholarship and mentoring initiative that spans generations and springboards students to success.

Posted in: Alumni News and Events

Alumni are “Paying it Forward” with scholarship and mentoring support
Alumni are “Paying it Forward” with scholarship and mentoring support

Frank Colombo ’12 and Drew Heimlich ’12 – co-founders of the Alumni Pay it Forward scholarship – will both tell you that Montclair transformed the course of their lives.

Colombo was a first-generation college student. For him and his parents, who were born in Italy, return on investment was crucial. “My parents saved as much as they could for my education, but we were still looking at student loans to make college possible,” he recalls. “The scholarships I received made an enormous difference for us.”

For Colombo, Montclair felt like the perfect fit. “I had taken accounting classes in high school and knew that’s what I wanted to study going forward,” he says. “My aunt had a successful college experience with Montclair’s accounting curriculum, which gave me confidence in the quality of the education I would receive. Plus, the location allowed me to live at home while taking classes.”

Location, cost – and the availability of scholarships – were big factors in Heimlich’s decision to study at Montclair as well. His introduction to accounting came through an after-school job at a local supermarket. “I worked as a cashier for a short while, when the manager offered to move me into a bookkeeping role,” he says.

Years before Colombo and Heimlich were considering college, these same factors of affordability and academic strength came into play for Frank Nelson ’84 when he was planning for college. “I chose Montclair because I thought I might want to go into teaching,” he says. “Plus, my sister had already matriculated there and liked it.”

“I ended up trying my hand at psychology, history and teacher education,” Nelson says. “Finally, my dad asked if I would consider accounting – he pointed out that I would always have job opportunities as an accountant!”

Accounting was the springboard to highly successful, and very exciting, careers for all three.

Nelson’s first job out of college was less than inspiring, however, so he paid a visit to the Montclair career services office. “Another business school alumnus had posted an entry-level accounting job at Morgan Stanley,” he says. “I got through the door of an exclusive firm because of Montclair. That job was a game changer for me.”

From Morgan Stanley, Nelson moved on and up with roles at Lehman Brothers, Chase Manhattan Bank and Deutsche Bank. Today, he is CEO and founder of Rossdhu Capital LLC, a private equity firm, and a strategic advisor to Function4, a digital hub for business events.

In his college years, Heimlich also made sure to get the most from his Montclair experience, double majoring in Accounting and Finance and helping establish the Montclair chapter of the National Society of Collegiate Scholars, for which he served as its founding president. He was also co-president of the Honors Student Organization, and he contributed his business and finance perspectives to a Psychology department research project on the relationship between healthy food availability and the health and socioeconomic outcomes of a community’s citizens.

Graduating summa cum laude with a double major, Heimlich passed the CPA exam on his first attempt and began his career as a risk management consultant at Ernst & Young. He was recruited twice – first to RBC Capital Markets and then to Guggenheim Partners where, in just six years, he rose from an investment banking associate to a managing director.

“Montclair prepared me from an academic standpoint,” Heimlich says. “I also benefited from meeting people with diverse backgrounds and interests. What stands out for me, though, is the mentoring I received. I had professors who pushed me to think bigger.”

Heimlich and Colombo met in their sophomore year and by junior year were close friends. Like Heimlich, Colombo double majored in Accounting and Finance, joining both the accounting and finance societies. Both were part of the first class to participate in the prestigious Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) competition. Their team was one of only three to make it to the New York City regional finals, helping increase the visibility of Montclair’s Finance department.

During his time at Montclair, Colombo focused on getting as much career experience as possible, obtaining internships at Wells Fargo, KPMG, Hertz and Deloitte. He graduated magna cum laude, passed the CPA exam, and joined Deloitte’s audit department. Public accounting was not a perfect fit for Colombo, however. His Montclair friend, Drew Heimlich, encouraged him to consider a Wall Street track. Shortly thereafter, Colombo joined RBC Capital Markets as a healthcare investment banking analyst. He quickly advanced to the team’s director role. In 2022, Colombo joined Med-Metrix, a healthcare portfolio company of A&M Capital, to help build out the company’s financial planning, analysis and merger and acquisition capabilities.

“At RBC, I advised healthcare technology companies like Med-Metrix,” Colombo points out. “Now I am helping grow a healthcare technology company, and all along the way I am using the finance and accounting foundation I received at Montclair.”

While still students, Colombo and Heimlich discussed their desire to pay it forward by establishing a scholarship at the University. “Drew and I had both received scholarship support and we hoped that we could someday do the same for others,” Colombo says.

It was when they were colleagues at RBC Capital Markets that the idea for the Alumni Pay It Forward Award took shape. Heimlich recalls a 2013 phone call from one of his Montclair professors, inviting him to support the University’s annual scholarship dinner. “I reached out to Frank [Colombo] and a few other alumni. Frank and I were able to have our contributions to the dinner matched by RBC. We started to talk again about creating our own scholarship.”

Heimlich and Colombo established the Alumni Pay it Forward Award, designed to support Feliciano School of Business students in their junior or senior year who are majoring in Accounting or Finance, or students enrolled in the master’s in Accounting program. In addition to the financial support, recipients directly benefit from alumni mentoring – being able to learn from graduates who can provide guidance to help prepare for job interviews, answer questions regarding CPA licensure and share other professional insights.

“We wanted to provide scholarship resources to exceptional students who had financial need, and we wanted to provide mentoring support,” Colombo says. “Our Montclair years were the most formative of our lives, not just because of the curriculum but also because of the mentoring we received from faculty, alumni and other business professionals. We felt indebted and wanted to do the same for others.”

Meanwhile, Nelson had reconnected with his alma mater and was excited to be involved: he taught a class in derivatives, participated in the independent review for the School’s accreditation, arranged for hedge fund associates to visit campus, and underwrote a fellowship. Nelson was especially interested in mentoring, understanding the value of pairing high performing students with accomplished alumni.

When Nelson, Heimlich and Colombo met through University contacts, all three saw the potential of pairing financial assistance and mentoring support – and were eager to join forces to increase their impact to benefit Montclair students.

Heimlich remembers their first meeting. “Frank [Nelson] wanted to hear about everything we were doing with Pay It Forward,” he says. “And he was all in. He doubled the scholarship that year.”

“We realized we could use scholarships and mentoring to create our own funnel for high-achieving students who have financial need,” Colombo adds. “We are now approaching our tenth year. We are very proud of the program, and of the students we have been able to help.”

This year’s goal is to raise a minimum of $10,000 to provide scholarships for two high-performing students.

Over the years, the scholarship recipients have remained involved, with several alumni contributing generously to the scholarship themselves, to keep it going. “Some are now volunteering as mentors, and one is teaching a class in the Feliciano School of Business,” Nelson says. “It has become a supportive, multigenerational community.”

Up to now, Nelson had preferred to support the University as an anonymous donor, but marking the years of success of the Alumni Pay It Forward Award has inspired him to go public. “I hope to elevate the Pay It Forward initiative, and to encourage others to support Montclair students through scholarships and mentoring,” he says. “My wish is to grow Pay It Forward exponentially in terms of dollars and recipients, while growing the community of Feliciano School of Business graduates working together.”

Heimlich marvels at how little it takes to have a huge impact on a student’s trajectory. “Something that seems insignificant to you, like giving a student a safe place to ask questions, can make all the difference in the world,” he says.

“When I look back and think about all of the people who helped me along the way, I know I can never give back as much as I received,” Colombo notes. “I have enjoyed an amazing career, and life, because of Montclair.”

Nelson agrees. “It doesn’t take a tremendous amount of time and effort to help,” he says. “There is nothing more important than helping a student succeed. And I guarantee that when you get involved, you receive far more than you give.”