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Meet Pace's New Chairman

News Story

Chairman and Pace '81 alum Mark Besca: "we want to produce graduates from every school who are genuinely more effective in today’s world than those coming from other schools."

In July, Mark M. Besca, BBA ’81, became Chairman of Pace’s Board of Trustees, succeeding Aniello A. Bianco, who had held the post for 14 years.

A longtime member of the Pace board, Besca is also a familiar face to national television viewers, representing his employer, Ernst & Young, LLP., at awards shows including the Emmys and American Music Awards. Besca joined EY, then Arthur Young, in 1980 as an intern through the Pace co-op. He currently serves as the firm’s New York City Office Managing Partner.

Besca, who grew up in the Bronx, now lives in Manhattan with his wife, Geri, a professional singer; two daughters; and a Bernese Mountain Dog named Jeter. Pace Magazine interviewed him for its fall issue about where he sees the University heading in the future. Here are some excerpts.

Pace Magazine: So how’s it going after four months as Chairman?

Mark M. Besca: I think everything we’re doing now is pretty exciting. We’ve got a lot of momentum going. As you’ve probably heard President Friedman say, our goal is to be a national leader in providing education, but education with clear value. We want to combine very strong liberal arts with professional preparation, and offer an education that helps our students to succeed in their careers and in their lives. So what you’re going to hear a lot about in the coming year is something that we call the Pace Path.

PM:  Can you tell us a bit more about that?

Besca: The Pace Path combines a number of ideas. One draws on our history of providing experiential learning opportunities. Historically it was in the accounting program that was best known for producing students who were more ready to hit the ground running when they went out into the workforce than the graduates of many other universities. Now that’s going to be true for all our schools. We’re also going to enhance the ways we give our students real-life experiences through internships, undergraduate research, and travel courses, and apply coaching and mentoring to the process. So when you simplify all this, what we’re saying is we want to produce graduates from every school who are genuinely more effective in today’s world than those coming from other schools.

We want to be better than anybody else at doing what I’ve just described. We’re already ranked No. 5 by U.S. News and World Report in terms in internships.

PM: Care to look further out into Pace’s future?

Besca: Well, when we look into the future we look at basically three things: academic progress, meaning real growth in our programs and adding to our faculty; physical change, such as we’re seeing now with our building programs in Pleasantville and downtown; and technology. In some ways technology could be the most important.

PM: Can you elaborate?

Besca:  We’re trying to address how and what we teach in light of the changing technology. We have hundreds of online programs already. We have a hybrid Executive MBA course that combines online learning and quarterly residencies. We have a highly rated all-online degree program. And although many of these things are in their infancy, we know that the way we teach our students is going to be different in the future, and how we combine technology with real classroom experience will change over time. No university has the perfect solution at this point but we’re very focused on trying to get that right mix. We see technology changing the landscape for the better, and it could make education more efficient in terms of cost.

PM: Do you foresee a day when college education is totally virtual?

Besca: There are some exciting things going on in that area, such as massive open online courses, where you can get the top professor in a particular field to teach people all over the world. That will probably be part of our formula as well. But no, I don’t think it’s going to be all virtual. That’s what you might hear, but I think you still need that relationship with the student at the university. What’s interesting is how you can combine virtual learning with traditional learning, and what the percentage of each will be.

PM: What would you say are the biggest challenges facing Pace and other universities today?

Besca: One is certainly the growing cost of education. That has put incredible stress on affordability and value in general at every university. And frankly I think a lot of other colleges don’t provide the value to match what students are paying.

PM: What about opportunities?

Besca: I think one thing that makes Pace different from other universities is that we have a huge competitive advantage being in New York City and downtown in New York City, right at the heart of the capital markets. There’s no other institution that’s positioned like us there, and we offer the option for folks who want to be on a traditional campus to be only 40 minutes away. That is pretty unique, and I’m not sure we have always marketed that as well as we could. People want to come to New York.

PM: Could you tell us a little about your upbringing? We understand your parents were Holocaust survivors.

Besca: Yes, they came here from Greece with nothing. They had been affluent in Greece before the war. They were educated, and they were going to make sure that my generation would get educated and turn things around for the family. Their whole mantra was, get an education. That’s why a lot of us on the Pace board are so passionate about the university, because of Opportunitas. Pace was there for me, and I just can’t forget it because without Pace I wouldn’t be where I am today.