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Board of Trustees: influential profiles

Published: March 16, 2012
Section: Features


Ellen Kaplan

Brandeis trustee Ellen Kaplan ’64 was awed as an entering student, remarking on the sensation that “campus felt like a new world to me, my world.” Coming from a high school in a small city, she described the feeling that her high school education may have been inadequate in preparing her for Brandeis. Suddenly confronted with students from private high schools, who already displayed superior knowledge of materials that were entirely new to her, Kaplan recalls an initial period of doubt, questioning: “Do I really belong here? Can I really do it?” Her fears were rapidly dispelled as she immersed herself in the academic environment, stating that Brandeis “opened the world for me, introducing me to subjects like literature, economics and sociology that I had not explored before.”
She recalls facing intellectual challenges from professors at the forefront of their fields, though she subsequently developed profound relationships with them due to the small class sizes. She has noticed the countless alterations that have occurred on campus since her time as a student, both technological advancements and major physical additions, but she asserts that one crucial aspect of Brandeis has prevailed. Referring to the university’s focus on social justice, she observes a “continuation of this spirit that is wonderful and exciting, making Brandeis unique.”
Upon graduating with a major in English and American literature, Kaplan attained her first employment opportunity with a publishing company in New York. As an editorial assistant responsible for creating the blurbs written on the covers of novels, she soon found herself seeking to further her career through other fields. In 1979, she received an MBA from the University of Pittsburgh, going on to work as a major account representative at Xerox. Expressing the desire to discover “what it takes to make an organization successful,” she then co-founded Strategic Costs Systems, a small software and consulting firm, along with her husband. She then became an expert on strategy formulation and implementation for nonprofit organizations, and she continues that work today on a pro-bono basis.
Kaplan has been able to apply the skills she has obtained from her career to her role as a trustee. She is currently in the process of revising the university’s code of conduct, a document that specifies the “expectations for behavior by every constituent of the university.”
She chairs the board’s student enrollment committee, which oversees issues such as financial aid, class enrollment procedures and university diversity. With the excitement cultivated from the recent inauguration of President Lawrence, she recognizes the need to “move ahead and adapt.” Accompanied by a hint of nostalgia, Kaplan referred to the utter absence of computers and cellphones during her time as a student, recalling that her dorm had only one designated payphone per corridor for receiving and making calls. Such memories dramatize the rapid technology and communications advancements that have since occurred, and their important implications for education.
Her contributions as trustee have been expansive. According to David Nathan, director of development and communications, she is one of approximately three dozen alumni members who have donated in excess of $1 million to Brandeis.
As a suggestion to current students, Kaplan professes: “Take advantage of the widest breadth of courses you can possible. If you hate music, take a music class, learn about it.” She attributes her lifelong interest in opera to a class she took at Brandeis on a whim, later continuing her newfound passion to become a board member at the Boston Lyric Opera. Identifying herself as “a strong advocate of the liberal arts education,” she emphasizes the importance of literature classes, despite one’s major, stating that they “enable better communication skills which are absolutely critical in the professional world.”

Paul Zlotoff

Paul Zlotoff ’72 is not an ordinary Brandeis trustee. Since graduating from Brandeis, he got his pilot’s license and has also built the Arnold Zlotoff Museum in honor of his father.
During his youth in New York, Zlotoff attended a large magnet high school, a fact which attributed to his subsequent attraction to Brandeis, a polar opposite institution. As a member of three sports teams during his time as a student, Zlotoff was actively involved in the Brandeis community from the start.
Despite his major in sociology, Zlotoff recalls taking a diverse assemblage of academic classes. In a previous interview with David Nathan, director of development communications, Zlotoff stated, “I was someone who had great intellectual curiosity, and at Brandeis I could experience all these different things. The truth is, I loved them all.” He described his time as a student as “life sculpting.”
When questioned as to the development of his career, Zlotoff described himself as a “serial entrepreneur.” Having been employed by numerous firms since graduation, he went on to become chairman of Uniprop, a real estate firm with a specialization in manufactured home communities.
Zlotoff is one of more than 30 alumni who have donated in excess of $1 million to the university. He has served as president of the Alumni Association and two terms on the board of trustees. Zlotoff is also a supporter of the Annual Fund and a chair member of the University Fellows, an honorary society for alumni and friends.
Currently abiding in suburban Detroit, Zlotoff can also add the title of certified ski instructor to his repertoire. Other less quirky achievements include honoring his father with a museum. His father was an industrial arts professor in New York, who amassed a large collection of early American jewels. Zlotoff built a museum for his father located near Lake Champlain to serve as the site for this assemblage of more than 3,000 tools that date from the Colonial era.
On behalf of current students at Brandeis University, Zlotoff urges “You should learn as much as you can in a wide range of subjects to become a truly well-educated and well-rounded individual, creating the foundation for your future.”