Testimonial: Jerry Tinianow, BA '77, JD '80

GW donor for close to 40 years talks “Only at GW” memories and supporting the Elliott School

Taking GW to the top: Jerry Tinianow, BA ’77, JD ’80, wears his GW pride at the summit of Mt. Evans with his wife, Sharon.
August 01, 2014

“GW is for the self-directed student; the student who knows what he or she wants and is willing to take responsibility for getting it,” says Jerry Tinianow, BA ’77, JD ’80. “If you are that kind of student and you approach your education proactively, there is no better school in the country.”

Coming out of high school as a National Merit Scholar at the top high school in his state, Jerry had a lot of options to consider for his future, but he knew what he wanted—a chance to work on Capitol Hill while pursuing his college education in the nation’s capital.

“I only applied to one school—GW,” he says. “There was never any thought of applying anywhere else.”

Like many Colonials, Jerry was drawn to GW because of its location and the possibility of the “Only at GW” experiences that its students and alumni know so well—he didn’t have to wait long.

During his first semester at GW, Jerry and a few friends stood outside the rear entrance to the White House on the night President Nixon named Gerald Ford to succeed Spiro Agnew as Vice President, “watching the whole panoply of the D.C. power structure drive in for the event before making the short stroll back to our dorm,” he remembers.

While walking near the White House again several years later, he witnessed a motorcade pass carrying Emperor Hirohito of Japan and the Empress.

“Emperor Hirohito was such a central figure to the history of the 20th Century, yet he seemed so small and frail in the back of his limo,” recalls Jerry. “It was unforgettable.”

During his time as a college student in Foggy Bottom, Jerry took full advantage of what GW and its location had to offer, working on Captiol Hill while earning his bachelor’s degree with a double major in public affairs and international affairs from GW’s School of Public and International Affairs (now the Elliott School of International Affairs). As his time as an undergrad wound down, Jerry began thinking of law school; once again, GW was at the top of his list.

“The access to things like the U.S. Supreme Court, the Library of Congress, and the Department of Justice in D.C. presented an ideal opportunity to a self-directed student like me,” he says. “None of the other law schools could compete with that.”

Like many GW students then and now, Jerry’s education was made possible thanks to the support of scholarships. The son of a public school teacher and one of three children, his family needed all the help they could get, he says.

“My mother, now age 86, still talks about how important that first scholarship was,” he says. “GW came through when it mattered most.”

That’s why Jerry felt it was important for him to come through for GW in return—he has supported his alma mater by making a gift to the university every year since he graduated from the GW Law School in 1980.

“I got a good education at GW that prepared me well for my career, and I also appreciated the scholarships I received while at GW,” he says. “I felt it was important for me to pay it back.”

Jerry’s stalwart support of GW makes him a member of GW Loyal, the university’s loyalty giving society. Established in 2014, GW Loyal recognizes the university’s most committed donors, those who support GW year in and year out, no matter the size of their gifts.

That sense of loyalty has also kept Jerry interested in the university’s progress through the years. Since leaving Foggy Bottom, Jerry has tried to stay connected to his alma mater by following the men’s basketball team (he’s been a fan since his freshman year), reading GW alumni publications, attending reunions, and visiting the campus when he can.

But Jerry also has GW connections that hit a bit closer to home—three members of his family’s next generation have now attended GW. His nieces, Hallie Neumann, BA ’06, and Jessie Neumann, ESIA ’15, were both drawn to the Elliott School, and his cousin’s daughter, Melanie Gutmann, BA ’10, graduated from the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences.

“Family reunions are fun when everyone is wearing the same school’s t-shirt!” he says.

Staying so connected to GW has given Jerry a close look at how the university has grown over the years. He’s particularly excited about the tremendous progress the university has made in becoming one of the most sustainable campuses in the U.S. “Given its location, it should be able to be a top-five school in the not-too-distant future,” he says.

He should know—in 2012, Jerry became Denver, Colorado’s first-ever Chief Sustainability Officer, tasked with overseeing the city’s ambitious sustainability initiatives.

What else stands out to him? The decisive rise of the Elliott School in national rank and reputation.

“Since earning my degree, I have seen the Elliott School work diligently and effectively to elevate the school’s standing into the uppermost ranks of international affairs programs in the nation,” Jerry says; progress that has further fueled his passion for supporting his alma mater.

When a gift bequest from the Lloyd H. and Evelyn E. Elliott Charitable Remainder Trust—created by former GW President Lloyd Elliott, the man who served as head of the university during Jerry’s seven years at GW, and his wife, Evelyn “Betty” Elliott—established the Elliott School Strategic Initiatives Fund, Jerry stepped up and became the first alumnus to add to the fund, with a pledge of $25,000. The new fund will support priority programs at the Elliott School and launch new initiatives on emerging global issues, furthering the school’s mission and reinforcing its position as one of the top international affairs schools in the country.

“The Elliott School has done so much to earn our support, so my decision to pledge was an easy one,” Jerry said after making his pledge in June 2014. “I am honored that, by contributing to this endowment, my gift will support the Elliott School and GW in perpetuity.”

Already supporting GW annually for nearly four decades, Jerry admits that all the hard work done by GW to elevate the reputation of the Elliott School has been added motivation. As the prestige of his former school has risen, he says, so has the value of his degree, adding that, “Once again, GW has come through for me, so I need to come through for them.”

Jerry’s hope is that his fellow alumni—those self-driven individuals who thrive so well at GW—will see the benefit of supporting their alma mater the way he has.

“Regardless of what experience you had at GW, for the rest of your life your reputation is tied to that of the university,” he says. “When GW wins, you win. So when you help the university win through your support, you are really helping yourself too.”