Dec. 12, 2013

Media financer invests in new faculty

Peggy Koenig
Koenig

When it comes to investing in new media, Peggy Koenig ’78 is shrewd yet daring. When it comes to investing in her alma mater, the communication graduate is focused on faculty renewal and has made two $500,000 gifts that have enabled Cornell to attract an acclaimed screenwriter and a rising star of social media research.

“The importance of bringing in new faculty really resonates with me. We need to make sure we are attracting the very best faculty, which in turn will attract the best students and enhance the reputation of the university,” Koenig said. “I think it’s very important to support the university’s strategic priorities, and I wanted it to be in an area that I felt passionate about. For me, that’s the arts and media.”

Her first gift was made to the Department of Performing and Media Arts, where assistant professor Austin Bunn was hired as the first Koenig-Jacobson Sesquicentennial Faculty Fellow. One of his recent works, a film about the Beat Generation starring Daniel Radcliffe called “Kill Your Darlings,” was screened at the Sundance Film Festival and picked up for distribution by Sony Pictures Classics.

The hub of communication

Faculty renewal isn’t Koenig’s only Cornell interest. She has also helped kick-start a campaign to create a new home for the Department of Communication on the fourth floor of Mann Library.

In addition to faculty, staff and graduate student offices, the plan includes multiple formal and informal meeting spaces and state-of-the-art media and technology research labs. At the center of it all will be the Interactive Learning and Research Hub, designed to showcase and foster connections among faculty and students.

Designs are being developed and construction is set to begin next summer, with completion expected in summer of 2015. Koenig’s $250,000 gift helped launch a fundraising initiative to offset the estimated $5 million price tag.

“In my role as an advisory council member, I’ve gotten to know the professors and their goals and objectives. I think the work that they are doing at the intersection of communication and technology is really central to important trends of the future,” Koenig said. “The new space is going to be supportive of that work, as well as a fantastic area for students.”

A recent gift to the Department of Communication has funded a faculty position named in honor of outgoing chair Geri Gay.

“Geri has had a tremendous impact upon the relevance of the department, the rankings of the department, the recruitment of top notch professors, and engagement with alumni,” Koenig said. “She’s a visionary.”

Assistant professor Drew Margolin was hired in July to be the first Geri Gay Sesquicentennial Faculty Fellow. Margolin studies how social networks develop and evolve in new media channels such as Facebook and Twitter. For instance, the former postdoctoral associate at Northeastern University studied social media and cell phone use during the Boston marathon bombing, using behavioral data to see how people activate their networks in times of uncertainty.

After meeting his benefactor, Margolin said he sees the relationship developing into a continual, collaborative one.

“She really understands what’s going on and how media and technology are changing,” Margolin said. “I’m looking forward to bouncing ideas off of her and tapping into her expertise, especially in the business world.”

As managing partner of Boston private equity firm Abry Partners, Koenig is responsible for the sourcing, negotiation and oversight of transactions including radio broadcasting, business-to-business magazine and directory publishing, and couponing. She also has extensive media financing experience in feature film production, cable television and magazine publishing.

As an alumni leader – a member of the Cornell University Board of Trustees (2012-16), the Cornell University Council (2009-13), the Cornell University Council on Career Advising (2010-11), the Advisory Board to the Department of Communications (2009-14) and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Advisory Council (2010-13), who previously served on the President’s Council of Cornell Women (2006-10) – Koenig wants to set an example that she hopes fellow Cornellians will follow.

“We couldn’t be more fortunate than to have Peggy Koenig as a trusted adviser and dauntless advocate for our department,” said incoming department chair Katherine McComas. “She epitomizes all the best qualities of a Cornell alumna and serves as a wonderful example for others.”

“Peggy’s tremendous generosity has enabled Cornell – and in particular, the Department of Communication – to make significant and forward-thinking investments that will help sustain and enhance the excellence of our faculty,” said Kathryn Boor, the Ronald P. Lynch Dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. “Cornell is a richer, more vibrant place thanks to her energy, vision and enthusiasm.”