Profound loss, extraordinary resilience

Profound loss, extraordinary resilience

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Despite his Rowan pedigree, Mike Rozanski carved his own path as a campus leader

His story is different.

Mike Rozanski knows that.

“In a way, I was kind of forced to grow up…paying bills, doing taxes, having to worry about everything,” he says. “At the end of the day, my safety net isn’t as big as other people’s.”

Before his 21st birthday—and within a span of just three years—Rozanski, an only child, lost both of his parents. Both were well respected members of the Glassboro and Rowan University communities. And both left huge voids in their son’s life and in the lives of so many people they touched.

The Rozanskis generously shared their talents, their time and, most especially, their joie de vivre with others. Despite his own tragic losses, Rozanski has done the same at Rowan. He made sure of that.

“He exemplifies what a campus leader is,” Jessica Syed, assistant director of the Office of Admissions, says of Rozanski, who accepted his bachelor’s degree in marketing from Rowan’s William G. Rohrer College of Business on Tuesday, May 14.

Since his sophomore year, Rozanski has worked as an Admissions Ambassador for the Office of Admissions.

 “Mike embodies what it means to be part of the Rowan community,” Syed adds. “He took advantage of every opportunity and made his own way here. He’s the most positive, always-upbeat person. He’s incredible.”

In 2014, Rozanski’s dad, Michael Sr., 56, a Glassboro civic leader and real estate broker, died unexpectedly. His mom, Kathy, who endured a long, hard-fought battle with cancer, passed away three years later, also at age 56.

Kathy, a 1989 alumna, formerly served as the longtime alumni relations director at Rowan. Rozanski, who was raised in Glassboro, basically grew up at the University. He learned to swim in what is now the Tony Lisa Natatorium. He played pick-up soccer and baseball in the green areas of what is now Rowan Boulevard. He attended the Kids Rule summer camp. His first paying job was making balloon animals at a Rowan Homecoming.

“I took a balloon-making class in seventh grade. I told kids, ‘I can make you a dog or a giraffe or a snake. That’s it,’” he laughs.

There’s even a photo (at right) of University benefactor Henry Rowan holding Rozanski as an infant. Kathy, it seems, plopped her son into Rowan’s unsuspecting arms at a University event, snapping a photo for posterity.

“For all we know, I’m not even that baby,” Rozanski jokes. “I think it looks nothing like me. But we’re going to keep the story going that it’s me. It’s a good story. But, in the picture, neither of us is too sure about the whole thing.”

Rozanski regularly shares the photo with anyone who asks. And he’s pretty certain he might be the only person in the Class of 2019—or in any recent graduating class—with such a Rowan distinction.

‘My Rowan decision was about family’

Yet, choosing Rowan wasn’t a no-brainer. A huge sports fan, he had his intentions set on a larger school with a Division I athletics program. Ultimately, finances—and his mom’s declining health—made Rowan the right decision, he says.

“My Rowan decision,” he says, “was about family.”

But he learned quickly, especially after losing Kathy, that he could build a family at the University.

“I’ve met my best friends, my girlfriend…just so many people…here,” says Rozanski, who pursued a Thomas N. Bantivoglio Honors Concentration in the Honors College. “I think so much of what you do is about carving opportunities where you are.”

At Rowan, Rozanski has quietly carved out an undergraduate career distinguished in large part by his work as an Admissions Ambassador. In 2016, he was hired as an ambassador, joining what is affectionately referred to by insiders as the “Ambassafam.”

He led tours of up to 100 people as he introduced prospective students, their families, and other visitors to “all things Rowan.” With excellent people skills, a gift of gab, and most importantly, a true love of the University, Rozanski was a natural for the position.

“I like building culture and I love building relationships,” he says. “My job is so fulfilling. There are people who come on a tour and say, ‘I wasn’t expecting to, but, wow, I love it here.’ Or, ‘I didn’t think this was my No. 1 school, but I love it.’”

Ambassador coordinator

As a sophomore, he was hired as a student Ambassador Coordinator. In that role, he leads the multi-step process for hiring ambassadors, trains and oversees 85 student staff members, coordinates daily tours and schedules, and organizes and facilitates open houses. Open houses alone bring as many as 3,000 people--1,000 prospective students and their families--to campus.

For each open house, Rozanski is up at 5 a.m., driving around campus in a borrowed pick-up truck to place signage. The work isn’t glamorous.

“That, to me, is beyond dedicated. Mike sets a great example for other students. He’s very committed,” Syed says. “Our coordinators are an extension of our professional admissions staff. We rely on them. They work 20 hours a week. They also conduct the entire hiring process for new ambassadors.”

That’s where Rozanski shines.

“Conducting interviews is my favorite time of the year,” says Rozanski, who wrote a new manual for Admissions Ambassadors last summer. “This year, we had 113 applicants. You can see who’s really passionate about the job.

“Being an ambassador comes down to this: Can you tell a story? You are there to help a student become part of something special. On a tour, you’re a salesman. And you’re trying to close a six-figure deal.”

Building relationships

Spoken like the business major that he is. A career in marketing suits him, Rozanski says.

“Marketing gives me a lot of options. I’m more of a sales/work with people/work with other businesses kind of person. I want to have relationships with people. I never considered any major other than a business degree,” he says.

Ultimately, Rozanski envisions working in professional sports. As a youngster, he went to a Philadelphia 76ers game and saw one of the marketing staffers running around on the court.

“He was wearing a sports coat and a lanyard and I said, ‘I want to do that,’” says Rozanski. “I want to work in something I’m passionate about. I love Philly sports and Rowan. I want to help people have an experience that’s the best it can be.”

Rozanski fell in love with Philadelphia sports in 2008, when the Phillies won the World Series. He admits that tears fell in 2017 when the Philadelphia Eagles, the team he and his dad rooted for together, won the first Super Bowl in team history. He went to the parade wearing his grandfather’s 1960 championship sweatshirt, his dad’s Eagles jersey, and his own Super Bowl championship shirt.

This summer, Rozanski will sell 50/50 tickets part-time for the Phillies. When he landed the job, he couldn’t resist tweeting Bryce Harper, the big ticket free agent the Phils were wooing…and later signed.

“I tweeted to him, ‘Come sign with the Phillies and we’ll be co-workers!’” Rozanski laughs.

Last spring, Rozanski completed an internship with the Museum of Sports in Philadelphia, a start-up that focuses on the Philly sports scene. Though progress has been slow, Rozanski was able to get in on the ground floor, assisting with everything from the press conference announcing the museum—“I personally executed the successful balloon arch,” he jokes—to managing social media to representing the museum at networking events, many of which involved forming partnerships with Philadelphia-area movers and shakers.

‘You have to treat everything like it’s a networking opportunity’

He learned to think on his feet as he worked a room, occasionally name-dropping sports figures he knows. Among them:  Phillies announcer Dan Baker, a Rowan alumnus whom he met at a scholarship dinner, and John Giannini, who joined the University this year as the founding director of the Center for Sports Communication and Social Impact in the College of Communication & Creative Arts. Giannini formerly led Rowan’s men’s basketball team to the 1996 national championship and also coached at LaSalle University for 14 years.

“So much of marketing is just getting people to know you,” says Rozanski. “In everything I do, I’m trying to make decisions for my future. In my field, you have to be super versatile. You have to treat everything like it’s a networking opportunity. I learned to find some things where I can connect with someone. I’m always thinking, ‘How do I initiate this conversation?’”

Rozanski’s resilience—and his personal growth at Rowan—have been remarkable, says Giannini a family friend who watched Rozanski grow from being a shy child to a confident, focused, motivated adult.

“I’ve known Michael since Day 1,” says Giannini. “He just keeps growing in strength and confidence.

“What he has done he’s accomplished under the most difficult of circumstances and in spite of incredible heartbreak and tragedy. Michael deserves credit and his parents deserve credit. In a very short time, he soaked up all of life’s lessons.”

The day after he lost his mom, Rozanski was back at work in the admissions office. It just felt right, he says.

“Coming to campus was really good for me. I wanted to be around people. Every single person in the admissions office was there for me,” he says, adding that many across campus, including Vice President for University Advancement R.J. Tallarida and Marketing and Business Information Systems Department Chair Berrin Guner, also were tremendously supportive.

At last year’s Relay for Life event, an all-night, student-led cancer fundraiser, Rozanski shared his story. Two years earlier, his mom, in treatment at the time, shared hers. Speaking about his own losses was helpful, he says.

“People need to know that cancer affects an entire family,” he says. “Cancer is real and we have to fight it.”

Emotional, bittersweet

Rozanski wasn't sure what he would feel when his name—Michael John Rozanski Jr.—was announced and he walked across the stage at Commencement.

He certainly thought of the parents who doted on him, who shared with him their own passions for life and sports and family and Rowan, who loved him fully and fiercely.

But he also enjoyed hearing cheers from family—grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins—friends, and his “Ambassafam.”

“It was emotional and bittersweet. I definitely have a different story than most people,” Rozanski says, noting that it’s tradition for ambassadors to gather at Commencement and cheer as seniors graduate. His cheering section was large--and boisterous.

“I love Rowan,” he adds. “I’m going to celebrate and move on to the next big thing.”