Fran Soistman’s record-setting gift is the latest in his philanthropic journey.
Some returning to campus these days might not believe their eyes: New and renovated
buildings are popping up seemingly everywhere. Academic programs are growing even
richer. Student life is thriving like never before.
What visitors may not see is Fran Soistman’s contribution to that growth. And that’s exactly how he wants it.
“[Being] behind the scenes gives me great pleasure, because I don't need the attention,” he says. “I just like looking at the results.”
In November 2020, Soistman ’79, ’15 (hon.) made a $5.4 million gift to TU—the largest from an alum in school history. The scope is expansive, benefitting athletics, the College of Health Professions, the College of Business & Economics and programming to advance equity, diversity and inclusion.
Soistman has supported many projects and initiatives across the university by donating more than $6.1 million since making his first gift to TU in the late 1980s. He was honored last October as Maryland’s 2021 Outstanding Philanthropist of the Year by the Association of Fundraising Professionals, Maryland Chapter.
“In giving of his time, resources and expertise, Fran's leadership on behalf of our students and his alma mater has been extraordinary," President Kim Schatzel says. "He set the tone for the successful launch of the RISE campaign, which he now co-chairs. I am grateful for his inspiration, generosity and friendship.”
Soistman’s understanding of philanthropy has evolved throughout his life, he says. Growing up in a middle-class family living in Towson’s Loch Raven neighborhood, his only exposure to it occurred during the weekly collections at his church.
Soistman credits his education in giving to Megan Rock, the former associate vice president of the Office of Development who first approached him in the mid-1990s.
“She showed me what my contribution could do to the betterment of Towson University and the students. She got me engaged,” Soistman says.
A few years later, he joined the TU Foundation board, which started a long-term relationship with his alma mater. It was around this time that he made what he calls his “first real gift” to the university: $50,000 to start an endowment for faculty excellence.
“The academic and professional success I've enjoyed really goes back to the professors I had,” Soistman says. “Good professors, good teachers change lives. They inspire, they influence, they mold you at a very impressionable time in your life. I wanted to acknowledge that.
“My first semester, I didn't do well adjusting to my newfound freedom. It was pretty bad,” he continues. “I was an honor student in high school, so I knew I had to get my act together. I did in the second semester. I buckled down, really focused and I became more and more enamored with the professors I had.”
As a nationally recognized expert and top executive in the health care management sector, Soistman has built a successful career in a field that helps others. He is the CEO of eHealth, an online insurance broker, and the founder and president of Healthcare Management and Transformation Advisory Services LLC. He retired as CVS Health-Aetna’s executive vice president and president of government services in 2019 after serving as executive vice president at Coventry Health Care and president and CEO at HealthAmerica.
He has been a member of the university’s Board of Visitors since 2002. (Soistman served as chair from 2016–18.) His latest two roles have been critical to TU’s future: co-chair of TU’s $100 million RISE campaign and co-chair of the university’s national search for its new athletic director.
So Soistman understands the need to take a top-down view when making decisions. His giving covers a broad swath of campus life, but his main motivation is meeting the specific needs he sees.
In 2019, an impromptu conversation with Elysa Newman, TU’s director of academic achievement, during the football team’s trip to play the University of Florida revealed a need for 20 laptops. His gift purchased the computers, which aided the players in reaching a team GPA goal that term.
“That was easy to do. Address the need. No fanfare,” he says. “I could have just stood there [while waiting for the team] and worked on emails. But I knew she was part of the program. It was an opportunity to not only understand the need but actually do something about it.”
Soistman’s record-setting gift will broaden academic support for student-athletes. Renovations are currently underway in the fieldhouse to transform several classrooms into a large student-athlete academic achievement center that will accommodate more than 520 student-athletes and support on-site technology for project work, tutoring and academic advising.
“It will provide our student-athletes first-class resources to maximize their academic growth while pursuing athletic excellence,” says Shawn Nadelen, head coach of the men’s lacrosse team. “Our players will be able to study and access technology in the same building where they prepare for practice and games. This truly unifies the student-athlete experience by combining the resources to win in the classroom and on the field.”
In the latest graduation success rate (GSR) data for Division I (DI) schools, TU earned a 91% GSR—its highest ever. That mark is the highest among all DI University System of Maryland (USM) institutions, and TU has the highest single-year GSR among the USM DI schools at 75% for the 2011–14 cohort. Six Tiger teams earned a perfect 100% GSR in the latest report: field hockey, men's golf, gymnastics, women's lacrosse, men's swimming & diving and tennis.
“Gifts of all sizes can make a difference in the classroom and on the court or field and support professors with professional development,” Soistman says. “And, of course, contributions to existing scholarship endowments could be the difference for a student’s ability to attend college in the first place.”
Soistman is aware of the many gifts in his life: family, friends and being in a position to help others. He firmly believes “a life fulfilled leaves few intentions on the table.”
“When you're blessed with good fortune, there’s a responsibility that goes with it,” he says. “I have a son and two daughters, and knowing that children watch everything you do and listen to every word, it’s important to model this kind of support.”