Major gifts keep pouring in to YSU

YOUNGSTOWN — Two families that already had made significant contributions to the Mahoning Valley community are now providing legacy gifts to Youngstown State University.

Lee and Bonnie Burdman, and their children, Korey, Taylor and Lexi, have made a $250,000 gift to create a fellowship for the James P. Tressel Institute for Leadership and Teamwork at Youngstown State University, the YSU Foundation announced.

Also, a naming gift to the YSU Foundation has established the Sokolov Honors College and will provide funding for student development opportunities, including a new community fellows program. The dollar amount of the gift was not disclosed.

The Burdmans have made their impact through their civic engagement and volunteer leadership. They recently served as cabinet committee members for the $100 million We See Tomorrow campaign at YSU.

Lee is the co-founder and managing partner of Redstone Investments in Youngstown, with an office in Tampa, Fla. He has served as a YSU Foundation board member since 2000 and was chairman from 2011-2013. Lee is also the treasurer of the Youngstown Area Jewish Federation board.

Bonnie is the executive director of community relations and government affairs at Youngstown Area Jewish Federation. Formerly, she was a board member and chairwoman for the Youngstown Warren Regional Chamber.

The YSU Honors College, meanwhile, has announced a new name and new initiatives, made possible by the generosity of Richard and Susan Sokolov.

The Sokolovs moved to Youngstown in 1982, where Rick was given the opportunity by the Debartolo family to join the Edward J. Debartolo Corp. as senior vice president, development and general counsel, which he served as until 1994 when he became chief executive of DeBartolo Realty Corp.

In 1996, DeBartolo Realty Corp. merged with Simon Property Group where Rick served as president and chief operating officer through 2018. Currently, Rick is vice chairman and a member of the board of directors of Simon Property Group, the largest publicly traded retail real estate company operating in North America.

Rick and Susan raised their three children, Lisa, Anne and Kate, in Boardman and have remained rooted in Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley. Rick earned a bachelor of arts degree in psychology from Penn State and a juris doctorate from Georgetown University Law School. Susan earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education from Penn State.


The Burdman Family Fellowship will provide a financial literacy peer mentor for undergraduate and graduate students at YSU. Financial literacy is one of the seven badges students earn, leading them to a certificate for completing the Tressel Institute program. Lee and Bonnie were also among the leading benefactors for establishing the James P. Tressel Endowed Chair in Leadership at YSU this past January.

The program is designed to prepare and empower YSU students to direct organizations and guide individuals to succeed in their given endeavors. Additionally, students will have leadership opportunities through credit courses, workshops, travel abroad, group projects and more.

“We established the fellowship because financial literacy is another component that helps students prepare for the workforce,” said Lee and Bonnie Burdman.

“Under President Tressel’s leadership, YSU has seen tremendous growth. The institute is another way to recognize and honor everything he has done for not only the University, but the city of Youngstown.” they added.


This gift to the YSU Foundation has established the Sokolov Honors College and will provide funding for student development opportunities, including a new community fellows program.

“We express our deep appreciation to Rick and Susan Sokolov for their investment that will lead to enhanced educational opportunities for our students,” said Tressel. “The community fellows program is just one of the many opportunities for student development made possible by this gift. The Mahoning Valley is fortunate to have wonderful, caring people like the Sokolovs.”

The new community fellows program will provide opportunities for student fellows to liaise with partners in the community to help identify organizational needs and connect students with meaningful opportunities to serve. One goal of the program is to identify volunteer projects within the organization that can help the organization better fulfill its mission. Students will gain enduring skills such as communication, leadership, project management, critical thinking and life skills.

“While our students regularly volunteer in the community, we wanted to find a way to deepen their impact and help our community partners move beyond fulfilling daily tasks,” said Amy Cossentino, dean of the Honors College. “We believe the community fellows have the potential to help organizations build their own capacities and thrive.”

YSU Honors students served nearly 51,000 hours during the 2020-21 academic year at 644 organizations.

The Sokolov gift will support other initiatives, such as the publication of the annual Honors College academic journal The Emperor, research opportunities and participation at academic conferences.




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