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The New Face of Philanthropy: Matt ’01 and Alexis Kane ’02

“The connections to JU run deep,” said Jacksonville University alumnus Matthew “Matt” R. Kane ’01. Although he recently completed his 2009-2018 term as a Board of Trustees member, Matt remains at the center of a new philanthropic efforts fueling the University’s bright future.

Originally published in the Fall 2018 print edition of WAVE Magazine.

For both Matt and his wife Alexis Conciatori Kane, CRNA ’02, the University has been a constant thread throughout their lives. As undergrads, alumni, Dolphins fans, and now as two of JU’s premier investors. Though their early life experiences vary, the conviction is the same.

“JU has been a really special place for us overall, and it will always be,” said Matt.

His Story

Describing himself then as 17 years old and precocious, Matt applied for a Naval ROTC scholarship at the University of Rochester and selected Tulane and JU as alternate schools, Tulane because of Mardi Gras and Jacksonville University because it was the only NROTC school in Florida. “It’s so cold at Rochester that they have underground tunnels to avoid walking in the snow and wind. I intended to go there and spend the rest of my career in the Navy.”

After being medically disqualified from what he then considered his dream, Matt scrambled to replace the promised NROTC scholarship with an academic one. But Tulane and Rochester declined. “So, I showed up at Jacksonville University two days before the start of the 1998 fall semester. I’d never been on campus, never even been to Jacksonville.”

Matt was born in Pennsylvania in 1980. Throughout high school and later into his college years, he’d worked at Centocor, a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson. One of the young executives at Centocor was none other than Tim Cost, President of Jacksonville University since 2013. Matt said, “We didn’t know each other then. He was in the executive suite, and I was an intern.”

Despite their differing stages of life, both men spent a significant portion of their lives in Pennsylvania, both graduated from JU, and both had close relationships with Dr. Frances Bartlett Kinne, who was Chancellor Emerita by the time Matt entered as a computer science major.

“You know, when I first came to JU, it was under really unusual circumstances. But from those years came the best of friends, opportunities never before imagined, and an unbelievable educational experience.”

Her Story

Though she later became a legacy student—the daughter of a JU alumnus—Alexis considered several schools, including the University of Florida, University of North Florida, and colleges in York, Pennsylvania. A native New Yorker, Alexis said, “I originally chose a larger university, but it wasn’t the college experience I thought that I would have. When I asked about applying to the schools’ various nursing programs, I was discouraged from applying.”

After much searching for the right college fit, she was accepted at JU, and told her parents the great news, especially her father, Robert J. Conciatori, who studied education at JU and graduated in 1973.

Her first day on campus was the beginning of her sophomore year. “That was the day I met Matt—the first person I ever met on campus.” Matt recalled her looking lost as she searched for her first class of the day. It was computer science, Matt’s major, an ironic moment both still laugh about today.

“I said, ‘You look lost. Do you need help?’” Alexis said they soon became friends. “I needed a smaller, family atmosphere, but I didn’t know that I needed that until I’d experienced the opposite at another university,” Alexis recalled.

Reconnecting to JU

Years later, the University asked Matt to serve on the Alumni Board of Governors, a group of 20 to 25 individuals, of which he was the youngest at the time, and recommended by Dr. Walker S. Blanton. “There were, and still are, so many people on JU’s boards who really made a difference—Tim Cost, Chuck Wodehouse, Linda Stein. They all took a real shot on a 20-something.”

Matt chaired the Governance Committee of the Board in 2006, and was responsible for selecting the Distinguished Alumni of the Year. “I had never done anything like that, was thrown into it, and didn’t know what to do exactly. But I took it seriously and personally interviewed all the nominees. I called them, had extensive conversations, and among those on my list was Tim Cost. I asked him an entire panel of questions. That was the first time we ever spoke.”

When Matt reported back to the committee, he recommended Tim Cost without reservation. “I interviewed all of these really amazing JU alumni, and I told the committee that this guy was special.” The first time they met face to face was for the Distinguished Alumni of the Year recognition ceremony.

Matt says the two went on to have an interesting and storied relationship, both later appointed to the JU Board of Trustees, at the same time, with Matt eventually serving on the committee that selected Tim Cost as President. Now, after achieving success as a business owner and civic leader, Matt said, “I’ve run multiple companies, hired lots of people, and the best hire that I’ve ever been a part of was hiring Tim Cost. No question. I would hire him to do anything.”

Alexis said, “I didn’t stay as connected immediately after graduation. I moved to Chicago and was working at a children’s hospital there, establishing my career.”

Matt and Alexis remained friends throughout college and after, never really dating. “He actually helped pack my car before I drove to Chicago.” They next found one another around age 25, when Matt traveled to Chicago on business.

“Eventually, we got to the point that one of us was flying every weekend.” Soon, Alexis accepted a position at Wolfson Children’s Hospital in the pediatric intensive care unit.

But that wasn’t the happily-ever-after end to their story.

They stopped dating for a while. “About six years,” Alexis said. “That’s when I made the decision to apply to graduate school.” That was the moment she reconnected with her alma mater.

In the process of applying to nurse anesthetist programs throughout the state of Florida, she requested a letter of recommendation from JU. She made an appointment to speak with someone in nursing—now the Keigwin School of Nursing—unsure if anyone would remember her.

That meeting happened before the opening of JU’s Brooks Rehabilitation College of Healthcare Sciences (BRCHS) building. “I walked in and was remembered like it was yesterday. Some of the faculty sat and talked with me for three hours. And then they wrote a glowing recommendation. It was like coming home to family.”

One of her mentors, Dr. Cheryl Bergman, now Dean of BRCHS, was the person who taught Alexis how to administer an IV. It was also under the direction of Dr. Bergman that Alexis later taught an eight-week accelerated pathophysiology course at JU.

She went on to complete her Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) with a focus on nursing anesthesia from the University of Miami and now serves on the advisory board of JU’s BRCHS.

A Dynamic Duo

In August 2011, on a balmy evening in Colorado, Matt and Alexis married.

“A number of our JU family members were at the wedding.” They were guests and among the wedding party. That night, Matt and Alexis stood back as a couple and processed just how much the University meant in their lives.

Matt said, “Not much of what I’ve done would have been possible without JU. I truly believe that.”

Matt has held several leadership roles in Jacksonville—be it civic, political, or philanthropic. He says that none of those would have been offered if not for the influence of the University.

“I would not be a member of the Downtown Rotary if not for Fran Kinne. I was nominated to Leadership Jacksonville by Dr. Quinton White. And I wouldn’t be a part of the Civic Council if not for Tim Cost.”

Where Philanthropy Begins

Matt’s passion for education planted the seed for his family’s philanthropic efforts today. It was at his alma mater that he nurtured a passion for championing students of all ages. This led him to board roles for Teach for America, the Jacksonville Children’s Commission, Northeast Florida STEM Hub, and the Jacksonville Community Council.

The Kane footprint of giving includes a wide variety of projects and programs, including support of the Jacksonville University Athletic Association (JUAA), classroom technology enhancement, community outreach, the basketball program, the River House, the sailing program, and the JU Public Policy Institute’s Master of Public Policy Minority Fellowship, to name only a few. 

The reason their donor portfolio is so widely varied, he says, is a desire to make a difference overall. “We’re interested in making the biggest impact. Some of those investment areas represent a certain affinity for me, but others were simply great opportunities.”

Matt uses the development of the rowing program and facilities as a prime example. “We recognized that the program was attracting great students, but they couldn’t take on more team members without adding another boat.” As a former sailing team member and longtime supporter of basketball and the Keigwin School of Nursing, Matt said the decision to invest in rowing was outside his norm but was well worth the support.

The Kanes also regularly give to broad funds at the University. “When I opt to give unrestricted dollars, that’s me believing in President Cost and his vision for the University,” Matt said. The vision President Cost has for the University is part of the reason Matt and Alexis feel confident in their  family’s ongoing support of JU.

The Relationship Strategy

Named scholarships are a key part of the Kanes’ donor strategy.

“We dedicate a significant portion of our giving to scholarships. That has two functions: first, I wouldn’t have attended Jacksonville University had they not offered a generous academic scholarship to me. Second, when you give to a scholarship, you help a student directly.”

Kane scholarship recipients receive a multi-year commitment of support for their time at JU, as well as the opportunity to meet and interact with the Kane family. The latest Kane Scholars met up with their sponsors at Topgolf for an evening of fun. “We meet at events, and they come up to us at games. They stay in touch, too. If one of our students has a career decision to make, they’ll reach out and we’ll have lunch. We follow them through graduation and then beyond.”

Matt and Alexis take the Kane Scholars to dinner after graduation and regularly invite them into their home at Jacksonville Beach, where they are sure to meet Sloan (5) and Elle (3) Kane. “Now, we’re on our second cohort, and I’ve realized that coming back to help others in that stage of life is incredibly rewarding.”

What the Future Holds

The question now, Matt says, is how to turn more alumni into an Order of the Dolphin level donor. The Kanes believe one answer is the Graduates of the Last Decade (GOLD) Phin Society, an organization he helped inspire and organize in recent years.

“Toward the end of my time on the Alumni Board, I was involved with finding ways to engage more alumni.” He explained that it’s all about adjacencies. Groups alongside other groups who may also have a great interest in pouring back into the University. Matt agrees with President Cost that ideas are contagious. Once JU’s enormous alumni base was informed of the many exciting things happening, the spirit behind GOLD quickly spread.

In addition to financially supporting the University and its programs or projects, GOLD Phins also have access to networking and mentorship opportunities through JU Connect, a virtual and active community of Dolphins around the globe. Professional development and service are also major components for the giving society.

Matt said, “I was taught to make things better for the next generation, and that’s exactly what we’re doing at Jacksonville University. It just keeps getting better.”

He also asserts that you never have to go more than two degrees of separation before finding a direct link to JU. He describes bumping into a fellow Dolphin on a business flight, in a cafe, or out with friends. And one of his favorite parts of those impromptu conversations is when he feels connected to someone who seconds before was a stranger. The moment he sees that special brand of JU pride shining through.

Both Matt and Alexis have another motivation for supporting the continual enhancement of JU programs and facilities. “When we improve Jacksonville University, we make every alumni’s degree worth that much more. In every single way, we increase the value of that earned degree.”

Alexis remembered one very clear moment when she first felt incredibly proud to be a Dolphin. It was during her application and interview process for graduate school.

Interviews for nurse anesthetist programs, she said, are rigorous and highly competitive, sometimes even intimidating. “The committee wants to see how well you perform under scrutiny and pressure, and determine where your limits are,” she said.

While interviewing with another university, Alexis couldn’t shake the feeling that her interviewers had not only been impolite, but highly unprofessional. Sometime later, she spoke to Dr. Leigh Hart, Professor of Nursing at JU, and related the harrowing experience which left her in tears.

“I received a formal letter of apology from that university several weeks after. Later, I discovered that Leigh made a phone call on my behalf. See, I already knew JU operated as a family, but it was in that moment that I realized JU would always have my back.”

The Bottom Line

“I’m proud every time I meet fellow alumni of the University,” Matt said. “In fact, I’ve yet to meet someone I’ve not enjoyed getting to know.”

His company Greenshades Software, Inc., an accounting and payroll company, is another place where JU alumni are within arm’s reach. “Some of our best and brightest came from Jacksonville University,” he said. They are interns, full- and part-time employees, managers, and clients.

“I speak to computer science majors at least once a year on campus, and that allows me to meet and hire the best.” Matt named 2016 graduate Ellis Harr ‘16 as a perfect example. He now works directly for the CEOs with a portfolio of executive level responsibilities after only two years at Greenshades.

“The first time I met Matt, I was a Sophomore at JU. We were at the unveiling event for the newly renovated River House and Matt, as always, was eager to meet students.”

An International Business/English double major, a Presidential Student Ambassador, a past citizen member of the Times-Union’s editorial board, and among the JU Davis College of Business Top 40 Talent, Ellis Harr made a beeline for Germany that summer, as part of a student exchange program. “I’d told him about this internship that I’d accepted and he said I should have come to work for him. I thought he was joking. But a year later, after finishing up in Germany, I remembered that conversation and emailed him on a whim. I had an offer letter less than 48 hours later.”

Ellis remains grateful for Matt and Greenshades taking a chance on a recent graduate. He says their shared JU bond continues to foster their relationship and an ongoing love for the University.

“Some people remember shaking hands with a dean or professor when walking across the stage at graduation, but I remember looking over at Matt. He was seated with other trustees on the platform, and he smiled. He gives that same smile when we achieve a big win at Greenshades. He’ll ask me sometimes if I’m still having a blast, and the truth is, I am.”

Matt said, “The bottom line is this: we have never made a gift to the University, whether time or treasure, that we didn’t get more in return than we gave.”

The memories are many, as are the threads that bind the Kanes to a University they love. From Matt’s fishing trip in northern Canada with Dr. Blanton to his home being built by Double Dolphin Shawn Starr (‘94/’96), son of longtime executive assistant to the Office of the President Dolores Starr, the connections do indeed run deep.

Having recently completed his nine-year term on the Board of Trustees at the University, Matt has been asked whether he’ll suffer from separation anxiety. He laughed and said, “I’ll be alright. Tim and I have breakfast together regularly, and there are so many friends around. Like I’ve said before, there are a million stories I could tell about how JU made me who I am, who we are, today. So what if I’m not a trustee right now? Everyone should know, I’m just a phone call away and ready to help.”