Chairman of the Board

By Mary Ellen Lowney

When AIC's financial troubles became apparent in 2005, it didn't take but a minute for Frank Colaccino to realize he would commit his time and energy to help save the college.

And now, three years later, Colaccino can walk across the campus where he was a student 35 years ago and know that his efforts - and those of many others - are making their mark.

"I have a deep passion for this school," said Colaccino, a 1973 graduate with a bachelor degree in economics and finance.

"I didn't realize how deep it was until these past three years. You see an institution you love in crisis and you either walk away or you say 'I'm going to do everything I can to keep this institution vibrant.' That was me, and it still is," he said.

Colaccino was on the AIC Board of Trustees back then, and since has taken over as chairman. He is the first-ever alumnus with the title, and his status as a graduate is likely at the root of his passion.

It's a passion that took even Colaccino, a native of Pianopoli, Italy, by surprise when it looked like AIC was in serious trouble. The real estate developer considers himself even-keeled but determined, and he recalls the moment he realized that saving the college would be his mission.

AIC was in debt and the cash flow was not enough to carry through the summer of 2005. Colaccino was appointed by board Chairman Ron Abdow to become chairman of the board's finance committee.

"In this role I quickly realized that a lot of tough decisions would have to be made in order to keep the college viable," Colaccino said.

A new team from the board emerged, meeting weekly with President Vincent Maniaci. The process made it possible for decisions to come quickly, and they did. This new team, nicknamed 'the A Team' by Maniaci, took steps to avoid a crisis, making cuts and changes and increasing donations to the college, that would eventually lead to a small surplus and healthy growth in enrollment and retention, two key indicators.

"I have to say that the entire board stepped up and helped by donating their time and money," Colaccino said.

Both Maniaci and Abdow, a board member who served as chairman for more than 18 years, agreed that Colaccino has helped revitalize AIC.

"He has remarkable vision and energy," Maniaci said. "He continually asks the right questions and he provides fantastic leadership with public and private constituencies. He's been a wonderful mentor to me personally and professionally."

Abdow said Colaccino is also a hit with students.

"We're proud that Frank is the first alumni to become chairman of the board. He relates well to the student body and the faculty. He had a great educational experience himself here," Abdow said.

For Colaccino, who lives in Suffield with his wife Norma and their two young daughters, Alana and Juliana, it all began in a country 4,000 miles to the east. He was born in Pianopoli, Catanzaro, in the southern province of Calabria, Italy, the second child of Antonio and Maria Colaccino.

When Colaccino was six, the family moved to Springfield, where both parents worked in local factories. Eventually, his father got a job as a custodian at MassMutual Financial Group, then known as Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Co.

Colaccino grew up a working class son, struggling at first with English and eventually mastering the new language on his own. He believes those years helped to mold and strengthen him.

"That experience had an influence on me. You didn't have any bilingual programs back then, you just figured it out. When you're a young child and you have hardship, it makes you stronger," he said.

He graduated from the former Technical High School in 1969, entering Quinnipiac College, now Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Connecticut. He left after one semester and enrolled at AIC, living at home and working two jobs, one at a gas station and the other selling rugs, to pay his way through.

Colaccino remembers his AIC years as busy, with the rigors of school and work taking up much of his time. One professor who made an impression was Lawrence Habermehl, whose ethics lectures put a focus on things Colaccino had been brought up to practice.

"It was my first brush to talk about ethics," he said. "We were brought up to be truthful, to pay your bills, and to be respectful of people, but I had never really thought it through like that."

Colaccino also remembers the late Charles Gadaire, a professor who often turned natural science lessons into life lessons.

"He used to tell us, 'You shouldn't be afraid to be alone with yourself, you don't always have to go run after the crowd.' I never forgot it," Colaccino said.

It was during those years that he got the real estate broker's license that helped to shape his career. After AIC he worked at the former Whyte Real Estate Co.

In the mid 1970s, Colaccino worked out a few real estate deals with Dairy Mart Convenience Stores owner Charles Nirenberg. He was soon brought on board to head up real estate and construction for the Enfield, Conn.-based company. He was appointed vice president after two years. During those years, Colaccino earned an MBA at Western New England College, even as he worked full-time.

During his tenure, the company grew from 40 stores in the home region, to 1,300 across the Northeast. Dairy Mart became the third largest convenience store chain in the country. He eventually became President and CEO.

Colaccino left 1994 and then went on to launch his own company, The Colvest Group, Ltd. of Windsor, Conn. The company specializes in commercial real estate, and now has several dozen properties leased to national retail tenants in Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island.

Colaccino has been on the board at AIC the past five years, working up to a level of involvement that now keeps him quite busy.

"This school was not in very good shape a few years ago," he said. "We've worked very hard to turn things around, and I think the new leadership we've seen across the board has made a big difference. Bringing Vince Maniaci on board as president was an absolute home run."

Colaccino said that momentum is sure to continue with the ambitions strategic plan to guide student growth, improve academics, and add up-to-date technology, modern facilities and improved athletics for the urban campus. That plan, unveiled last year, will be supported by funds raised in the upcoming capital campaign.

"The plans are very aggressive, and they'll evolve over time. It's a multi-year plan that's not going to happen overnight," he said.

Colaccino works closely with board member A. Craig Brown, who also serves as the college's attorney. Brown said Colaccino deserves credit for his passion for AIC, as well as his willingness to put in time over and above what might be expected.

"He's very thoughtful, he's very committed to the school, and he's demonstrated outstanding leadership abilities over the past couple of years, Brown said.

"It's a huge benefit to have an alumnus as board chairman, if you can get the right person who has the skills for it. I think Frank is exactly the right person. It's the way it should be," Brown added.

Whether dealing with finances, or campus growth or academic improvements, Colaccino said his philosophy has remained true.

"It's really all about the kids," he said. "We're one of the most diverse schools in the area. We think that's a strength. We're still growing, and that's a good thing. Our retention numbers are outstanding."

Colaccino said AIC has come a long way in a very short time, an indication that hard work and commitment by many will continue to pay off.

"We've got new leadership, and our focus has been redirected. The level of commitment to the students is high, and it's not just faculty and administration - it's everybody who works at the college. Our goal is to provide an environment to learn basic life skills, make this a good experience for the kids and have fun," he said.

AMERICAN INTERNATIONAL COLLEGE | 1000 State Street | Springfield MA 01109 | 800.242.3142 | TRANSFORMING LIVES SINCE 1885