Portrait of Nancy and David Borghesi
Photo: Stacy Howell

Nancy Borghesi (BA, Economics, ’69) arrived at UW-Madison with a proud sense of history. Her parents, grandfather and great-grandfather had all been Badgers.

From the start, Nancy was drawn to economics and math, often tutoring other women in her dorm. And when she met David Borghesi (BBA, Business; Accounting and Information Systems; Accounting, ’70), a first-generation college student who would become her husband, she learned he shared her affinity for numbers.

“But I don’t think we could have been in more different environments,” Nancy says.

David’s accounting major came with a well-plotted career path: Pass the CPA exam and land a job with a major firm (he went with Arthur Andersen). For Nancy, an economics degree, especially for a woman at the time, meant charting her own course.

“I knew I wanted to go into computers even though they were a new animal in ’69,” Nancy says. “System design was a new field, and women were not in it. Interviews were troubling — it was very hard to be taken seriously. So I ended up, like many of my peers who wanted professional careers, starting with the government.”

After working at the Navy Regional Finance Center and then earning an MBA at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School, Nancy opened new doors. She worked as a systems and business process consultant for Arthur Young in Chicago for 10 years, and then at CCC Information Services, an auto claims information processing and software startup, for 16 years, retiring as senior vice president of consulting services.

“It wasn’t easy, all the way along being one of the first,” she says. “I think women have a much better shot to be who they want to be today. It was a lot more difficult in the ’60s.”

But some of that adversity proved useful in her role at the software startup.

“You have to be a self-starter,” Nancy says. “You have to be able to do what needs to be done and not believe there is a fixed career path. Because in a startup, there isn’t one. You have to be flexible and you have to be able to see opportunities.”

After joining the College of Letters & Science Board of Visitors in 2008, Nancy was drawn to the new energy focused on career services for L&S students.

She understood that while liberal arts students had endless options in what they could study and how they could apply their degrees, it could be challenging to articulate their expertise or connect to opportunities. And old-school career prep wasn’t going to cut it.

So when the Borghesis learned about plans for an innovative center for personal and professional development, they became among its first supporters. They appreciated how SuccessWorks lets students explore, experiment and hone their passions and their paths, all the while connecting them to alumni, internships, jobs and more.

“What I love about the program is it’s multidimensional,” David says.

“Quite frankly, other schools could learn a lot from what SuccessWorks is doing.”

The Borghesis, who now live in Hilton Head, South Carolina, and spend summers in Door County, Wisconsin, are also enthusiastic supporters of the Center for Academic Excellence, which provides an inclusive community, academic support and opportunities for students who have historically been underrepresented in higher education.

“CAE resonated with us because it’s supporting students directly,” Nancy says. “It’s focused on helping students overcome obstacles that may have been in their way and ensuring their future success.”

Through her service on the Board of Visitors, Nancy has learned about needs and opportunities within the college. And in her characteristic fashion, she has boldly asked questions, provided generous support and helped create new paths forward to help students thrive.

“I’ve always been the strong female voice in senior management, so that doesn’t intimidate me,” she says. “I like to know I’ve taken a specific need and addressed it.”

The Best Investment

When Nancy and David Borghesi graduated, one thing was certain: They would give, no matter how small the amount, to their university every year.

It’s a promise they’ve kept, and greatly expanded upon, since 1969, and their generous support has spanned programs across campus.

In addition to donating to their respective colleges, they pay special attention to the deans of the College of Letters & Science and the School of Business and their priorities. “They’re the ones who know best,” Nancy says. “How they see the future is a vision we want to support.”

At L&S, the couple helped fund the Borghesi-Mellon Workshops in the Center for the Humanities, which create opportunities for students and faculty to work on interdisciplinary topics outside of the classroom.

David says their philanthropy is inspired by Nancy’s family’s long legacy of giving. And the accounting and economics graduates believe that such support makes strong financial sense.

“Giving to the university is one of the best investments you can ever make in the future of the United States,” David says. “The more people that we can educate at that high of a level, the better our country is going to be.”

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