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“Johns Hopkins has a Heart”

January 4, 2024 by Sara Falligant

Engineering alumnus supports the future of Hopkins through a charitable gift annuity

Michael Brenner, Engr ’63 (PhD), keeps Johns Hopkins at the front of his shelf and on the top of his mind — the 2019 Johns Hopkins Alumni Associate Heritage Award recipient displays his award, featuring a bust of Mr. Hopkins, above his desk in Brooklyn.

johns hopkins engineering alum and charitable gift annuity donor michael brenner
Michael Brenner, Engr ’63 (PhD), has served as a student mentor, executive coach, and alumni council leader.
Photograph by Andrew French

“It’s important to me, and I’m very proud of it,” he says. “Mr. Hopkins is in front of me at all times.”

In his six decades as a Blue Jay, Brenner has served as a student mentor, executive coach, and alumni council leader. Establishing a new charitable gift annuity benefiting the Whiting School of Engineering is just his latest way to make a lasting impact.

We spoke with Brenner about his giving, career, and longtime love of the place he says “has a heart.”

This year marks 60 years since your Hopkins graduation. What has motivated you to stay involved?

I’ve been other places, both as faculty and as a student, and there’s just no institution that comes close to Johns Hopkins. What I found was the more I did for Johns Hopkins, the more I learned about Johns Hopkins, the more I liked and respected Johns Hopkins. And I wanted to do more. All that contributed to me wanting to step up and give.

You’ve long maintained a dynamic volunteer relationship with Hopkins. How has it evolved?

The first thing I was very active in was the Society of Engineering Alumni (SEA). We assisted the career office in mock interviews with Hopkins students. It felt like it was a very meaningful activity, and it was also a way for me to get to know other alumni. Eventually, I was invited to be on SEA’s executive committee, and that felt nice.

When I turned 60, I got a call from a Johns Hopkins development officer asking me to coffee. At that point in my life, I did not have enough extra money to be notably generous. But I told them I’d be happy to use my life and business experience to be helpful. Johns Hopkins found several creative ways to invite me to do things for the Whiting School of Engineering. They were all very enjoyable for me, and I also got to know the school better as a whole. I liked everything that was happening.

After several years of volunteering, you began giving financially to Hopkins, initially with a commitment from your individual retirement account (IRA) and then an outright gift of stock. What encouraged you to then establish a charitable gift annuity (CGA)?

I had built up a fairly large individual retirement account, and I could get by without 5% of that. Because of my core enthusiasm for Johns Hopkins, I decided to give that 5% to the institution. However, as time went on, I realized the IRA will self-liquidate, as the government requires you to take all the money out by age 98. When I was 65, the idea of reaching 98 didn’t seem like something to think about. But I’m now 88, and it is time to pay attention.

A charitable gift annuity is an alternate way to give money and get something back. It’s not a huge amount, but it’s some payback. And it means that it’s assured that the university will get some money.

What will your CGA support?

It’s going into a general fund for the Whiting School. Knowing what’s right to do with the money is a hard job, and I trust Dean Ed Schlesinger. He is a very thoughtful man.

When he speaks to alumni about the things that are happening at the school, it’s exciting. I think it’s interesting and helpful to the world that Johns Hopkins has a medical school, and the engineering department interacts with the medical area. Some of the engineering work that is done is framed in some way by medical needs. I think that’s cool.

Your gift will support future Hopkins engineers, though your own work moved away from engineering. How did your Hopkins education prepare you for a diverse career?

After seven years of working in engineering, doing the skill I had worked very hard to learn at Johns Hopkins, I took a chance and became an associate professor of management at NYU in the business school. After three years of teaching, I then became an executive search consultant. I was utilizing the engineering mindset of knowing what to ask.

That is something that Hopkins’ environment encouraged each student to think through — what do you really need to know? It became the basis for a 30-year career.

Around the time I was ready to think of retiring, I decided it would be fun to do a little coaching. I think the Hopkins education I got allowed me to adapt to different ways of doing things, and I had a successful 12 years as an executive coach. It was a very rewarding last step in my career.

This story first appeared in the Winter 2023 edition of Planning Matters.

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Topics: Alumni, volunteers, Whiting School of Engineering, Fuel Discovery