Executive MBA alumna Leslie Howard gives back to propel students forward
When Leslie Howard (MBA 2003) used to walk the halls of the Daniels building, she would read the quotes on the walls from the College’s namesake, Bill Daniels, and feel a sense of awe for the cable industry pioneer and philanthropist. “He was a legend in cable,” she said. But Howard, a former senior vice president for STARZ Encore, has more in common with the cable legend than a background in the industry. She shares his philanthropic spirit and desire to provide disadvantaged youth with a hand up in life.
In 2003, Howard and her husband, Gary, formed the Gary and Leslie Howard Family Foundation, which provides scholarships to students with financial need who want to study business at DU or Colorado State University (CSU), Gary’s alma mater.
“The whole idea behind it was to really help people who couldn’t afford to go to school,” Leslie Howard said. “We wanted to enable people with financial need to be able to get an education because we’ve always felt like education is the way to break the cycle of poverty. That’s been our mantra and it’s why we started the scholarship programs at DU and CSU.”
In addition to receiving funds from the foundation to pay for school, scholarship recipients from both universities come together each year to have lunch on the DU campus, hear from business executives and connect with one another.
“We really wanted to have more of a connection with the students versus just writing a check,” she said. “And even last year we did it via Zoom and we were blown away by the students. We just thought, ‘Wow, this affirms why we do this.’ The students were so mature and super resourceful during COVID, and so resilient. I know that’s an overused word in these last 18 months, but they were. It was just incredible.”
The Howards are also founders of Miracles on Ice, an annual one-week camp that brings 9–11-year-old kids from underserved communities to DU to receive math and reading instruction, and to learn how to play hockey at Magness Arena.
“Hockey’s a very expensive sport and it’s not generally available in most middle schools,” Howard said. “Most of the kids have never been on skates but by the end of the week they are playing in a full game. We also do math and reading sessions every day and to see the kids’ transformation from the beginning of the week to the end is astonishing.”
Howard’s passion for education, college readiness, and supporting low-income families and communities earned her the community service award from the DU Alumni Association at the 2012 Founders Day Gala. Her philanthropic spirit is also something she hopes to pass on to her twin daughters, one of whom is a current sophomore at DU.
“We’ve been very fortunate and consequently they’ve been fortunate,” Howard said. “And so, it’s always been a priority for us to expose them to these opportunities, to show them how important it is in life to give back if you can, whether it’s with your money or your time or what have you. You need to be able to do that.”
Howard’s words harken back to those of Bill Daniels when he said, “Give back to the world that gives so much to you.”
So far, the Howards have given well over $1 million in scholarships, impacting the lives of 86 students (and counting) through the family’s foundation, and many more through Miracles on Ice.
“If we help just one student who may not have been able to go to school otherwise, we feel like, okay, this is absolutely worth it,” Howard said.