Donna Sorgi ’69 has honored her Carolina experience and a special professor and mentor with her recent bequest to her alma mater.
Sorgi and her husband, David Bernstein, have chosen to leave their legacy with Carolina by making a planned gift to the Institute for the Arts and Humanities (IAH) founded by Professor Ruel W. Tyson, Jr.
“Carolina meant a great deal to me, big formative moments in my life,” she said.
Sorgi grew up in North Carolina where her father, a baseball player with the Boston Red Sox organization, was assigned to one of their farm teams, the Durham Bulls.
Unfortunately, as Sorgi sees it, she was only able to attend UNC for two years: when she was an undergraduate, Carolina had restrictive admission rules for women, which changed with the Title IX ruling in 1972, so she began her college career at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, which at the time was a women’s college, and came to UNC as a junior.
She was a serious student, excited about the intellectual stimulation that was part of UNC’s culture. She asked questions, participated in class discussions and enjoyed “thinking hard” about the challenging societal issues of the day, such as the Vietnam War and civil rights.
Tyson played a significant role in Sorgi’s development, helping her link passion, commitment and intellectual rigor in pursuit of guiding principles. Tyson, director emeritus of the IAH, was a professor of religious studies for nearly 40 years. He also served as department chair.
“He posed questions that challenged you to think about how to live ethically,” she said. “We were able to grapple with those [social] issues, and it helped me shape a way to approach the world in a principled and committed way, not just focusing on myself, but finding a way to make a contribution to society.”
After graduation, she moved to Boston and began searching for a job in social service. With drive, determination and the idealism of the time, Sorgi found her first job at the John F. Kennedy Family Service Center after literally walking through inner city neighborhoods knocking on agency doors, feeling that if she could just get in, talk to someone and show them what she could do, she could land a position. Within three years she was running the Kennedy Center’s youth services program.
She met her husband, David, in 1972. He had just returned from the Peace Corps and was working at a similar neighborhood social service agency. To truly make a difference in public service, David believed they should get graduate degrees, so Donna decided in favor of law school. (David earned his MBA from Harvard University.)
After law school at Northeastern University, Sorgi began a legal career spanning the public and private sectors, first, for the Attorney General of Massachusetts, where she was promoted to deputy attorney general, and then at MCI Telecommunications, eventually retiring as vice president of federal advocacy. After her private sector career, she returned to her public sector roots as senior associate corporation counsel for the City of Boston.
In that capacity, she worked to bring broadband to inner city parents and children, seniors and unemployed adults in low-income Boston neighborhoods. Her work led to a $6 million grant from the Obama administration in 2010, which funded new computers in 11 neighborhood public libraries, training and computers for unemployed adults, and a program called Tech Goes Home that provides training for parents and children in how to use the internet to improve their lives, acquire low-cost broadband service at home and take home a new netbook computer at the end of training. In retirement, Donna served as chair of the board of Tech Goes Home and is now on its advisory committee.
Her life, career and bequest have been fitting tributes to her Carolina background and the influence of one of the College of Arts and Sciences’ most beloved professors.
Sorgi’s family connection to Carolina also runs deep. Her two brothers and sister are alumni. One of her nieces is a 2014 graduate, and two other nieces are current students.
“I was galvanized at Chapel Hill to go out and make a contribution to the world. My professional endeavors have been beyond gratifying and I am happy to be part of the proud UNC legacy.”
By Mary Moorefield