Gene TrainorIn just over 40 years, UMBC has progressed from a fledgling university to a nationally renowned institution of higher education. And when it comes to areas such as undergraduate teaching or encouraging diversity in scientific and technological disciplines, UMBC is now regularly mentioned in the same breath with Harvard University, MIT and Stanford University.

But that growth didn’t happen without a lot of help. And an important element in helping UMBC rise in national prestige has been the university’s successful Exceptional by Example campaign.

This year, the board of UMBC’s Alumni Association has recognized the key role played by its alumni in the campaign by awarding Gene Trainor ’86, health science and policy, the 2010 Distinguished Service Award. Trainor will receive his award at the university Alumni of the Year awards ceremony in October.

UMBC embarked on its very first sustained capital campaign in 2006, in the same year that the university celebrated the 40th anniversary of its founding. Among the goals of the campaign was to engage the university’s alumni more directly in philanthropic giving to UMBC.

Trainor agreed to serve as the chair of the Alumni Campaign Committee. Among his tasks in that role were serving as chairman of committee meetings and training exercises, sending out regular e-mails to committee members – and even holding a campaign event at his own home. Thanks to his unflagging support of the campaign, UMBC’s alumni not only met but surpassed their goal of raising $3 million to support the university’s various initiatives.

“Gene dove into the role of UMBC Alumni Ambassador, and enthusiastically reached out to alumni locally and across the county,” says Greg Simmons, M.P.P. ’04, who serves as UMBC’s vice president of Institutional Advancement. “His candor, enthusiasm, and leadership have helped change our expectations of how alumni can work alongside faculty and staff to help UMBC achieve our short-term goals and our long-term vision.”

When it comes to vision, it’s no surprise that Trainor was a perfect fit. He’s built a career in supporting and facilitating the efforts of venture capital firms. Throughout his career at companies such as Cramer Rosenthal McGlynn, New Enterprise Associates, and, most recently, Foundation Capital, Trainor has trotted the globe helping firms grow and expand their offices – and ensure their futures through succession planning.

“I am not an entrepreneur per se,” says Trainor. “But I believe in and have a passion for entrepreneurship. I realized I wanted to be closer to that side of the world.”

Trainor sees himself as the proverbial “man behind the curtain,” handling the day-to-day operations that are critical to a firm’s success. Successful navigation of this difficult behind-the-scenes work, he observes, allows a firm’s investing partners more flexibility and time to do their job: seek out bold new ideas and provide the creative minds behind them with the necessary funding to develop and sharpen their ideas and eventually bring them to the marketplace.

“Most of the innovation in the world is driven by venture-backed companies,” he says. “My role is to run the internal operations of the firm so the investing partners can do what they do best.”

Through his willingness to engage in philanthropic work and service, Trainor has also brought that spirit of discovery and adventure to another marketplace of ideas: UMBC.

“I was a commuter student during college, so I didn’t build up a vast network of friends,” says Trainor. “It was neat to have the opportunity to come back to UMBC and meet alums from various years while working on the campaign to create awareness for the University.”

When Trainor talks to people about making an investment, he says that he asks them to consider where their resources – time, money, or effort – can have the greatest impact.

“There are very few places where I think you can get a better bang for your buck than UMBC,” he says. “All you need to do is look at the progress UMBC has made in the last ten to 20 years. Even with limited resources, it has made incredible progress not just regionally but nationally.”

— Meredith Purvis

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