Roland’s parents, Laura and Barney Aaron, instilled in her a strong sense of generosity and giving has always been an important part of her life.
“I think I grew up with it. The same way we eat three meals a day, we give to those in need. It was just the ethos of the family. It was never put into words, it was just always what was done,” Roland says.
“There are many different reasons why people give and many of them are different from my reasons, but it doesn’t matter. My father always said, ‘As long as people give, perhaps one day they’ll give for the right reasons.’”
She sees her role as a donor as one that allows promising students to fulfill their potential. “I’m giving opportunity. There’s no guarantee people who receive support through my graduate fellowships will have success,” Roland says.
“Yet for most graduate students, they’ve proven that they have a passion for learning. They have the spark. I find that admirable and I’m happy to give them the chance.”
From California to Concordia
Roland caught her first glimpse of Concordia from her condo window in 1978. She had just moved back to Montreal after spending 32 years in California and as she gazed south towards Ste. Catherine St., something caught her eye. “What’s that big, white building?” she asked a friend, pointing at the Henry F. Hall Building. “That’s Concordia University,” her friend replied.
Roland wasted no time and almost immediately made her way down the street and registered for two courses, all before her movers had arrived with her furniture.
“I wanted to take a course on Canadian history and politics and a French course,” Roland recalls. “I told them my diploma was in my luggage with my furniture and I didn’t have it yet. They said that didn’t matter, and I thought, ‘Oh, well that’s nice. I kind of like this university.’ It was really friendly.”
Building the next-gen university
Over the span of 40 years, Roland’s relationship with Concordia has grown and evolved. She began as a student, taking several courses and attending many lectures and speaking events over the years.
“I was grateful that I was so near Concordia, where I could have some mental stimulation,” she says. “When other people play bridge, I go to lectures.”
In 1992, she was invited to join Concordia’s Board of Governors, where she spent 12 years helping guide the university through a period of great expansion. She sat on numerous committees, including the Real Estate Planning Committee that oversaw the development of Quartier Concordia, and, most notably, construction of the Engineering, Computer Science and Visual Arts Integrated Complex.
“I remember discussing classroom sizes,” Roland says. “I told them they can’t build them big — if we build them big we will fill them. You can’t have 800 students in a class, you have no rapport with the professor. You’ll notice even the biggest rooms aren’t very big.”
Roland is a firm believer in ethical investing and business practices and she successfully lobbied to establish a mandatory course in business ethics for JMSB students.
She describes her time on the board and different university committees as great learning experiences and a chance to develop a deeper understanding of the university.