College of Arts & Sciences


With a Big Purpose in Mind

Bonnie T. Feld (CAS’73) heads Arts & Sciences fund drive.

By Jeffrey Cruikshank

Bonnie T. Feld (CAS’73) is a firm believer in the liberal arts and sciences: “It’s important to remember that nowadays your first job is almost never your last job, and you have to be prepared to switch gears,” she says. “You have to be entrepreneurial in your thinking, and the liberal arts and sciences prepare you extremely well for that.”

A native of northern New Jersey, Bonnie is married to Kenneth Feld (SMG’70), chairman and CEO of family-owned Feld Entertainment, Inc. Since 1973, she has played an integral role in the family business, which produces Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey®, Monster Jam, Supercross, Disney on Ice, and Disney Live! Its shows are seen by more than 30 million people worldwide each year.

Bonnie T. Feld proudly rides an elephant as it marches to a venue with the Greatest Show on Earth® for family-owned Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey®. Photo by Heinz Kluetmeier

Her commitment to a high-quality liberal arts education is one of the reasons Feld has agreed to serve as chair of the campaign for the College of Arts & Sciences—part of BU’s first-ever University-wide fundraising drive. “More selfishly,” she says, “I gain a lot personally just from interacting with leaders like Bob Brown and Gina Sapiro. They both are extremely goal-oriented, strategic in their thinking, and global in their outlook. I learn something new whenever I spend time with them.”

Dean of Arts & Sciences Virginia Sapiro comments, “We are so pleased that Bonnie has taken on this key role. She knows us well and is one of our most effective advocates and spokespeople.”

“The College of Arts & Sciences and the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences are central to many of the great things that are happening at BU, both on the undergraduate and graduate levels,” adds President Robert A. Brown. “So the job that Bonnie Feld has taken on is exceptionally important. I have every confidence that she and Dean Sapiro, working together, will lead CAS and GRS to great success.”

Bonnie and her husband Kenneth lead by example. She and her family have been most generous in their support of Boston University in recent years. Kenneth is the chair of the recently announced Campaign for Boston University. In 2009, their Feld Family Foundation pledged $10 million to create three endowed professorships: one each in the College of Arts & Sciences, School of Management, and College of Communication, the schools attended by Bonnie, Kenneth, and their daughter Alana (COM’02), respectively. The foundation is jointly administered by the Feld family, which also includes daughters Nicole and Juliette. Early in 2010, Sapiro announced that Robert L. Devaney, professor of mathematics, had been named the first CAS Feld Family Professor of Teaching Excellence.

“In these difficult economic times, we wanted to be able to provide several of the faculties at BU a morale boost. We wanted to help them to continue to set their sights high and dream big dreams.”

“When we decided to make those gifts,” Feld recalls, “we had a number of goals in mind. First, of course, we wanted to support important work at the University, and we had several very productive conversations with Bob Brown about where we could have the most impact.

And second, in these difficult economic times, we wanted to be able to provide several of the faculties at BU a morale boost. We wanted to help them continue to set their sights high and dream big dreams.”

In addition to her philanthropic pursuits, Feld also devotes herself to the family-owned and -operated Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Center for Elephant Conservation, which conducts research on reproduction, retirement, and other issues pertaining to conserving the endangered Asian elephant—an animal that she says is “almost impossible to overestimate,” in terms of its intelligence, dexterity, and memory. “We have added 23 elephants to the world population of this endangered species,” she says with obvious pride.

When asked what she has learned from working with elephants, Feld pauses, and responds as befits a dedicated altruist: “They want a purpose. They need a purpose. And I think that’s true for all of us—humans and elephants alike. We all do better when we have a purpose. You want to be able to answer the question, ‘Why am I here?’”