Riesen's vision enhances The Commons

As a student, Dean Riesen ’79 appreciated the way The Commons served as Cornell’s town square. Thanks to his vision, current Cornellians are enjoying a new sense of urban renewal in the hub of campus life.

First came the Roe Howard Fitness Center in 2004, complete with air-conditioning and televisions. Phase two was the addition of a Starbucks coffee outlet with cozy tables, overstuffed chairs, and wireless-Internet service. Phase three completed the renovation of the Ratt and made the Orange Carpet more open, attractive, and functional.

As a Cornell trustee, Riesen was involved in discussions to make major, but unglamorous, infrastructure updates to The Commons. His experience as a property developer fueled a desire to consider more exciting, immediate changes.

"In a very competitive world you need to move fast and take action,” says Riesen, who is married to Bambi Hull Riesen ’82. “I look at the issue of The Commons and student life in no different terms.”

His insights coalesced while touring prospective college campuses with his eldest son, Karl. He recalls, in particular, the “oohs and ahhs” coming from students and parents alike while visiting Lehigh University’s attractive fitness center at the center of campus, and he began to see that this was a perfect amenity for Cornell’s own town square.

"The way to get things done sometimes is to champion it and offer financial support,” says Riesen, adding that he had specific design ideas for the fitness center and spent many hours working on drawings, choosing equipment, and selling the plan to others at Cornell. He also established and helped fund the Cornell Fellows Program, which has provided paid fellowships to nearly 50 students since 2005.

He says his passion for giving back to Cornell stems from his appreciation of the benefits his liberal arts education provided him.

"When I went to be the treasurer of a German hotel company at the age of 24, it as the liberal arts experience I had at Cornell that allowed me to fit in culturally and interact with German bankers and businessmen on a cultural basis,” he says. “My ability to now do business in Africa and elsewhere is something I relate totally to the liberal arts education I received.”

Riesen is a managing partner in Rimrock Capital Partners in Phoenix. He also chairs the Tanzania Water Fund and the Arizona Free Enterprise Club, and is a director at the Goldwater Institute, Arizona Chamber of Commerce, and the Arizona School Choice Trust.