By Michael Jacobs | mjacobs@atljewishtimes.com

OP-Publisher Mike Leven

Mike Leven

Mike Leven says he never thought he would put his name on anything but a check, but after he committed to the biggest individual contribution in the history of Kennesaw State University, the Michael A. Leven School of Culinary Sustainability and Hospitality was born.

The regents of the University System of Georgia approved the name change April 15.

Leven, who began working in the hospitality industry about two years before Kennesaw State launched in 1963, is donating $5 million to endow a faculty chair and provide student scholarships.

He said Barry Hyman approached him about the possibility of a major gift, and Leven was impressed by university President Dan Papp and the programs and faculty at the hospitality school. His due diligence included talking to fellow Jewish community member Michael Coles, for whom the Kennesaw School of Business is named.

Leven, who is serving as the CEO of the Georgia Aquarium after retiring last year as president of Las Vegas Sands, said Kennesaw State attracted him because it’s a state school in the Atlanta area, it’s affordable for the middle class, it attracts many students who, like Leven, are in the first generation in their family to attend college, and the hospitality program is less than 2 years old.

“Change is not easy as the bureaucracy gets intensified,” Leven said.

He said he thinks he can help the Kennesaw school because he has made a lot of friends in more than 54 years in the industry. He can be a mentor and facilitate student connections in the industry. He also can help close the gaps between what the school teaches and what the industry needs.

Leven hopes to see the hospitality school grow from about 200 people taking its courses now to 500 or even 1,000 and become one of the best of its kind in the Southeast if not the nation within a decade.

“If I can help it grow by being a resource to them, fine,” Leven said. “I don’t want to be intrusive; I just want to be used.”