Alumni Interview: Eric Mandel ’99 Reflects on What Fuels Him Today

Eric in Hong Kong during a 6-month tour around the world

Soccer ruled Eric Mandel’s experience at Catlin Gabel (attended from 8-12th grade). Read how his work ethic, pursuit of passions, and leaving everything on the field has fueled his professional career and personal life from Portland to New York City, around the world (twice), and back home to raise his family.

When you think of Catlin Gabel, what comes to mind?
What comes to mind is community, first and foremost. My 4-year-old daughter, Emma, came home from school one day and told us about one of the Honeybee rules, “You can’t say you can’t play.” This means if a group of kids are playing on the playground, anyone can join in the game if they want to. Catlin teaches children how to take care of themselves and to care for others. We’re taught to use our privilege in order to make our communities stronger, better, and healthier. We’re all on this earth together.

Tell us a little bit about how you spent your time as a student here. What sorts of clubs, sports, and activities were you involved in?
Lots of soccer. With practices and games 5-7 days a week, it was central to my growing up. Fortunately, Catlin also required me to dabble in theater, and it was incredible to see what a community of 8th graders could achieve.

In the spirit of community, I’ve recently helped start a group called Catlin Alumni Athletics. During last summer and fall, a group of us (primarily alumni) met for some weekend pick-up soccer games, including the alumni soccer game during Homecoming Weekend. We had people of all abilities out there and just had a blast. I hope to broaden the group and include anyone who’s interested, including faculty, staff, and parents. The intention is to bring people together to do something they love while focusing on wellness. I think simply being together and doing active things are good for the soul. And, it’s really fun!

What lessons from Catlin Gabel do you still carry with you today?
Lesson number one was always apply critical thought. Along with that, considering different perspectives is important, even if you don’t like what the other person is saying. We were taught that every person is valuable and has something to contribute. What can we learn by thinking through the counterargument? Critical thinking also invokes us to question the status quo, to ask why things are done as they are. I took away from my experience the need to ask, “Is our current way of doing things inefficient or even absurd when looked at objectively by an outsider?” I work in community development where there’s a lot at stake and countless different perspectives to consider. I owe a debt of gratitude to Catlin for teaching me to think outside myself and intentionally consider many lines of thinking.

Where is your favorite spot on campus?
My favorite spot is at the edge of the forest, just before reaching the lower soccer field…that’s a special place. After spending so much energy at practice or on the field during a game, I found solace among the trees and really appreciated the forest’s calming effect. The pickup games with Catlin Alumni Athletics have brought me right back to that spot.

Thinking about your professional life, what have you learned through your work that would be helpful for current Catlin Gabel students to know?
My advice for current students is to trust that you will leave Catlin Gabel equipped with the tools and skills to learn anything you need to know, which will take you just about anywhere you want to go.

I’m a senior analyst at Killian Pacific, a real estate development company committed to elevating the prosperity and sustainability of our region. It might be surprising to know that I rarely use any of the direct knowledge I learned from Catlin Gabel, University of Pennsylvania, or Columbia University, for that matter. I learned the specific day-to-day skills while working at a non-profit in New York called the Community Preservation Corporation (CPC). My first task there was to audit our clients’ financial statements. Mind you, I had no idea what a corporate financial statement was, or how to do much of what was asked of me. Company leadership put me in that position not because I had an education or experience directly related to the work, but because they recognized my work ethic and ability to work as part of a team, to think critically, and to simply figure things out.

Words to live by
“Always do your best” is inspired in part by my soccer days “to leave everything on the field.” This line of thinking forces me to prioritize and think about how I can be most impactful. If I can’t – or won’t – put my full effort into something, is it worth doing?

That was a question I had to ask myself before quitting soccer after my junior year in college, a decision made in part because I’d changed majors from international relations to urban planning. I loaded up my final three semesters with nine real estate and urban planning classes. If I was only worried about grades at the time, I never would have taken on so many courses. Fortunately, Catlin’s workload, de-emphasis of grades, encouragement of pursuing my passions, and taking risks prepared me well to do my best.

While it’s impossible to always do your best, there’s a lot of work that needs to get done in this world, a lot to experience, a lot to appreciate, and not a lot of time. So, always do your best.