2023 Alumnus of the Year: Robin Ferrer ’00
Milton Hershey School’s 2023 Alumnus of the Year Robin Ferrer ’00 described his time at the school as his most significant and transformative experience. Before enrolling at MHS his experience battling inner-city poverty in New York City left him broken and hopeless with a loss of ambition and dreams. Today, he serves as system vice president of emergency services for the Mount Sinai Health System, the largest academic medical center in the same city where he grew up.
Robin enrolled at MHS in August 1994 when he was 13 years old. His mother had been incarcerated, and he and his siblings were placed in foster care.
“By the grace of God,” said Robin, “We met a priest who helped my mother fill out an application for MHS.”
Once accepted, Robin and his mother traveled by taxi from New York City to tour the school on a beautiful, sunny day. Robin remembers seeing groups of students walking to the pool and others outside playing basketball. He thought to himself, “Look at all the space they have to play.”
Robin said his mother was incredibly wise to enroll him at the school. He recalled her saying, “They can do for you what I will never be able to do for you.”
The Power of Caring Staff
Robin still remembers his mother and sister dropping him off at his first student home—Laureldale. He cried uncontrollably as the taxi pulled away. For the weeks following he believed he would never see his family again and wrote many letters to his mother.
Robin had difficulty adjusting to life at MHS and the transition into a very disciplined household was hard. At the same time, he was overwhelmed by the resources available to the students, including the access he had to places like the clothing center. The caring staff at MHS helped Robin adjust and develop confidence.
“The love, values, and lessons I was taught changed my trajectory in life,” said Robin. “I finally felt love, affection, and like someone really cared about me.” His coaches, teachers, houseparents, cafeteria staff, and many others demonstrated an interest in him. “They wanted me to be successful and to move forward in life,” said Robin. “Everyone believed in me!”
Each staff member contributed a life lesson that helped Robin create a value system for himself.
“Each person shared something with me that gave me hope and promise for the future,” said Robin. “But more importantly, every person at MHS showed me love and warmth. They accepted me for who I am and were deeply invested in making me a better person.”
Among the individuals who had a significant impact on Robin’s transformation at MHS were Mrs. Accorsi, secretary to high school principal Jack Storm; Cliff Ainsworth, coach; Deborah Ainsworth, Sunday school teacher; teachers Gina (Carlo) Allessie ’90 and her husband, Andy; James Black ’75, who worked in athletics and student recreation programs; Scott Richardson and Bob Ebert, basketball coaches; Spanish teacher Christine Fisher; football coach Bob Guyer; former MHS administrator Mavis Kelley and her husband, David; former teacher James Martin; gym teacher Dusty McMillen; and Wiliam Zapata, then a teacher and now a college and career counselor.
Some of Robin’s best memories from MHS are the anticipation of snow days when the plow came through the student home neighborhood, Friday night recreation, and dance parties that took place around holidays and special events. One memory that stands out was having the opportunity to ride in an airplane when his houseparents took him and his housemates to an air show.
Having played football and basketball and participated in track and field and cross country, Robin also has many good sports memories which include being a member of the football team that went undefeated during the regular season for the first time in school history. During his tenure as a Spartan, he also played on the last high school team to play a basketball game at Old Senior Hall (now Catherine Hall), while being a part of many successful track teams.
Robin also remembers going to Matamorros, Mexico with a group of MHS staff to help build homes for local families. He described it as an incredible adventure that made him realize how blessed he and his peers were to be MHS students. Robin developed skills at MHS that he still uses in his personal and professional life, including resilience, attention to detail, relentless work ethic, caring about others, and supporting his community. The most critical skill was the ability to use his past to create his future.
“That thought, skill, whatever you want to call it, made it clear in my mind that I had a shot at becoming someone in the world,” Robin said.
Caring for Others
Robin discovered his passion for health care and helping others at MHS. While in 10th grade, he took a health occupations class taught by Michelle Eckert and Jackie Dameshek. It was an introductory class to the basics in healthcare, and immediately Robin started to imagine his future. That is when Robin decided to become a nurse with the intention of helping others. Subsequent classes related to healthcare helped him confirm his decision to study nursing in college.
After graduating from MHS, Robin enrolled at Penn State University where he earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing and started his career as a registered nurse. He completed all his clinical rotations at Milton S. Hershey Medical Center in Hershey, Pennsylvania, before working for several years as a bedside nurse at New York University (NYU) and NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital (NYP).
Having developed a passion for leadership and wanting to help people, he went back to school to earn master’s degrees in business administration and nursing from the College of Mount Saint Vincent, where he now teaches business and health care management courses for undergraduate students. His experience and additional education helped him as he progressed in various leadership roles that led to where he is today as a system vice president at Mount Sinai Health System in New York City.
Robin said he has been very fortunate so far in his career. He has worked at the top three academic medical centers in New York City. As a brand-new nurse, he started at NYU in a medical-surgical/transplant unit, then transitioned to emergency medicine at NYP where he worked as a clinical nurse. Soon after arriving, he was promoted to nursing care coordinator, patient care director, and finally director of operations and nursing for six different clinical services. He left NYP when he was recruited to serve in his current role with Mount Sinai Health System where he oversees operations and personnel, including nursing, across seven emergency departments throughout the city.
Robin’s commitment to caring for others was recognized when he was awarded the “Patient Centered Care Leadership Award” by NYP in 2016.
The MHS Fingerprint
The values, lessons, even setbacks at MHS helped propel Robin’s personal and professional life.
“Everything I do has an MHS fingerprint on it,” Robin said. “There’s absolutely no doubt that I am where I am today because of the influence and values that were instilled in me at MHS. Every lap on the track, sprint on the court, and down on the field has proven to be a valuable lesson in my life.”
Robin remains connected to MHS by volunteering with students, and he and his wife created an annual scholarship for an MHS graduating senior who plans to pursue an education in health care. MHS awarded Robin an Alumni Achievement Award for Career Accomplishment in 2021.
Beyond his professional responsibilities, Robin enjoys reading and running. He spends a considerable amount of time running to keep himself balanced and focused. He also enjoys gardening and spends as much time outdoors as possible. Robin said tending to his home and property brings him peace and happiness.
Robin also makes time for his family and to serve his community. He and his wife, Zuleika, who were married in December 2017 at The Hotel Hershey, have three children: Gabriella, Robin, Jr. (“RJ”), and Ellie Grace. Robin and Zuleika host a toy drive at their home every December, and they support local charities and their church throughout the year. Robin has been a blood donor since college, he coaches his son’s little league baseball team, and is a board member for the North Riverdale Baseball League. He also mentors young health care leaders.
Robin described the influence MHS has had on his life as multifaceted. “The environment, home, safety, and feeling of peace all contributed to my development,” Robin said. “My teachers, coaches, the staff at MHS, and many others provided in ways that I never thought were possible. At MHS, I was given everything I needed to be successful in my adult life.”
Robin offered the following advice for current students:
It’s true that while we sometimes can’t control our past, we are very much in control of making decisions that will shape our future. It took me some time, but I learned to ask for help and realized it’s okay to be vulnerable. After graduating from MHS, I like to think that we have a deep sense of responsibility to pay it forward in all facets of life for the investment that was made in us while at the school.
- R.N., Medical-Surgical and Transplant Unit, New York University Hospital
- R.N., Emergency Department, New York-Presbyterian Hospital (NYP)
- Nursing Care Coordinator, NYP
- Patient Care Coordinator, NYP
- Director of Operations and Nursing for six clinical services, NYP
- Adjunct Professor, College of Mount Saint Vincent
- System Vice President, Emergency Services, Mount Sinai Health System
About the Alumnus/Alumna of the Year Award
The Milton Hershey School Alumnus/Alumna of the Year Award began in 1954. Recipients of the award have demonstrated humanitarianism and exemplary service to others, achieved distinguished service in their careers, and exhibited high standards of achievements, both personally and professionally.