Zoltan “Zoli” Povazsay’s latest move — joining the University of Virginia Law School Foundation, after more than six years in the development office at UVA’s McIntire School of Commerce — took him across town. Povazsay has made much longer journeys than that.
In the fall of 2007, he left his family in Dunakeszi, Hungary, outside Budapest and traveled alone 7,400 miles to West Virginia University on a swimming scholarship. He had never been on an airplane before and spoke not a word of English.
“That was definitely an interesting time,” Povazsay recalled, “but as an 18-year-old, when an opportunity comes up, you jump on it and go from there. I just kind of showed up [in Morgantown], not knowing anything. Looking back, it was like, what the heck was I thinking?”
Already a star on the Hungarian national swim team with several junior titles to his credit, Povazsay was an internationally recruited athlete. And so, while the cultural barriers made his first months at WVU rocky, swimmers everywhere speak the same language. “The only question that matters is, ‘Are you fast or not fast?’” he explained. “The sport keeps you honest because it’s in black and white.”
As a freshman, Povazsay won titles in six events (200- and 500-meter freestyle, 200-, 400- and 800-meter freestyle relay, and 400-meter medley relay) at the Big East championships, which helped him secure All-America status and earn the title of Big East Swimmer of the Year.
Seeking an even higher level of competition, Povazsay transferred to the University of Southern California, where he was a two-time Pac-10 Championship finalist. As a senior, in one of his final meets, Povazsay was part of the Trojans’ winning 800-meter freestyle relay team, which fell two seconds short of setting a school record. While at USC, Povazsay was also part of the Hungarian swim team at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and competed in the 2009 world championships in Rome.
If Povazsay knew that he would eventually have to find something to do besides swimming, he was not yet sure what that would be — or where it would be. After graduating from USC with a degree in business administration, he and his girlfriend (now wife), Annie Kerns, returned to her hometown in Charleston, West Virginia, where he earned a master’s degree in sports management while planning his next move. Eventually, he spent two years as a development officer for the Charleston Area Medical Center Health System, raising funds to build an outpatient cancer center.
In October 2015, Povazsay and Kerns moved to Charlottesville, where he became a development officer at the McIntire School, serving later as associate director of leadership annual giving and alumni experience, associate director of development, and finally, director of major gifts. (Kerns works for the University of Virginia Investment Management Co., known as UVIMCO). He earned American citizenship in 2018 and has also embraced that truly American symbol, the Ford F-150 truck, which is roomy enough to fit his 6-foot, 7-inch frame.
So geographically, at least, it was not a big move when Povazsay joined the Law School Foundation on Jan. 10. As the foundation’s senior director of development for the Western region, he will be responsible for alumni outreach and fundraising in a dozen states — some, like California, that are familiar to him, but several others that are not. Accordingly, he plans to spend a lot of time on the road, meeting alumni, raising funds and supporting the Law School’s mission.
If there are many things about the United States that would mystify a teenager coming here on an athletic scholarship, one thing that mystifies his relatives, Povazsay says, is the uniquely American concept of people financially supporting their alma maters.
“Most of my family back in Hungary have no idea what it is I do,” he laughed, “because [annual giving] does not exist in Europe, especially in eastern Europe. For my grandmother, it is incomprehensible to say that you went someplace to school, you graduated and got a job, and now you’re giving them money.”
Nevertheless, it is a concept that Povazsay has embraced — and he has very good reasons why UVA alumni should support the law school. He is already honing his pitch for the western road trips he has planned.
“Hopefully you had a good experience at the Law School as a student,” he imagines saying to potential donors, “and we would love for the next generation of students to have the same good experiences that you had — or even better ones. Alumni support for the Law School helps fund scholarships, attract the best faculty and provide students with a top-notch experience that sets them up for success in life.”
“We’re doing all these things,” Povazsay said, “and we need your help.”
Jason Wu Trujillo ’01, chief development officer for the Law School Foundation, said Povazsay’s focused efforts in the 13-state Western region “will help us successfully complete the last leg of the Law School’s Honor the Future campaign.”
“I’ve known Zoli and admired his work for many years,” Trujillo said. “I could not be more pleased that he has joined our team.”
Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.