By Stella Katsipoutis-Varkanis

Look up Tanuja Dehne ’93 on Google, and you can spend hours scrolling through the achievements and accolades attached to her name.

As the president and CEO of the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation in Morristown, N.J.—a philanthropic organization that has distributed more than $500 million in grants and technical support to local nonprofits over the last 47 years—Dehne is spearheading “Imagine a New Way,” the foundation’s transformation toward becoming an antiracist organization.

Dehne also is committed to serving her community and sharing her knowledge in business, law, clean energy, governance, and leadership development. She has served on several not-for-profit boards, including Lafayette College (where she helps support initiatives like alumni development, the Climate Action Plan, and the presidential search), New York Public Radio, and the New Jersey Pandemic Relief Fund. Dehne has served on four publicly traded companies and is an educator and advocate on environmental, social, and governance (ESG) matters in corporate boardrooms, and she is the co-chair of the advisory board of Drexel University’s Gupta Governance Institute. And to top it all off: She’s a certified yoga instructor who integrates self-care, mindfulness, and movement into her personal and professional lives.

What the search engines miss, however, is Dehne’s tight familial and personal ties with Lafayette College—which, she says, have had a powerful impact on her life—from her upbringing, to raising her own family, and to her professional achievements. Here, Dehne shows us around her family tree—the roots of which are deeply embedded in, and entwined with, the Lafayette campus and community.

How did you come to serve on the Board of Trustees, and what does the opportunity mean to you?

While my family and I have our own deep roots with Lafayette and engage with the community in different ways, serving on the board was something to aspire to—but, honestly, seemed out of reach. I am grateful that the members of the board did not see it that way. I met a Lafayette trustee at a governance event in New York, and that is when the conversation began about the possibility. Why not? 

What an honor and privilege it is to reengage with Lafayette as a trustee and to be able to share my professional experiences where my personal perspectives as an alumnus, faculty child, and parent (of college and soon-to-be college-age kids) are valued. It’s humbling to be part of the community in this capacity, a place that’s deeply personal to me, and to help position Lafayette for a thriving and enduring future in the city of Easton, which is also my hometown.

What was it like growing up in the Lafayette community?

Lafayette has been a part of my life and part of my DNA since before I was born. My father is a retired emeritus professor of biology of 40 years, and my mom was a member of the campus community as a teacher in the child care center for over 30 years. I was born in Easton Hospital, and I literally grew up on the Lafayette campus. Our first house in Easton was on Hamilton Street where the Williams Center for the Arts is now located. I have vivid memories as a 3-year-old running across the street to climb on top of the leopard in front of the old gym, or down to the pool, where I learned how to swim.

My parents hosted students at our home for freshman orientation barbecues and volleyball games, welcomed international students for Thanksgiving and Christmas, and invited interim session biology students for homemade Indian dinners. As kids, my siblings and I had many opportunities to socialize with the College community and participate in on-campus activities (like All College Day), sporting events, and cultural programs. Growing up in an academic household and on a college campus was a formative and fun experience. I was part of the Lafayette family anytime I stepped on campus—and I still feel that way today.

Both of your parents had long and storied careers at the College, and they each left a lasting impact in their own ways. Can you talk about the work they did there?

My father, Prof. Shyamal Majumdar, began his career at Lafayette in the Biology Department in 1969. He taught many courses, including genetics and microbiology. My father is very passionate about the independent research that he led with his students—which has been a special, hands-on experience for students at Lafayette College. Biology students leave Lafayette with a level of experience that one would expect at graduate schools. 

He mentored and taught countless students and elevated their research, writing, and presentation at prestigious conferences across the country. He speaks fondly about his students having developed long-standing relationships with them beyond their time at Lafayette. He has had a generational impact on biology students, many of whom became doctors and researchers. Roger Newton ’72—one of the co-developers of Lipitor—is one of many alums who remains close with my father. My father is also a global thought leader and lifelong learner who continues his work in retirement.

My mother, Jhorna Majumdar, taught at the child care center on campus for over 30 years—in many cases, caring for children of children she taught when they were in preschool. Nurturing the children at the center as her own, she too had a positive, generational impact on lives in the Lafayette community. When I get back to campus (or these days in private Zoom messages), folks often pull me aside to share a tidbit memory or story and ask, “How is the professor? How is Miss Jhorna?”

With such strong family ties to Lafayette, you seem like you were destined to go there. Was the school your top choice when the time came to send out applications?

Lafayette was my one and only choice. Attending Lafayette was the best thing I could have done. I was so excited to be there and had so much fun. My husband, Phillip Dehne ’93, calls me a ‘joiner’ because I took advantage of every opportunity I could. I was a coxswain on the crew team, worked at the library and in the Anthropology and Sociology Department, was an RA, joined a sorority, and was a prison tutor volunteer. Why not? Even though I tried hard to detach and form my own identity and path at Lafayette, I could not resist my mom’s cooking, so I would periodically jog home the 3 miles for dinner.

My oldest sister and brother had terrific, yet different, experiences at Lafayette. My sister Mita Majumdar Banerjee ’84 was a biology major who went on to teach in middle and high school, earn more degrees, and now works in information systems. My younger brother, Dr. Amith Majumdar ’95, majored in biology and art, and was an athlete (track and field) at Lafayette. He has a thriving pediatric dentistry practice in Bethlehem. My sister Shupriya Boyle found her calling as a nurse after graduating from Moravian College and the nursing program at Cedar Crest College. We all have strong ties and connections to Lafayette and the Lehigh Valley.

So, you not only grew up on campus and attended Lafayette, but also married a fellow grad.

My husband, Phillip Dehne ’93, was a history major at Lafayette and pursued his doctorate in history, inspired by many of his professors at Lafayette. A historian and professor, Phil currently serves as executive dean at St. Joseph’s College in Brooklyn. He remains very close with his friends and fraternity brothers from Lafayette. We were married in Colton Chapel in 1999, and live a quiet life in New Jersey with our five children and two dogs.

What was your academic experience like at the College? Did your Lafayette education and experience live up to your expectations?

My Lafayette education was a great foundation in so many ways. I had many interests, and Lafayette gave me the opportunity to expand my horizons in a variety of ways. While the subject matter of my majors was interesting, I was drawn to the wonderful professors in both disciplines (international affairs and anthropology and sociology). They were encouraging yet appropriately critical and pushed me outside of my comfort zone. The classroom experience, the smaller class sizes, and the liberal arts environment together gave me the confidence to speak up, be heard, and dig deeper. The rigor and curiosity helped me quite a bit in law school and in my professional life.

Why is it important that you maintain your connection with your alma mater today?

Loyalty, friendship, pride, and lifelong values of learning and making a difference in this world all inspire me to stay connected with Lafayette. So many important parts of my life began at Lafayette. My parents raised a family on campus. My husband and I were married on campus, and our professional lives began here. Coming back to Lafayette continues our story. It’s my turn to give back to a community that has given me so much. I am thankful to be able to help shape the future of a college that has proven resilient, caring, community-focused, and courageous in service to nurturing generations of Lafayette leaders.

Are you hoping that any of your children will attend Lafayette?

Phil and I are blessed with five amazing and unique children—each of whom will follow their own path—and we are raising them to be fearless in life and learning. We won’t push, but fingers crossed that at least one experiences Lafayette.