PLEASANT HILL -- James Leventhal, of Albany, and Tonya Johnston, of Berkeley, were two of the honorees at John F. Kennedy University's Alumni of the Year luncheon on March 2 at the school's Pleasant Hill campus.

Leventhal, the deputy director and director of development at Jewish Contemporary Museum in San Francisco, graduated in 2009 with a master's degree from the JFK museum studies program, one of the only MBA's available in that specialty in the country. The Columbia, Md., native has also worked at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Judah L. Magnes Museum in Berkeley.

His first museum job was at the Baltimore Museum of Art when he was in high school.

Leventhal, 43, said one of the things he learned in graduate school is that in the modern economy, museums aren't any different from any other part of the service sector and they, like many companies, need to look at the "triple bottom line." That's where companies measure themselves not just by profit but by customer service and their effect on the world.

Leventhal described museums in the business world as a "cultural nonprofit service economy."

"Museums are a perfect example of the cultural component of the service sector of the economy," he said. "It's about customer service, understanding market, understanding needs."

Another component is reaching customers through social media and modern communication.


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It's "an understanding that you need to go where your customers are," he said, which requires "a strong focus on being aligned with (your) mission and making sure that you are meeting the triple bottom line: People, planet and profit."

Leventhal is married with a 6-year old son. "We moved to the Bay Area to raise a family," he said.

The Museum Studies program is located at JFK University's Berkeley campus, in the building that used to house the Heinz 57 plant.

Johnston, also 43, grew up in Santa Barbara with a love of horses and equestrian sports. One of the things she became interested in as a competitor was sports psychology, a field that was in its infancy when she was growing up.

"It was fascinating for me to watch riders compete at a very high level," Johnston said. "How did they manage themselves? I would look for nonverbal cues when they walked into the ring. And as a result of my own sort of struggles and endeavoring to understand myself, that was part of the equation. In my teens, I was interested in that."

Johnston continued competing while earning a psychology degree from UC Santa Cruz. She then moved to the Bay Area to earn her master's degree in sports psychology from JFK in 1993. She is now a mental skills coach working with clients one on one and holding clinics around the country for a clientele of mostly elite equestrian competitors.

She recently had her first book published, "Inside Your Ride: Mental Skills For Being Happy and Successful With Your Horse."

"It's really helping them develop tools to perform," Johnston said. "To have a mental routine that helps get them to feel confident and more consistent when they're riding. Stay in the moment so you're not thinking too far ahead to prepare yourself. Your horse is an absolute mirror of what is in your head."

Johnston said one of her favorite parts of the sports psychology program was working at a camp through the university that uses sports psychology to teach life skills to incarcerated teens. Students in the program intern at the camp, and Johnston stayed on as director for more than 10 years.

Johnston, who will be married in August, has an 8-year old daughter and two future stepdaughters.

The other honorees were: Piedmont High School Principal Richard Kitchens; Valla Hoffman, administrative law judge for the state Department of Healthcare Services; Ceylan Hulya and Lisa Rasmussen, who cofounded Art 4 All People; Primo (P.J.) Quesada, vice president of marketing at Ramar Foods; and Dennis Wade, veterans program administrator for Anka Behavioral Health.