Dora Guo

Dads can be quite the enigmas. Sure, they may go to work, but what do they really do all day? Many kids find themselves mystified by their fathers, which TikToks such as this, this and this make light of. But, despite all the playful joking, real questions still remain about who these men truly are.

The News talked to four Yale Dads in an attempt to unravel a bit of this mystery, and in the process got a closer look into the lives of some of the fathers behind Yalies.

Jim Sailer

Jim Sailer is a man of above average height, one who can be loud in group settings and is known to make the occasional dad joke. This information comes from his son, though; over the phone all that can be known is that his voice holds a tone of kindness and sincerity. Sailer works at a nonprofit in New York City called the Population Council. He is the executive director of the Center for Biomedical Research within this nonprofit, and his work contributes to the development of new contraceptives, as well as HIV and STI prevention products for men and women.

“The work is about the whole planet, the globe, and not just the United States or Europe or something like that. We’re trying to give people options — all around the world — to manage their fertility, which is a fundamental part of anyone’s life and health,” Sailer said.

From day to day, Sailer has strategy sessions with various staff members, which can take the form of face-to-face meetings, or, more recently, Zooms. These meetings help them determine which products are needed and which ones they should invest in and develop. Before the pandemic, Sailer often traveled to visit companies or academic institutions that the nonprofit wanted to partner with, and occasionally he met with government officials, both domestic and international, to talk about the Population Council’s work.  

While Sailer describes himself as “very lucky” to have his current position, his life didn’t begin at the Population Council. He attended Swarthmore College, where he received a bachelor’s in political science, and later went on to receive a master’s in public policy from the Harvard Kennedy School. From there he had a variety of jobs, ranging from management consulting to work in New York City government, before ending up at the Population Council. 

Though he was offered a wide array of professional opportunities over the course of his career, Sailer explained that he didn’t always possess every single qualification for those jobs. Instead, he had certain skills that held potential. This has made his work all the more enriching, and has given Sailer the opportunity to be a “lifelong learner.”

In his free time, Sailer engages in election work. He has interests in social justice and related issues, and he tries to engage with these passions by working to get “better, smarter, more empathetic elected officials.” In fact, Sailer was significantly involved at the grassroots level in the politics of the 2020 election.

Regarding his title as a Yale Dad, Sailer explained that he does not wish to take the accomplishments of his son, Henry Sailer ’24, and make them his own. He specified, however, that while being the father of a Yale student isn’t specifically a part of his identity, being Henry’s dad is, and he has great pride in and excitement for his son.

Mike Soto-Class 

Mike Soto-Class ’91 has a braided friendship bracelet on his wrist, courtesy of his youngest daughter. As he gesticulates throughout our conversation, the colors on it stand out against the neutral tones of the office from which he is calling. Soto-Class runs the Center for a New Economy, a nonprofit think tank in Puerto Rico. As the first of its kind on the island, the think tank prioritizes effective, nonpartisan policy development. 

Soto-Class’s calm demeanor is contagious, as he narrates some of the policies that the CNE has helped shape in the past. CNE currently has three offices: one in Washington, D.C., one in Madrid and the original Puerto Rico bureau. He described the process of the think tank as a cycle of doing research, influencing policy development in a nonpartisan way (based on the research the group complied) and witnessing the impact of the policies they helped shape.

“People that know Puerto Rico, know that it’s a very politically charged place. It was very unbelievable to people that you could have an organization that was really nonpartisan, and that was our objective,” Soto-Class said. “At the beginning, people were very doubtful, very skeptical, and it took a while before we were able to build up the credibility we have now. And that has been really helpful for us in influencing public policy both here and in D.C.”

While the group has 16 members now, it initially started as a much smaller group, composed of more than a few Yale alums. While working as a chief of staff for a senator on the island, Soto Class-found that most of the policies developed had no evidence to support them being beneficial. Remembering some of the think tanks he had seen around Yale, he decided to start his own. Through the CNE, he set out to rectify this issue in a politically charged Puerto Rico. Because of the fraught political situation on the island, Soto-Class sought to prove in every way he could that the CNE was not affiliated with any political party — it does not accept donations, nor is it available for hire.

Soto-Class was in Saybrook College during his years at Yale. He still has a fondness for his bright college days, and said that, despite having a rough first semester, he “love[s] it more now than before” and still marvels at what he describes as “the incredible richness [of the University].” When he thinks of his best memories at Yale, he pictures himself in his dorm room: His most valuable moments were the times spent with friends outside the classroom. 

“Relax and have a good time, but also realize you’re never gonna have this kind of richness again,” he said, as fatherly advice to readers. “And I think even if you’re in a university setting later on, it’ll still be different because you won’t have as much time or as much freedom to explore. … This is the greatest moment for exploration and taking advantage of things that you have. … You need to find a balance, but err on the side of exploration.” 

Muzaffer Kazakoglu

Muzaffer Kazakoglu can be quiet, but reveals a witty, more quirky side of himself once you get to know him. He owns a company that deals with heating, ventilation, air conditioning and automation, and acts partly as a manager and partly as a consultant for this company, which does so much more than just sell thermostats.

Kazakoglu doesn’t have a typical 9-to-5 schedule. He often works in the company’s R&D center, where new ideas and projects are cultivated. In this endeavor, they look three or five years into the future to determine the trajectory of the business. This includes seeking new connections and maintaining existing ones as they expand the business outside of Turkey, where Kazakoglu resides.

Before Kazakoglu was in this line of work, he hadn’t anticipated going into it. Things didn’t go as originally planned with his education, but even so, Kazakoglu was ultimately able to graduate from university. After that, he worked at several companies within the air conditioning industry before deciding to establish his own. This wasn’t part of any long-term plan, but by taking business opportunities as they came up, “fate” led him to where he is today.

“I’m in a position that’s better than I expected,” Kazakoglu said.

Outside of work, Kazakoglu has recently been dedicating time to self-discovery, which he does in part through yoga classes. He said that this has been new and exciting for him, and something he believes to be relatively common among middle aged adults. 

Kazakoglu’s tie to Yale is through his daughter, international student Gamze Kazakoglu ’24. He’s tremendously proud of her, but feels that being a Yale Dad isn’t part of his identity. 

“It’s 100 percent her success, her identity,” he explained. Kazakoglu then elaborated that sometimes parents have a sort of competition among themselves in respect to their children — one which he does not participate in. Still, he’s incredibly happy for his daughter, and said that hearing about all she does in her studies has even given him a chance to learn.

Mingkui Chen 

Doctor Mingkui Chen’s eyes crinkle at the corner when he speaks and smiles — the lines proof of a face that smiles often. He wears a lab coat with his name stitched on the left side of his chest as he calls from his office in the pathology department of the cancer hospital where he works. Daily, he assists surgeons in the operating room to help give correct diagnoses. 

Chen happened upon the medical field somewhat unexpectedly. After graduating high school in Wuhan, China, Chen was not sure what he wanted to do as a profession. His family had no doctors, and since he was not particularly inclined towards anything yet, they suggested he go to medical school — and the rest is history.

“I love it. I love this field. I love my profession,” he said. “I’m always behind the scenes. I don’t see patients directly, I don’t operate on patients directly, but I can make a decision that can change the patient’s clinical course.”

Eventually he decided to move to the United States and pursue a doctorate at the University of Maryland in Baltimore, where he then worked as a faculty member. He is excited to return to the university environment he loves — soon, he will start work at the Yale Medical School. 

“What’s the purpose of your knowledge? You don’t keep the knowledge for yourself,” Chen said, about his love for teaching young doctors. “You need to train those young brains, those residents, those fellows… I want to just convey all my knowledge to them. … This is the best part.”

Chen is a father to two Yalies, one alum and one current student. He believes that Yale gives students a “boost,” but that it is more important to know “how you want to shape yourself.” Who you are and what you do are up to you, regardless of where you go to school. After years upon years working to be a doctor in both China and the U.S., after moving here to further his learning and after sending both daughters off to Yale, he has one piece of advice: “Before you turn 40, don’t be afraid of anything… Just try everything.”

Annie Sidransky | annie.sidransky@yale.edu

Ángela Pérez | angela.perez@yale.edu