Northeastern was their matchmaker, now this successful couple wants to give back to the university

italia smith and lamar cardinez posing with president aoun
Italia Smith and Lamar Cardinez pose for a photo with Northeastern President Joseph E. Aoun at the Experience Powered By Northeastern event on Northeastern’s Boston campus. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Northeastern is not only a university that can prepare one for a successful career. It is also the place where one can find love. 

Italia and Lamar Cardinez, now husband and wife and the parents of two children, met as first-year students in Northeastern’s D’Amore-McKim School of Business in 2009.

Italia describes Lamar as caring, thoughtful and hardworking. He says she is loving, God fearing and has a great sense of humor. Together they share interests in education, current events, and a love for the NFL and the New York Yankees.

Recently, they visited the Boston campus to share their journey as former students and now Young Global Leaders at the launch of Experience Powered by Northeastern, the university’s next major fundraising campaign.

“The campus is incredible,” Italia says. 

In addition to the university’s physical growth, the Cardinezes are equally impressed with growth of global experiential learning opportunities under President Joseph E. Aoun.

They acknowledge that their Northeastern diplomas have appreciated over time. A former commuter school, the university is now among the most selective in the nation.

“That just blows my mind,” Italia says.

“It is the culmination of a lot of hard work and vision from all the leaders of the university,” says Lamar, who grew up in Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood, a short walk from the Northeastern campus.

Lamar’s parents and maternal grandmother immigrated to the U.S. from Trinidad in the 1970s. When he was in second grade, his mother–who also attended Northeastern–signed him up for the Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity program, which gave him an opportunity to study in the suburban Dover-Sherborn school system.

He built lifelong friendships through that experience.

“That really opened up my vision to another lifestyle. I was around people that were very different from me,” Lamar says. “But after you get to know people, you find out you have much more in common than what meets the eye.” 

Italia grew up on Long Island in New York where she excelled in academics and athletics. A basketball and soccer star, she led her high school team in goals as a senior while earning all-state honors.

Italia’s parents, Simone and James Todd Smith (better known as artist LL Cool J) instilled in her and her siblings a belief that they could do whatever they put their minds to, she says. 

When she was little, Italia appeared in a Coca Cola commercial with her father.

“I enjoyed it,” Italia says. “That’s probably the closest that I’ve gotten to entertainment.”

Instead of following her father into the entertainment industry, she chose to go to a business school. She had toured several colleges when a career adviser recommended she look at Northeastern.

“And when I went, I just fell in love with it. I was like, ‘yes, this is where I want to go,’” she says. 

Lamar attended Northeastern on a scholarship from the university’s Ujima Scholars Program,

Although they both attended Northeastern’s business school, Italia and Lamar first met at a Northeastern Black Students Association meeting, linking arms during an ice-breaker.

“From that moment, Tally was adopted into our friends circle,” Lamar says.

Being members of the NBSA, Lamar says, was a good way for first-year students to further integrate into the fabric of Northeastern. They learned more about the Black Greek life and attended various social events.

Both Italia and Lamar earned bachelor’s degrees in business administration with concentrations in marketing and entrepreneurship. As seniors, both also received Huntington 100 Awards, which honor students for their service, leadership and entrepreneurial or innovative spirit.

Lamar has always been interested in the business of sports. He did co-ops at Madison Square Garden and for the 2014 New York/New Jersey Super Bowl Host Company. After graduation, he worked for the NFL, then earned his master’s degree in business administration from Cornell University. 

He currently works at Blue Owl Capital, an investment management company in New York City, leading their sports, media and entertainment fund.

While Italia did co-ops at CBS as marketing and social media coordinator and production assistant, she ultimately found herself in real estate and entrepreneurial projects, obtaining a commercial real estate certificate from Cornell.

After graduating from Northeastern in 2014, the couple was invited to join the university’s Young Global Leaders network, which consists of a diverse group of alumni from 49 countries.

“Being invited into the Young Global Leaders alumni group definitely helped keep us engaged [with Northeastern],” Italia says. “We would go to the different YGL meetings around the world, which was pretty amazing for us to experience, in different countries, with different business leaders.”

Lamar and Italia are big supporters of Northeastern’s global campus strategy. The university recently announced a 14th campus in Miami.

“I’m looking forward to having more Northeastern alumni around the world, so that you can have folks that probably have had similar experiences to you to help break ice and form partnerships not just in the U.S., not just in Boston, but everywhere,” Lamar says.

Recently, the Cardinezes decided to also get involved in the Northeastern’s Torch Scholars Program, which assists first-generation, economically disadvantaged students with full tuition and academic and social support so that they can complete college.

“The torch program does a great job of searching for students with great character, great integrity,” Lamar says. “We find pleasure in connecting with those sorts of individuals that you can see yourself in a little bit.”

Alena Kuzub is a Northeastern Global News reporter. Email her at Follow her on Twitter @AlenaKuzub.