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Alumnae Guide Students Towards Future Success

Sunday, December 15, 2013

All young people face challenges as they enter the workforce for the first time, and those challenges can be particularly daunting for women.

Watch the Women and Leadership 2013 video

Fortunately, St. John’s alumnae have not forgotten what it was like when they began their careers after graduation. Their willingness to mentor the students who may soon follow in their footsteps is a way to remain connected to the University that has played such an important part in their lives.

Margaret Keane ’81C, ’87MBA remembers that although she lived at home and had to work a number of jobs to pay her tuition, she always tried to take advantage of everything that St. John’s had to offer. Now Chief Executive Officer of GE Capital Finance, Keane is in the process of establishing a Women in Leadership Scholarship to assist students who are today where she once was.

“Because I came from a big family, my parents could not afford to send me to college, so I paid my way,” she explained. “I think it’s important that, since I’m now in a position where I can give back, I can give someone in need some financial aid, and allow that student to spend more time studying without having to worry about the financial burden of education.”.

Keane enjoys coming back to campus to share her story with today’s female students. She believes that women need to become aware of the realities of the business world while still planning their careers, so that they will be better able to make a smooth transition from the campus to the office.

““I mentor a lot of women,” she said,” both inside my company and outside, and the thing that I always tell young women is that they need to have confidence. Sometimes women get very hung up on whether they should get married, have children, get promoted, or whatever. I stress that if they’re going to move up in a company, it’s hard work, and they’re competing against men. And I remind them that their career will probably last for 30 or more years, so they don’t have to do everything all at once.”

Augusta Sanfilippo ’85SVC, ’94MBA is another alumna who enjoys returning to the University to advise current students. Following graduation, Sanfilippo spent a few years analyzing data within the Youth Bureau of the Office of New York City Mayor Edward I. Koch before transitioning from government service into the private sector. During the past 25 years she has held key positions in some of the world’s most prestigious investment banking corporations, including Credit Suisse, JP Morgan and Salomon Brothers.

She is currently Managing Director, Investment Banking Information Technology – Operations IT at Citibank, where she is responsible for an annual budget of over $200 million and 1,700 employees across 16 global locations.

“I’ve been a huge proponent of mentoring over the years,” she said, “and now I’ve taken a newfound affinity toward sponsoring – advocating for women and helping them with their careers. The biggest challenge I see facing women today is that when women get out of school, they are incredibly eager and are sort of thinking too far ahead. They think, ‘Will this job help me in 10 years, when I have to juggle a nanny, when I have a child?’ And I tell them not to think about that until they’re ready for it.”

Both Keane and Sanfilippo were panelists at a recent Women in Leadership event, designed to give St. John’s students an opportunity to meet and network with a group of successful alumnae who hold key positions as female executives. The program highlighted the evolving role of women as financial decision-makers and industry leaders while examining the special challenges facing professional women.

It is one of the many ways that alumnae give back to the University by reaching out to current students.

“Our alumnae have such a powerful message to share,” noted Victoria Shoaf, Ph.D., Dean of St. John’s The Peter J. Tobin College of Business. ”Their observations about how things are a little different to be a woman in the workforce are very useful, and their advice about how our students should be looking at their career preparation, and not holding back or being set in one path, are incredibly valuable.”

Students are eager to take advantage of what the alumnae have to offer. They realize that these successful women have a wealth of information to share with them, and are excited to follow up in ways that will keep them connected in the future.

“Networking is so important,” noted Boryana Yordanova ’15MBA . “I’m going to e-mail these alumnae and keep in touch with them to build long-lasting relationships. In a year when I graduate, I may reach out and ask them for advice about where they recommend I apply for jobs and what industry they think would be best for me. Those relationships and that mentoring, is what helps a person go the distance in the professional world. It’s all about making the personal connections.”