Fifth annual film festival celebrates people with disabilities in film

The fifth annual Celebration of Individuals with Disabilities in Film celebrated those with disabilities took place on March 23, 2017. Organized by Seidenberg School professor of Disabilities Studies and Information Technology, Dr. James Lawler, the event centered around the screening of several narrative short films and documentaries and a panel discussion including expert speakers.

At the reception, huge buckets of popcorn were available as people got in the mood for movies. The event was kicked off by opening remarks from Dr. Lawler, and Seidenberg School Dean, Dr. Jonathan Hill. Six short films were screened, including Stutter, Anna, Children of God, Dancing on Wheels, Picked, and 4 Quarters of Silence. Each film dealt with different themes, and were about characters with disabilities. The films were thoughtful and poignant, and offered a fresh perspective we see far too little in mainstream media.

Discussions with the panel were interspersed between screenings. Audience members were welcome to share their own experiences with disability, and many did. Films representing members of society that do not fit a particular mode are rare, and many people appreciated seeing themselves or their friends represented on the big screen.

Panel speakers were Victor Calise, Commissioner at the New York City Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities; Allan B. Goldstein, Senior Lecturer, New York University; Maria Hodermarska, Parent and Teacher, New York University; Gary Lind, Executive Director, AHRC New York City; Marilyn Jaffe-Ruiz, Professor Emerita, Pace University; and Isaac Zablocki, Co-Founder and Director, ReelAbilities: New York Disabilities Film Festival.

They discussed a variety of topics, including the lack of positive media representation for people with disabilities. Although there has been a gradual change to include more people with disabilities in film and television, many disabled characters are played by able-bodied actors rather than people who actually have the disability portrayed. “We have a long way to go,” remarked Victor Calise, “but I think that conversations are starting . . . people want to see people with disabilities in film and televisions.”

One of the great things about this particular event is the sense of community and support that fills the room as conversations are had and experiences are shared. The event is held in partnership with AHRC New York City and the ReelAbilities: New York Disabilities Film Festival. We encourage you to visit their websites and learn more.

Thanks go to our wonderful panelists, the teams behind the making of the movies, the Dean for Students for the kind sponsorship, and of course Dr. James Lawler for making this happen for another year. We’re already looking forward to next year and hope to see you there!

LST Honoree Speaker Series: Austin A. Adams and Mike Zbranak talk fintech, innovation, and opportunity

The third and final of our LST Honoree Speaker Series – a chain of interviews with previous winners of our prestigious Leadership and Service in Technology award – took place on Wednesday April 19, 2017, and featured Pace University alumnus and Seidenberg advisory board member Mike Zbranak interviewing the incredibly charismatic Austin A. Adams.

Austin was recognized for his leadership and service in technology in 2006 at one of the highest-grossing iterations of our annual fundraisers in its history. We were delighted to welcome both Austin and Mike back through our doors and they were equally as happy to join us.

“We are capping what has been an absolutely stellar series on financial technology throughout the year,” said Dr. Jonathan Hill, Dean of the Seidenberg School. “We are in the presence of two legends in the financial technology industry. We are honored to have with us Mr Austin A. Adams and Mike Zbranak.”

Austin A. Adams retired in 2006 as Executive Vice President and Corporate Chief Information Officer at JPMorgan Chase where he was a member of the 13-person Operating Committee and managed 28,000 employees and a $7bn budget. Currently, Austin serves on the board of several companies, including Spectra Energy Corp., CommScope, and Keycorp. “I welcome the opportunity to be here,” Austin remarked. “I really like the model here, so when I was given the invitation to come here I welcomed it.”

Moderator of the discussion, Mike Zbranak is the Managing Director and Deputy Chief Information Officer of Chase Consumer & Community Banking at JPMorgan Chase.

In front of a room packed with students, staff and faculty, and other members of our Pace community, Austin said one of the things that is always music to our ears: “I think you’re in the right industry.”

He continued: “The IT role needs new minds, new thoughts, and I commend you for that.”

It was time for the discussion to get underway, which Mike kicked off by asking Austin what drew him into technology.

“There are several things you’ll never see on my resume,” Austin replied. “I was a failed college professor and a failed professional golfer. I got into technology almost by mistake. I was a senior manager in a bank and one group I managed was technology.”

The Seidenberg lounge was packed as students came to see Mike and Austin speak
The Seidenberg lounge was packed as students came to see Mike and Austin speak

It was through this exposure that Austin began to see how important technology was to a company. He now touts it as one of the most, if not the most, important departments in any business. The long-standing problem, however, has been that businesses still refuse to see IT departments as anything other than an unfortunate necessity, here to fix computers so the real work can get done.

“IT was the backroom – where you process things, keep your mouth shut, process reports for the next day. I wanted the business to look at us in IT and say ‘we’re partners’.”

He spoke about business orientation bias, which is what a business’ motivations are based on what it is trying to do, how it is trying to make money and serve its customers. Typically, technology does not factor very much into these plans. However, by understanding the business’ motivations, the technology department could start taking steps towards contributing meaningful work that would get it recognized as integral to a better business.

“I used to talk about our group as being partners of choice and leaders of change,” Austin said. “Being a leader of change, it’s really an art form.”

Referring to the students in the room, he said: “Technology and you as a tech pro have an opportunity to leader change. You may not get your name on it, or get your name recognized in the WST or within the company, but there is no job family in any company that I’m aware of that knows as much about the company as the IT department. You possess all the meaningful information in the company.

“Focusing on the business, understand where the business is going, and you’re a leader behind the scenes.”

Mike added: “When you’re in IT, you are the integrators of everything. When people are coming to you and talking about what they want, you get business knowledge that other people don’t have. You can become a change agent. I hire about 700 college grads a year into our training program and do touch points about what people are learning. I always want them to opine or put up suggestions about what’s going on. I’ve noticed that people fresh from school are open to adding suggestions than people 10 years in. I learn more from those sessions than I do from my whole team.”

The conversation continued towards different types of change, namely keeping up if not getting ahead in an ever-changing world. Mike spoke about his observations during the start of his career at JP Morgan.

“When I went to school here and started working at JP Morgan on Broad Street, there were 11 Money Center Banks. They dominated the financial landscape at the time. You weren’t allowed to bank across state lines. Out of those 11 banks that ran everything, only two are left. All the rest were taken over or absorbed into other banks. Austin, you engineer these massive bank acquisitions or mergers. I’m talking about programs, think about a project you have worked on, you’re talking thousands of people, you’re really betting the bank. How do you sell the board on that?”

Austin said: “People think about innovation as being too much like a buzzword. Meaningful innovation in a company is a lot of very small steps taken by a lot of people. A lot of it is about mindsets, and really good programming. If you have any kind of skill set in the world of program management, there will be a need forever for people who can coordinate between areas in business. Really good technology people look at what the business opportunity is and they can make it happen. Thinking about innovation, think about your position as an IT professional to make those small steps.”

Much of innovation can be found in consolidation. Mike spoke at length about his experiences coming into businesses and finding far too many processes, programs, and options when just a few would suffice. At JP Morgan, the business was so customer-focused that there were 970 services when Mike took over – Amex had three. When Mike asked his new team what they could reduce their services by and nobody responded, he told them “we’re going to have 10.” By consolidating hundreds of services into just 10, the business began to operate far more smoothly.

Austin agreed, saying that the biggest missed opportunity he’d had at JP Morgan was that the technology team failed to communicate the cost of complexity, or the value of simplicity. “You’ll see complexity in organizations that really doesn’t need to be there unless someone’s willing to make tough discussions. If you have a simpler environment and one way of doing something, you can increase your productivity and your profit.”

Innovation can be looked at as efficiency; it adds effectiveness. Innovation can be a life-changing moment, but it’s also incremental because it’s made up of small improvements. For example, Craigslist was an innovative site when it was created, but then people took what Craigslist was offering – goods and services – and made apps from it. Uber exists as a combination of existing taxi businesses and the ordering online concept.

“At some time in your career, you’re going to see pieces of information that’s going to show that something needs to be done better,” Austin said.

Mike agree, adding that the need to move quickly can be a challenge in traditionally slow moving business. “I think about how fast opportunity comes and go. I take my phone and look up the mobile app for Chase. We have a digital wallet now – I was talking about it nine years ago. After years of meetings and mergers, we didn’t talk about it enough – then Apple came and ate our lunch. Then, instead of being something innovative, it becomes something you have to have because everybody else has it.”

Austin and Mike then discussed the importance of having trained cybersecurity professionals entering the fintech space. “The one thing any board is worrying about is cyber,” Austin said. “Five of six panels (at a conference) ended up talking about cybersecurity. Four were scared to death because they don’t know what to do about it.”

Finally, Austin shared three things he has observed over the last few decades in his guide for how to accelerate your career. Here are his three opportunities:

  1. Peer feedback. Work in any company, and your boss only has so much time to give you feedback. If you quickly get your head around creating dialog with a peer of yours so you can say “Jack, I want to succeed and I want the company to succeed; I’d like to get constructive criticism from you. I’ll buy you a beer every few weeks if you’ll sit down with me and give me feedback. Most people won’t do it, but some will and you’ll get extraordinary feedback. We are never in reality the way we see ourselves. Getting that outside perspective is crucial.
  2. You’re going to work with people who have skills and knowledge that you want to develop. Mike is one of the best technologists I know, but when he was new to a senior CI role he worked on developing his skill. If you go to people who have the skills you want to develop and ask for 15 minutes for them to explain how they got to where they are, most will say yes. This is a real way to accelerate your learning process.
  3. Think hard about what an extra hour a week would do for you if you spent it learning about the company. It may be more fun to spend the time at leisure, but if you spend an hour or so spending your discretionary time learning about your profession and the business it will help you get so far.

    Mike Zbranak and Austin A. Adams chat with Seidenberg students
    Mike Zbranak and Austin A. Adams chat with Seidenberg students

After the discussion between Mike and Austin, there was a brief Q&A session followed by time for the students to chat with our guests in person. We’d like to extend a massive thank you to Mike Zbranak and Austin A. Adams for taking the time to visit us and look forward to seeing you at the LST Awards and in the future!

Previous speakers:

Nicholas Donofrio

Judy Spitz

LST Honoree Speaker Series: Nicholas Donofrio

The second of our LST Honoree Speaker Series took place on our Westchester campus. Butcher Suite was looking mighty full as a crowd of Pace students, staff, faculty, and our alumni and friends at IBM stopped by to listen to our spotlight day’s speaker, Nick Donofrio.

Similar to the previous LST Honoree speaker event with Judy Spitz, the format was interview style, with Seidenberg student Christian Nahshal (BS in Information Technology ’17) taking the stage alongside our guest. What followed was a fascinating conversation, where our 2013 LST Honoree, Nicholas Donofrio, shared his incredible insights, experiences, and wisdom.

Nick Donofrio led IBM’s technology and innovation strategies from 1997 until his retirement in October 2008. He spent the early part of his career in integrated circuit and chip development as a designer of logic and memory chips. In the years that followed, he advanced and succeeded in numerous technical management positions and, later, executive positions in several of IBM’s product divisions. Notably, he was vice chairman of the IBM International Foundation and chairman of the Board of Governors for the IBM Academy of Technology.

One of the first things Nick spoke about was what he gained from doing co-op assignments with IBM while he was at college. “I can’t say enough about co-op assignments, this idea of work study,” he said. One of the best things about doing relevant work while studying is that it helps cement theoretical learning with practical training.

As an engineer, it was useful to Nick to combine the two as it helped him learn to find solutions for specific problems. “You need to be more problem-based in the way you learn and the way you think, because that’s what engineers are.”

Nick also spoke about how important it was to get and maintain technical skills. Even though the higher up the ladder you go the fewer technical skills you typically use, it’s important to try to stay technical as long as you can.

He also introduced the concepts T-shaped and I-shaped personalities, and the importance of practicing the behaviors and traits of a T-shaped person. An I-shaped person is one that is an expert in one area and does not (and therefore cannot) solve problems outside of their field. However, if one takes the time to advance their knowledge in related areas, they spread their field of expertise – become T-shaped – and can apply a broader range of knowledge to solve different problems.
Expanding your area of knowledge also means you can connect two disparate ideas and create new things. “When you intersect things that don’t normally, or never have been intersected, you become an innovator,” said Nick. “It also allows you to explore the gaps,” finding new ideas within existing areas of knowledge.

“How do you bring that into a leadership aspect?” asked Christian, bringing the conversation around to Nick’s experiences in executive positions.

“Focus on how value is created, where, and how it is created,” Nick said. A good leader should see the strengths and weaknesses of their staff and assign them tasks and roles that allow them to work to their greatest strengths, individually and within the team.

He also spoke about how important it is to be honest. “Transparency, openness, collaboration,” Nick said. If something goes wrong, it is always better to be upfront about it so a solution can be figured out sooner. “We’re going to find out the truth in the end anyway. Because that’s how it works. You may as well tell me now that you screwed up, that the project is 6 months late, that you’re not going to deliver, you might as well tell me NOW so I can help you.”

He shared a saying he likes to use: “You be forthright, I will be forthcoming. Tell me the truth; I will get you the resources.”

Christian then asked about what Nick considers to be one of the most important successes of his life.

“The impact I have had on the lives of people and the impact they’ve had on me,” Nick replied, explaining that the opportunities he has had to help other people have had a powerful effect on him, particularly the ability to lend an empathetic ear or be a sounding board. “To know the answer, but to know to listen is a very important gift.”

Nick is also a big advocate of paying it forward: “I want you to remember what I did for you and do something for somebody else. Too often, sadly, that does not happen. People get where they want to be, and the first thing they do is to lock the door. Don’t be that person.”

Several members of the audience then got to ask questions, which Nick happily answered, including a question about his experiences working with Steve Jobs. He described the kind of innovative thinking that enabled Steve Jobs to get to where he did: “Steve Jobs would solve your problems a different way. That’s what innovators do. He understand workflow better than anyone – that was what his gift was – and he would start with the problem. Any time he started with the answer he was wrong. He didn’t really create anything, he just studied it from the end user perspective.”

Another student asked “What qualities do you have that make you a T-shaped person?”

“You have to know your limits and your abilities, but that doesn’t mean you stop asking the questions,” Nick responded, and went on to recommend reading up on the Medici family who were around in Renaissance Florence. They were a very rich and powerful family who brought around the beginning of the industrial revolution. “They were T-shaped,” Nick said. “They thought about combining this craft with that craft,” which exemplifies the king of T-shaped thinking described above.

Bringing his point a little closer to the present day, Nick spoke about his time as a manager at IBM. “I didn’t know how to do a lot of things at IBM, but I would teach people how to teach themselves. T-shaped people are enablers, open, collaborative, multi-disciplined, global thinkers. They enable others to be better.”

There was a final question – what was Nick’s favorite project?

“Probably the most embarrassing and the most rewarding,” Nick said. “When I became a manager back in the early 70s. I managed a group as the lead circuit designer. We were all friends. After a year, we had an opinion survey. For every group in IBM, you had the best and the worst. The best got rewarded by the chairman and the worst… we never heard from them again!”

When the survey results rolled around, Nick was dismayed to learn that he’d received a 1.2 out of 5 – from a team of people he considered his close friends. However, the more time he spent ruminating on his management style, the more he realized that perhaps he hadn’t been the best manager he could be. In fact, as his background had been doing the same job as the rest of the team, he realized that he’d spent the last year continuing to do that job, a job that wasn’t his any more.

“Now IBM wants me to go into a meeting with them and ‘find out why they think you’re a jerk, but you can’t outright ask them as the survey is anonymous’. I went into the meeting and told them, I am so sorry, I obviously let you all down. I know I must have been a jerk the last year, it’s clear to me that I was trying to do your job instead of my job. It’s clear to me that I may be fired. It’s also clear to me that if you’ll have me, I will change. I will be more collaborative, more open, the manager you want me to be. I will be a manager, not a circuit designer. To a person, they all agreed to keep me on.”

As luck would have it for Nick, there was one other person in the entire company with a score of 1.0, so Nick got to keep his job (it was decidedly unlucky for the other guy, though!)

“So my advice is that if you’re going to be bad, be bad early in your career!”

Following the Q&A, Nick stayed behind to chat with students and meet the community. We would like to thank Nick for spending an incredible couple of hours with us and for sharing the amazing stories and lessons he has learned over the years.

We hope to have you back soon! As Dr. Jonathan Hill, Dean of Seidenberg School remarked, “There is a reason why this gentleman fills a room.”

The final event in our LST Honoree Speaker Series will be held on April 19th, with guest speaker Austin A. Adams. RSVP here!

Using business to battle human trafficking: an interview with alumna Kim Perdikou

Kim Perdikou graduated from Pace with an MS in Information Systems in 1993. She has held positions with companies like Dun & Bradstreet, Reader’s Digest and was the CIO then Executive Vice President at Juniper Networks. She has been the Chairwoman of the Board of Directors of iPhotonix, an Optical and SDN company, since April 2015. She is also an Investor and Chairwoman of the Board of REBBL, an herbal beverage company. Kim additionally serves as a Board Director of CyberArk, a technology cyber security company. She is also a member of the Advisory Board for Trunomi, a financial technology company.

She’s also an incredible human rights advocate. As an incredibly accomplished alumna, Kim has had a lot of experience which helped her uncover one of her strongest passions: fighting the global problem of human trafficking. We spoke with Kim about her experiences and unique perspective.

What was your journey to your current position as Chairwoman of the Board of Directors at iPhotonix like?

I had been invited to dinner with a friend in Bermuda and met a young couple who were on holiday. The guy was in a startup and was friends with the CEO of iPhotonix. When the CEO was looking for a new board member, he reached out to me. I joined the board and, when the chairman left (his company was acquired and there was a conflict of interest), the shareholders asked me to be chairwoman. I did say no for about an hour and then they congratulated me! Case closed.

Did you come across unique challenges as a woman in technology?

When I was 5 my mother saw a program on TV about mathematical children who are different and she tried to contain me in that ‘different’ box because I was very into math.  What happened was I thought if I am different I am going to be different on my terms!

So I was. One time when my father sold a car at work and came home, he brought a new record player – the first we ever had. My brother and sister sat and watched the record go round and sang to the songs and I sat at the other end of the table, aged 5, counting the money. I did the taxes for my dad’s business when I was 12.

When I discovered there was a glass ceiling, I realized “I’m never going to be a director.” My husband didn’t understand because he’d started his own businesses and done everything he’d wanted. “Don’t be ridiculous, it’s all in your head,” he told me, and even though it isn’t all in your head, he was right: my own behavior was stopping some of my progress, so I had to change my behavior.

I had this very wrong belief that if you worked really hard your boss would recognize it and you’d eventually get a job doing what you really should be doing. That is utter rubbish. You need to know where you want to go, picture it in your head, and talk to people to find out how to get there. Men know exactly where they want to be. Part of the behavior is our own behavior – if you go along with what’s expected of you, you won’t ever break free of those expectations.

I started taking steps to change my behavior. Here’s an example: men talk to each other about sports, so I learned to play golf so I could have a conversation with them. I ended up loving golf so much I didn’t allow business on the golf course! And the men enjoyed playing with me so much it normalized our relationships. That allowed me to be seen as a person, rather than a woman who they couldn’t relate to.

How else did you change your behavior?

I would do things to be helpful that weren’t necessarily part of my job, which would benefit others but not me. For example, a software group was going to be moved to another executive but they didn’t want to move it yet because it was so ‘delicate’. Even though it wasn’t my job, I ended up running it, putting out fires every day, but the other executive was the one getting paid and promoted.

One night, I was complaining about it to my friend and I’ll never forget what she said to me. She told me I was the problem. Because I was the one doing it. I had not set any boundaries. I was the one who was doing work outside my job that someone else was getting rewarded for. I wasn’t very happy to hear it, but she was right. Once I got past how I felt about her ‘advice’, I went into work and asked for a conversation where I told them that, with all the extra work, I’m not focused on the things I should be, and so I’d like to move the software group – and the date I’m going to do it is April X. They said “we can’t do that to this guy!” and I replied “they are moving the only decision to be made is who they will report to.”

Breaking the mold is key

Everybody who is not happy in their careers blames “my boss, my this, my that,” but it’s up to them to change their situations.

You will not change what other people do, but you can change how you behave, how you react, and where you want to go.

If you want a job, you have to ask for it. Don’t sit back and wait for someone to recognize your talents. Ask for promotions in a non-confrontational way without time pressure. And don’t start doing the job until it’s actually yours.

When going for a promotion or new job, I learned that talented executives would outline a plan of what they were going to do and wouldn’t actually do it until they had the job and budget to accomplish it. Once I started to learn how people did things at the executive level I became a lot more prepared. I would have a list of things I would do and things I would not do. And I would stick with it.

Tell us about your work with REBBL and Slavery is Over? Why is it important to you?

Juniper Foundation built a relationship with Not for Sale (NFS), which is an innovative not-for-profit to re-abolish slavery. When I learned that there are more slaves in the world today than when slavery was first abolished I knew something different had to be done to solve it.

My friend Dave Batstone, Founder of NFS, had the idea of creating companies in the most economically challenged areas, where people who are the most vulnerable to slavery live, in order to address the supply chain and change the economics of the area.

There are so many vulnerable people in the world. They are vulnerable because they are so poor: there are no jobs, no money to be made, so when somebody shows up in their village promising them jobs and money overseas they jump at the chance.

They are told they will be given passports and work visas and that they can work in the USA or UK and make enough to send back home to support their families. Of course they jump at that. But when they arrive in a foreign country with only the person who brought them, they are threatened and told they have to pay everything back at an extortionate price. They are also told they are in the new country illegally, so they are forced into prostitution and other slavery and have to work 24/7 to pay off debts that will never get paid.

Dave’s idea was to disrupt the whole supply chain so that people never got into the position where they were so desperate that they would agree to leave their villages, with these people, in the first place. So several companies that were mainly dependent on labor in those villages were created. We wanted to create jobs with dignity, so looked for reasons and valuable commodities a company could use from the area to create business in specific locations.

Dave had a Montara Circle meeting of business, sports and government people to brainstorm ideas in 24 hours. They looked at the Peruvian Amazon where there are villages where whole families are indentured to collecting minerals used in the U.S. car industry. So we looked for something indigenous to the area that was also unique to the area and could be used for business.  We discovered an herb called cat’s claw. We ended up creating REBBL, a beverage company that creates drinks from cat’s claw and other indigenous ingredients. The product is very good – and that is important for financially successful businesses. But the true difference is the impact of a clean dignified supply chain created which can give back to fund the next set of businesses. 2.5% of REBBL’s revenue is donated to creating new businesses, so the whole network feeds itself.

You can change the world. The way to do it in any sustainable fashion is the same as anywhere else: through economics.

From Pace to Peralvillo: Rohana Sosa helps communities in the Dominican Republic

Seidenberg student Rohana Sosa (BS in Computer Science) recently participated in the Pace Setters Leadership Program on a non-profit advocacy project that took her to the Dominican Republic to assist vulnerable communities. Rohana’s work both here at Pace and within the community in Peralvillo, Domincan Republic, is both humbling and inspirational. Rohana sent us the following about her experiences – so read on!

Lifting up people is the world’s most beautiful gift. This January 2017, I had a rewarding learning experience assisting communities living in poverty in the Dominican Republic. Having this experience provided me with the knowledge to share with others how we can all be unified and bring peace to all.

As a computer science student at the Seidenberg School, I truly enjoy that being a humanitarian creates a balance between connecting the world through technology and actual in-person interaction to help heal others. Seeing smiles on the faces of people I worked with shows huge positive impact through being a donor of love. It was heartbreaking to see the struggle to simply survive, but inspiring to witness how unified the Dominican community truly is despite lifelong hardship.

My fellow volunteers and I were so happy to be blessed with sunshine the day we went to Peralvillo, Yamasá to bring healing, hope, and happiness to the poor in Dominican Republic through volunteering with the not-for-profit organization Juan Bautista Gautreaux Foundation.

The Juan Bautista Gautreaux Foundation was founded by my grandfather in February, 2000, to provide assistance and health for those most in need.

Since my freshman year at Pace University, I have been inspired and naturally driven to create a shared sense of belonging and purpose into building a resilient community in the Dominican Republic. There is a lot of potential in the long term for the Foundation to assist the growth of sustainable communities and help the most vulnerable develop their own abilities. Unfortunately, a lack of funding has prevented the Foundation from achieving its full effect. I aim to help revive it because striving for the well-being of the most vulnerable is worth it, especially for those who have special needs and who are elderly. As part of this, I chose to serve those in most need in DR as my Advocacy Project for graduating from the Pace Setters Leadership Program this May 2017.

The community needs an act of healing and renewal so I have taken the time to listen, connect, and support those in most need through service this January 2017. Having contributed more than 400 hours of community service throughout my academic years, my natural desire and motivation to serve has grown stronger with this project.

 

What Happened

Benefit Dinner Events & DR Mission Trip November 2016 & January 2017:

New York, Pace PLV Campus: The Benefit Dinner I hosted with my volunteers at the Kessel Multi-Purpose Room on November 13th, 2016, collected donations to bring relief to families in need in the Dominican Republic. Pace WPAW was the DJ of the event and there were four raffles as well. My mentor, Vincent Birkenmeyer (Vinnie), was a tremendous help for me to organize the event months in advance and I will always be grateful for his support. Vinnie and Pace Restaurant Sponsor with Pace Residence Life were able to provide the dinner. Donations of non-perishable food, toiletries, gently used clothing and shoes, as well as educational supplies for all ages, were accepted at this dinner and during tabling sessions (information sessions). Handcrafted accessories I crocheted were sold in exchange for donations. I made necklaces, scarves, headbands, and butterfly-bouquets. I created a website and sell these accessories to continue raising money to donate.

Hosting the event was one of the best short-term ways for me to help solve the large-scale problems and primary necessities faced by the most underprivileged which include: damaged housing that is not safe to live in, medications, sanitation units, fresh water, adequate living and academic supplies, and school support. After the event, we reached our goal of packaging six extra-large boxes to ship overseas to Dominican Republic.

Trip to Peralvillo, Yamasá – Dominican Republic:

While walking on mountainous trails to bring food for those families in most need, my volunteers and I witnessed extreme living conditions, which include broken down outhouses made out of rags and twigs. We personally brought food packages to twelve different homes of elderly people and learned about their needs. The team and I visited the sick, blind, and injured. Many homes had no lighting and water for their homes. We met one elderly woman in her eighties who was missing a leg. Sadly, this elderly woman passed away in February 2017. Other people were suffering from osteoporosis, asthma, and depression. A bedridden and sickly man, father of two elderly sickly siblings, about 101 years old, smiled at us because he was so excited to have visitors stop by his room, a dark shack with sand and dirt for floors and dogs roaming around. His daughter was in tears because she was so happy that we came to bring her food.

Back on the site of my grandfather’s foundation, there were approximately 100 people from the community in need who showed up to receive donations. The team and I helped kids make Vision Boards so they can draw what they want to aspire when they grow up. We made sandwiches to feed everyone and gave out juice, distributed the donated clothes and toothpaste with toothbrushes. I taught young girls how to crochet as well so they can continue to build that skill to help their families. School bags with supplies were given to kids too. There was so much excitement and joy at this moment. Everyone who received their donation was so grateful to us and showed their gratitude with lots of hugs and smiles. It was incredible to see the huge positive impact we all created with combined efforts from NY and DR.

Poverty can be greatly reduced when people create dreams to strive for. My hope is that with this volunteer experience is that we helped developed courage, strength, and creativity in the lives of those in need so they can develop a better overall quality of life.

The experience was made possible thanks to my grandfather, Dalio Gautreaux (president of the Juan Bautista Gautreaux Foundation); my mother who is always there with me every step of the way, especially with this project; my father in heaven who inspires me everyday to achieve goals; my mentor, Vincent Birkenmeyer; family and friends; volunteers in NY and DR; Seidenberg School of CSIS and Pace University faculty and staff; and the Pace Setters Leadership Program for giving me this opportunity to make an impact on a global scale.

Thank you so much for sharing your experience with us, Rohana!

Check Rohana’s website if you’re interested in buying handmade accessories to support communities in the Dominican Republic

You can also connect with Rohana on LinkedIn and read her blog, Tech Bytes for Women.

LST Honoree Speaker Series: Judy Spitz, Part III

This is the third in a three part post covering the Judy Spitz’s incredible interview with Seidenberg student Niamh Fitzsimon. The event is the first in a series featuring previous winners of our prestigious Leadership and Service in Technology (LST) award.

Part one

Part two

Tickets for the LST Awards in April are available now!

The event was rounded off with a brief Q&A session. Judy had excellent responses for our students, such as Ava Posner’s (BS in IT) question about her motivation for making a path for women.

“In my opinion, the technology field NEEDS us,” Judy replied. “It’s proven that in teams with more diversity you get better results. Women control the majority of purchasing power around the world. With product developers being mostly men, we may not be getting the best product ideas.”

Another question was about the hardest hurdle Judy has come up against. She immediately demonstrated her finesse with her first step to success – being able to tell a good story.

“At one point in my career, I oversaw the organization that delivered software to the networking engineering organization within Verizon. The network organization is the engine room in a company. The guys- all guys – who ran that organization were all engineers from the south. These were guys who were working for the phone companies their whole lives. They were older than me and they were true blue engineers. Well, in walks Judt Spitz with her PhD! I didn’t know anything about engineering or networking and I was supposed to be the partner that helped deliver the software. They had no interest in working with me. It took me a long time to figure out how to get past that.

“What I ultimately did was I brought my entourage with me – a group of people who knew me and liked me and supported me. We went to meetings and there I was surrounded by these guys who WERE comfortable with me. There’s two things you can say in this kind of situation, which are ‘gosh darnit you’re going to GET comfortable with me’, or you can say ‘what can I do to make you comfortable?’ Because the end goal is not about me, it’s about getting the software delivered. I’m being paid to deliver the software that the organization wants – remember, it’s not about you, it’s about whatever you need to accomplish. Over time, they began to realize I did have some skills – not necessarily in engineering, but about management, delivering software on time; the type of thing that makes their lives easier.”

Another question came back to women in technology. One of our students, Kendra Jackman, asked if Judy had thoughts on why fewer women are interested in tech careers, or why they choose not to pursue them.

“The lack of women in technology is not universal,” Judy said, indicating that the issue of so few women pursuing computing careers is not replicated in other countries. “I don’t think there’s anything different genetically between women here and in the rest of the world. It’s cultural. There are a lot of disincentives and cultural bias. In the 90s, when personal computers came into the house, it was assumed to be a toy for the boys: they took them apart, gamed on them, games were created for boys, and it was around then that women started to be less interested in technology and computer science. Once it gets going, it perpetuates itself. When you think about role models in technology, who do you think of? Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates: it becomes a stereotype. When you’re a female student and you peek into the Intro to Computer Science class and all you see is men, you think ‘I don’t see anyone like me’. And there are all kinds of unconscious things that go on in those classrooms. Guys don’t want you on their teams, they’ve been hacking longer than you, they don’t think you’re as good as them.”

Judy’s solution to the problem is simple: “The more women in computer science, the more women in computer science. As you get more women into the classroom in computer science, the classroom culture starts to change. The more the culture changes, the more women in the classes. I think the most effective you can do is require every undergraduate to take an Intro to Computer Science class and make that class fun.”

Finally, Judy rounded off the session by answering a question about leadership. “The most important thing about leadership is to understand that it’s a relationship. It’s a relationship between you and the people you want to follow you. It’s about them, not you.

“Make sure you surround yourself with people who are smarter than you. Don’t think the key to success is to be the smartest person in the room. You don’t have to be the smartest, you have to be the person who can assemble the best team.”

Judy’s last remark was to advise everyone to surround themselves by leaders who act the way described above as they will learn from their habits.

The event was closed off with a raffle for a $100 gift card, which was won by student Rachel Gonzalez – congrats, Rachel! Coffee’s on you, right?

This was the first event in our three-event series, with the next taking place on March 22nd with Nicholas Donofrio, IBM Fellow Emeritus (Ret.) IBM Executive Vice President, Innovation and Technology, on our Westchester campus. The final event will be an interview with Austin A. Adams, Executive Vice President and Chief Information Officer (Ret.), JPMorgan Chase, at our NYC campus on April 19th.

The LST Honoree Speaker Series is part of a run up to our annual benefit, the Leadership and Service in Technology Awards. Tickets are available now!

Thank you so much to Judy Spitz for an unforgettable day!