The idea of developing a platform to empower women began percolating in Cordelia Pisacane’s mind when she was a Suffolk student, but she never shared it with anyone.

The idea resurfaced five years later when Pisacane, BS '08, saw the potential for a supportive network of Suffolk women as she looked around the room during an alumni event.

She set up a meeting with Suffolk’s Advancement Office to pitch the concept.

“They loved it,” said Pisacane, who soon founded Suffolk’s Women in Leadership alumnae network, which she now chairs. “That’s how it all got started.”

An introductory meeting drew 20 University alumnae; now there are nearly 200 active participants—including some men.

Professional development

Women in Leadership’s mission is to empower Suffolk women, both graduates and current students, and to advocate for their professional development.

“The most rewarding part is seeing Suffolk alumnae who are successful in the professional workplace attend our events and connect with today’s students,” said Pisacane, who works for the Department of Veterans Affairs as a service representative.

“It’s important to actively engage in building the community we want, which is why Women in Leadership is creating opportunities for alumnae to come back and interact, not only with students, but also within their own community. Building a small community within this larger Suffolk family helps ensure our alumnae stay involved and share their knowledge and advice.”

Making connections

Leigh Handschuh, MPA ’13, said that her participation in the alumnae network’s leadership committee has enabled her to reconnect with the Suffolk community in a meaningful way.

“Not only have I been able to build a supportive network with other alumnae working in a variety of sectors, but also enjoy the opportunity to give back to the student body, particularly through the annual Professional Success Expo,” said Handschuh, who is senior program associate for nonprofit effectiveness at the Boston Foundation.

At the Expo, Handschuh has connected with students who then met with her one-on-one at a later date. 

“The biggest thing is sharing advice and letting the students know the skills they need and what resources are available to them, which, in my case, involves the non-profit world,” said Handschuh.

Alumnae events

The alumnae network will host its third annual Professional Success Expo, an event staffed primarily by alumnae volunteers and open to all Suffolk undergraduate students, on Nov. 1. Career-related information will be available on topics including resume review/tips, speed interviews, professional dress, internships, and mentoring.

“This event is always successful because of the sponsorship and support we receive from the Suffolk Alumni Association and the Career Development Center,” said Pisacane.

Earlier this year, Women in Leadership held its first-ever book club, focused on The Girls of Ennismore,” by Suffolk alumna Patricia Falvey, Class of 1970. Falvey joined the discussion via Skype from Ireland.

And career/life coach and entrepreneur Susan Drevitch Kelly, Class of 1970, was on campus this past spring to share networking strategies.

Campus leadership experience

While a Suffolk student, Pisacane was actively involved as a Student Government Association member, orientation leader, trustee ambassador, resident assistant, and teaching assistant.

“I learned a lot from those different experiences and what really stands out to me is the time I would spend sharing stories and advice with my fellow female student leaders,” she said. “That experience is the core of why I started Women in Leadership.”

Pisacane continues to impact the lives of others. She volunteers with the Big Sister Association of Greater Boston and with Horizons for Homeless Children. She also mentors a Suffolk student through the Career Development Center’s Ram Alumni Mentoring Program.

“Less me, more we” is a motto Pisacane tries to live by.

“What I quickly realized is that volunteer work positively changes your life as much, if not more, than it changes the lives of those you are serving,” she said.

The University celebrated Pisacane earlier this year during the 2017 “10 Under 10” ceremony, which honors young Suffolk alumni making a difference in their careers, communities, and the University.

“Cordelia is a bright, articulate, hard-working alumni volunteer and leader; one of the best I’ve had the pleasure of working with,” said Caitlin Haughey, senior director of alumni relations and annual giving in Suffolk’s Office of Advancement.

“She has given many hours of her time to provide opportunities for Suffolk students and alumnae to connect and learn from each other.”

—Tony Ferullo