Syracuse University alumni

From Modern Presidency to Providing Presidential Protection

By Kim Brown, Assistant Director for Alumni Programs

As a student at Syracuse University, Aaron Rittgers always looked forward to Modern Presidency class with Professor Margaret Susan Thompson. Little did he know that ten years later, he’d have a job that would give him a front row seat to the President of the United States, the Vice President, First Ladies, and other prominent world leaders.

Major Aaron Rittgers '03 speaks to Air Force ROTC cadets.
Major Aaron Rittgers ’03 speaks to Air Force ROTC cadets.

Rittgers is a Major in the United States Air Force. As a student at Syracuse University, he was in the Air Force ROTC. He graduated from SU in 2003 and is now Commander of the 811th Security Forces Squadron at Joint Base Andrews. What does that mean? His squadron is responsible for guarding Air Force One when it is on Andrews, for protecting Air Force Two all over the world, and for protecting the President, Vice President, First Lady, and other leaders while they are on Joint Base Andrews. That means Rittgers has some insider information on President Obama’s golf game! Andrews is one of the President’s favorite place to golf.

Major Rittgers visited campus at the end of October as part of the Alumni Speaker Series. He spoke to the Modern Presidency class, to the Air Force ROTC cadets, to a group of parents on campus for Family Weekend, and more. The timing of his trip also coincided with a visit from General Martin Dempsey, who awarded Major Rittgers with his Bronze Star Medal after a yearlong tour in Iraq. Rittgers has done seven tours and spent 1100 days in the Middle East!

Since Rittgers works so closely on protecting Air Force Two, he’s had several interactions with fellow Syracuse University alum Vice President Joe Biden. When asked about those interactions, Rittgers said that Biden is one of the most down-to-earth guys you could meet – and that the two enjoy chatting about ‘CUSE. Major Rittgers also told ROTC cadets how proud he is of them for choosing to join ROTC in a post-9/11 world.

It’s always an honor to welcome Syracuse University alumni back to campus to share their career stories, and we’re especially grateful to Major Rittgers for sharing so much of his time and talent with our students!

A Syracuse Success Story at Success Academy

By Kate Hansen-Roxas, Class of 2001

Usually when I tell people what I do, I get blank stares.

“I’m the Associate Director of Network Operations at Success Academy Charter Schools!” I say.

“Come again?” they say.

Kate Hansen-Roxas '01. Success Academy
Kate Hansen-Roxas ’01. Success Academy

So then I explain: Success Academy is a network of 22 public charter schools in New York City that serves mostly underprivileged kids in struggling neighborhoods. There are so many unique and wonderful things about the organization, but one of the best things is that teachers and administrators at the schools focus solely on teaching and learning. Everything else — policies and procedures, health and safety, reporting and compliance, implementation of tech systems, enrollment, training (really, everything else) is handled by an operations team at each school. My job, with my department’s support, is to help those operations teams figure out what to do — and how best to do it.

I never imagined that I’d end up here. I started out protesting sweatshops on the ‘Cuse Quad. But, truly, it’s not such a leap from there to here. I was fighting injustice for kids and families then, and that’s what I’m still doing — because that’s another great thing about Success Academy. We don’t just operate high-performing schools; we also advocate for education reform so that all children everywhere will have access to high-quality schooling (we’re in NYC but we share our best practices far and wide). For me, the best part so far has been finding out that just because I didn’t study education, or know when I was 12 that ed reform would be my life’s work, here I am, smack in the middle of the education world, and I love what I do.

How did I get here? Well, it was roundabout, but a common thread runs through my experiences. At Syracuse, I earned my BA in International Relations (I also served on the student government, played ultimate Frisbee, and spent a semester in Italy). Afterward, I spent five years working for the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research. As a nonprofit working to empower people, the organization was connected to my core interests, and it got me started in program management, a big part of what I do now. I went on to earn a Master of Public Administration from NYU. For a brief interlude, during the worst of the recession, I was front desk manager at a spa. Then I worked for a public health insurance enrollment program. That led me to Success Academy, where I started out focusing on schools’ health and medical-form issues and ended up doing so much more.

Look, I can’t play cool about it — I really love what I do. I want all Syracuse grads to feel this way about the jobs they end up with. Here’s what I can tell you about building a career: Work hard. Lay your foundation; it’s not about moving up the ladder at first. Prove yourself solid and engaged, and opportunities will come. Also, one thing will lead to another. Your experience and knowledge, whatever they are, are transferable — maybe not to every job in every way, but what you have always means something.

As far as how to land a job, here are a couple simple interview tips (I should know, because I’m in the throes of hiring for dozens of positions): Start with a firm handshake, eye contact, and a smile. These are small things, but they mean a lot. Often you’ll find yourself in a round-robin interview situation or facing a panel. Be prepared to ask each person involved a question. If you run out of job-specific questions, ask for personal perspectives: What do you think the culture of the organization is? What’s your favorite part of the job? What are the top three characteristics for success at the organization?

From my experience, it comes down to pursuing what you love; believing that your path will come clear, even if you can’t see it right now; having a sense of humor but being serious too (professionalism requires both humor and seriousness, and learning which is appropriate when); and pushing yourself to improve continually. You can do it, ‘Cusers. And if Success Academy sounds interesting to you, please check out!

Tomorrow, April 10, Kate Hansen-Roxas ’01 will take the helm of @WorkingOrange. Follow her day at Success Academy with us!

A MAJOR decision: living my dream at ESPN

By Rachel Eldridge, SU ’10

I always knew I wanted to be a doctor. I have a strong stomach and never panic, both things I was sure were required to get your M.D.

Little did I know that I would end up far from where I started out as a biology major at Syracuse University.

Rachel Eldridge graduated from SU with a dual degree in English and Political Science. She followed her passion for sports and now works for ESPN.

Rewind to 2007. I was sitting in chemistry class; not only was I bored, I had lost the passion I thought I had. I was good at science, which forced me to feel like it was the career path I was supposed to pursue. My mom always asked me, “If you had one day to yourself, what would you do? However you answer that question, that is what you should spend your professional career doing.” My answer for as long as I could remember was “I’d watch sports.”

So there I was, a year and a half out of college, working at an intellectual property law firm in Washington D.C., with degrees in Political Science and English.

I was starting to get antsy. I knew that eventually I was going to have to decide if I wanted to go to law school, and if I didn’t, I needed to make a change and I needed to make one that was calculated. With my two degrees, I knew that I didn’t have the clear and overt qualifications for a position in sports, but I figured it was worth a shot. I was pressured into applying, but luckily I didn’t have to cast a net of applications in desperation. I had a job, which gave me time to be honest with myself about what I wanted.

I finally had the guts to do it. On a late Saturday night, I did a quick search regarding employment at ESPN, pretty convinced I had a zero percent chance of getting hired.

In the end, I refused to put restrictions on myself. I took a risk and it worked out, even if I did have to wait an agonizing four months to work through the process at ESPN. I know that it won’t always work out as it did for me, but you can’t convince yourself not to do something because you “aren’t qualified” or because “it’s way out of your league” or because you didn’t major in a specific subject or industry area.

I didn’t have much experience working in sports, but transferable skills and a passion for sports were enough to not only get me through the door, but hired by the World Wide Leader in Sports in the research department as part of the Stats & Information Group. Looking back at my path: from biology to political science and English to sports, I took many turns but am happy with the result. I am not sure how much my specific majors actually mattered, but I do know that I needed a degree to achieve these goals!

If you’re looking for help deciding a major, check out Career Services’ Major Dilemma Drop-Ins, March 25th – 28th.  First-year and sophomore students who wish to discuss their majors can stop by during the below times:
Monday, March 25 – 4:00 – 6:30 p.m.
Tuesday, March 26 – 3:00- 5:30 p.m.
Wednesday, March 27 – 2:00 – 4:30 p.m.
Thursday, March 28 – 10:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.

Happy birthday to 'CuseConnect! Are YOU connected?

By Kim Brown, Alumni Programs Coordinator

We have a lot to cheer about these days! Our basketball team’s winning, this summer-like weather has the Quad PACKED, and…‘CuseConnect is now seven months old!

What’s ‘CuseConnect? It’s the LinkedIn group that Career Services launched on August 19th, 2011 to connect SU students with SU alumni, as well as alumni with fellow alumni, for career advice and job/internship opportunities. In the past seven months, we’ve grown to nearly 2,700 student and alumni members! Are YOU one of them?

Students do need to attend an orientation here in Career Services before your request to join will be accepted. You can sign up for an orientation in OrangeLink (accessed through MySlice). If the times don’t work for you, just give our office a call at 315-443-3616 to set up an orientation with me (Kim Brown) at a time that’s convenient for you.

Alumni are accepted to the group as soon as we see your requests to join. Joining the group says that you’re willing to be contacted (via LinkedIn messages) by students and fellow alumni as they explore different careers, opportunities at your companies, advice on what it’s like to live and work in certain cities, and more. It’s a phenomenal way to “give back.” I can’t tell you how many students have e-mailed me to say what great connections they’ve made or have stopped by my office with bright eyes to share the story of a great informational interview they had with an SU grad they found in ‘CuseConnect. THANK YOU to our alumni who’ve already come on board!

Courtesy: LinkedIn

The top industries represented in ‘CuseConnect (but our group certainly isn’t limited to these!) are:

  • Marketing and Advertising
  • Information Technology and Services
  • Public Relations and Communications
  • Financial Services
  • Higher Education
  • Law Practice

What you’ll find inside the group is a vibrant discussion board filled with all kinds of career-related topics. Under the “Jobs” tab, click on “Job Discussions” to find (and post!) job and internship opportunities for our ORANGE family.

If you’re on Twitter, we’re also using #HireOrange when we post jobs/internships from SU alumni specifically for SU students and fellow alumni. Be sure to check it out!

Do you have a SUccess story to share as a member of ‘CuseConnect? Have suggestions on how we can make the group more useful? Please let us know by leaving a comment below!

Network with SU alumni! Check out our Spring 2012 Alumni Speaker Series

By Kim Brown

I am SO excited about this semester’s line-up for the Alumni Speaker Series. Along with the Office of Alumni Relations, Career Services invites successful SU alumni to share their career stories with you and to offer you some incredible connections in the fields you’re interested in after you leave SU. After a fantastic fall, we are getting ready to kick off our spring edition of the Series. Our first event is Friday, January 27th! These events are free and open to all.

Next Friday, we’ll welcome Marco Forte, ’95 and Mitch Messinger, ’92 G ’93.

Marco Forte studied Consumer Studies, when it was a major in the college we now know as Falk College of Sport and Human Dynamics. He’s now Vice President of Primetime Sales for ABC Television, handling national advertisers such as Apple, McDonald’s, J.C. Penney, Visa and PepsiCo.

Mitch Messinger is Publicity Director for ABC Daytime and Soapnet, overseeing national publicity campaigns including those for the multi-Emmy Award-winning drama “General Hospital.” Mitch’s undergrad major was in American Studies, then he went on to receive his Master’s Degree in TRF from Newhouse. Mitch bleeds orange; in fact, he was an Otto when he was a student here!

Meet Marco and Mitch at 1:30 p.m., January 27th, in Newhouse 3’s Hergenhan Auditorium. They will share their stories, offer advice for those of you seeking similar career paths, then leave plenty of time for Q-and-A. After the event, join us for an hors d’oeuvres reception in the lobby and a chance to network with Marco and Mitch one-on-one.

As for the rest of the Series, here’s who we have on tap!

Lindsay Adler, ’08
Tuesday, February 7th
7:30 p.m., Watson Theater

If you follow fashion photography, you know the name Lindsay Adler. We are THRILLED to welcome the very successful NYC fashion photographer back for this lecture on 2/7 and several class visits on 2/8. You can check out her website to learn more about her and to see some examples of her incredible work. Follow her on Twitter at @LindsayAdler!

Lan Luan, G ’04
Tuesday, February 21st
Time/Location TBA

Lan is Senior Product Manager focusing on International Marketing for Microsoft’s Bing. We’re welcoming her back to campus during National Engineers Week, which is very exciting. Lan was born and raised in China and received her Master’s Degree from the L.C. Smith College of Engineering and Computer Science. She will share advice on working for one of the world’s most recognizable companies, and will offer a unique perspective for our international students interesting in following her career path.

Theo Moll, ’90
Tuesday, March 27th
Time/Location TBA

Theo is Vice President of Keppler Speakers’ College and University Diversion. Keppler’s exclusive roster of national and international celebrities and experts represents many of the most in-demand speakers on the lecture circuit today. Theo should really appeal to members of University Union and all students interested in representing professional and celebrity speakers.

Brian Tarrant, ’96
Wednesday, April 4th
Time/Location TBA

Brian is a Vice President at MC2 Events, Exhibits and Environments. He started his career in sales. It was his company, MC2, that designed the Melo Center’s Hall of Fame that greets visitors. We are hoping to hold his event in the Melo Center, to give students a rare opportunity to see it. You can read more about Brian in this feature article from SU Magazine.

Stay tuned as we finalize details on all of our alumni speakers. If you have any questions about these events, please don’t hesitate to ask! Hope to see you at some or all of them!

Career Services in Los Angeles: Check out who we met!

By Kim Brown

If you follow us on Twitter, you know that several of us from the @CareerSU team were out in Los Angeles last week, working to make some awesome connections with employers and Syracuse University alumni.

Sue Casson (@smcasson), our Associate Director of Employer Relations and Shannon Feeney (@orange_spice), our Employer Relations Coordinator were on the trip – and I went along too!

Our Employer Relations team is really working hard to connect you with the employers you’ve told us you’d like to see on campus.

A fun intersection at Disney in LA!

We visited several employers in LA, including Activision Blizzard, Disney, Pelican Products, Mattel, Creative Artists Agency, Guitar Center, Robinson Helicopter, and more.

We also stopped in at Nickelodeon Animation and are VERY excited to announce that, for the first time ever, @NickAnimation will be recruiting at SU. Don’t miss them when they visit for our Career Fair in February!

Visiting the new SU in LA campus was a real treat. 41 students are studying out there, with 41 amazing internships! I was able to teach them some of them the ins and outs of LinkedIn, which was certainly a lot of fun. Now they have the tools they need to turn those internships into full-time jobs, which Andrew Graham also gave us some great advice on in this earlier blog post!

A highlight of our trip was being able to see a taping of Leno, thanks to SU grad Matt Curran, who works for NBC Universal as Director of Talent Relations and Community and Corporate Affairs. If there’s one thing we confirmed on this trip, it’s that Syracuse University alumni have the most amazing jobs – and are so willing to help our students get to where they are, offering great advice along the way. The SU network is second to none.

Check out some of the videos we shot in Los Angeles for our Career Services YouTube Channel. We’ve posted several new ones! Look for:

Stacy Small, Newhouse 1991, Owner of Elite Travel International

Linda DiMeglio, Newhouse, Entertainment Sales Manager at LA’s InterContinental Hotel

John Campisi, Newhouse 1990, Film Agent at Creative Artists Agency

Michael Franceschi, VPA 2001, Supervising Animator at Nickelodeon Animation

Amy Taylor, VPA 1999, Character FX TD at DreamWorks Animation

Mike Stern, VPA 2000, Character Animator at DreamWorks Animation

Wade Ryer, VPA 1997, Character TD at DreamWorks Animation

Sandy Prisbell, VPA 2002, Designer of Barbie Consumer Products at Mattel

Check out this advice from Newhouse alumna (magazine major) Stacy Small (@elitetravelgal)!


Are you planning to move to Los Angeles? What other companies would you like to see recruiting graduates of Syracuse University?