Pat Reilly ’78, P ’13 graduated from the College of Arts and Sciences with a degree in mathematics. Following a long career with Bell Labs and AT&T, Pat has become a fixture of the Monmouth and Ocean County Cornell community. Her impressively long list of Cornell volunteer positions include: Cornell Club of Monmouth/Ocean Counties President, Class of 1978 Secretary, Cornell Alumni Admissions Ambassador Network (CAAAN) Chair, Cornell Alumni Trustee Nominations Committee, Cornell University Council Member, Continuous Reunion Club Vice President, and Faded Red, Cornell Rugby Alumni Association Director of Alumni Development.
Tell us about your journey to Cornell.
I was a first-generation college student from a blue-collar family. My older sister attended a small Catholic college, but I wanted to branch out after 12 years of parochial schools and was the first in the family to consider non-Catholic colleges. I planned to major in math or computer science so I considered technical schools, but ultimately, I chose Cornell because of the breadth of opportunities it offered. I was a little intimidated at first because everyone I met freshman year had taken calculus in high school and my small all-girls high school hadn’t even offered calculus! But I stuck with it (with a lot of time spent with my calc TA) and successfully majored in theoretical math. In 2013 my older daughter also graduated from Cornell with a major in math, and now teaches high school calculus!
You wear many different Cornell hats. How did you get started in these volunteer opportunities?
Like many active Cornell alumni, my first volunteer role was with CAAAN. After some time, I was asked to become a CAAAN chair, which led to a greater involvement with my Regional Cornell Club. I also wanted to be more connected with my classmates, so I raised my hand to take on a class officer role. After retiring from my IT/Telecomm job in 2018, I had more time to offer and expanded my involvement further. It’s a very organic process—with each volunteer role, you make more connections and meet more people, which leads to expanded opportunities!
What has been your favorite volunteering moment?
There have been several occasions when I’ve run into current students at CALC or at our club’s Cornell Cares Day events who remembered our CAAAN contact meeting. Realizing that our CAAAN meeting might have influenced their decision to attend Cornell is extremely rewarding!
How has Cornell impacted who you are today?
I owe my 40-year career in IT/Telecomm to Cornell connections. With the help of the Career Center, I got a summer job after my junior year in a research program at Bell Labs, after which they told me I’d need to get a PhD in math to come back to work there permanently. However, while majoring in theoretical math I had come to the realization that I didn’t want to pursue a math PhD and wanted to move in a more applied direction, so I had started to take operations research courses with Cornell Engineering. I happened to have a Cornell classmate who also had a job that summer in a different area of Bell Labs and she introduced me to her boss, who happened to be the head Bell Labs recruiter for Cornell Engineering. He told me to “crash” the Engineering interviews and tell them that Bell Labs wanted to interview me, something I never would have done on my own! I got the job, went on to get a master’s in operations research, and spent most of my long and rewarding career at Bell Labs/AT&T.
Is there something that any of your volunteer groups is working on that you’re excited about?
I serve on the Cornell Alumni Trustee Nominations committee, and it has been so humbling to see the depth and breadth of talent among all the candidates submitted for consideration. I’m excited to see what our newly-elected alumni trustees will bring to the Board of Trustees, and equally excited to see who will be submitted for next year’s election! Anyone can submit a nomination, so think about the extraordinary alumni volunteers you know and submit a nomination by June 3, 2022!
What has motivated your lifelong philanthropy?
I was lucky to have some scholarships, which helped with the cost of attending Cornell. Then my parents’ financial situation changed dramatically going into my junior year, as a result of the fiscal crisis in New York City curtailing construction contracts. I applied for and received a scholarship from a Cornell Women’s Club, which made a real difference in my ability to stay at Cornell. Since then, I’ve wanted to pay it forward by helping provide similar opportunities to today’s students.
Do you have a favorite class or extracurricular from your time at Cornell?
My favorite class at Cornell was Mozart, where we read Mozart’s letters as we studied his music. Thirty-five years later my daughter took the same class, from the same professor! My favorite extracurricular at Cornell was the women’s rugby team (CWRFC), a club sport. It was my first team sport, and I loved everything about the experience. I continued to play rugby in graduate school and beyond. In 2013 the team asked if I would be their rep on the Faded Red Rugby Alumni Board, which helps with fundraising and oversight, and it’s given me an opportunity to connect with current students in a new way.
Do you have a message for newly graduated alumni looking to volunteer?
Start with CAAAN contact meetings or attending events with your Regional Cornell Club. Come back to your Reunions, and consider joining the Continuous Reunion Club so you’ll have a “home” at every Reunion! Over time you’ll meet new people and be exposed to more opportunities to share your time and talent with Cornell!