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2017 Alumni News

Ana Rodriguez ’03 named director of Cox’s Latino Leadership Initiative

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SMU Cox Executive Education welcomes a new director to take its four-year-old Latino Leadership Initiative to the next level. Ana Rodriguez, an alumna of SMU Cox, brings nearly twenty years of experience in higher education, not for profit and corporate work.

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Launched in November 2013, the LLI is a national center of excellence at the Cox School of Business designed to help meet the nation’s growing need for corporate leaders as the economy grows and national demographics evolve. The LLI grew out of research that shows a gap in talent at the country’s executive leadership level.

Rodriguez will have overall strategic and operational responsibility for the LLI, which works with the university and the business community to access an important talent resource and marketplace. The LLI operates to deliver management education programs, organization development services, new research-based insights and community engagement activities.

“I am honored and overjoyed to return to my alma mater as the director of the Latino Leadership Initiative,” said Rodriguez. “While Latinos make up nearly 18 percent of the total U.S. population, only two percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are of Hispanic origin. I am humbled by the opportunity to build upon the LLI’s proven success and to work with companies to recruit, retain and develop top Latino talent.”

“The LLI is of utmost importance to SMU Cox Executive Education in our mission to serve the business community,” said Frank Lloyd, associate dean of Executive Education at SMU Cox. “Ana Rodriguez brings solid experience in establishing mutually beneficial relationships between universities and business organizations. She will strengthen the LLI’s efforts to expand the corporate leadership pipeline and accelerate top Latino talent to management and executive level positions. This will benefit our community, our country, and so SMU.”

Rodriguez will begin her new role August 1. She has held leadership positions in corporate partnerships, development, alumni relations, university advancement, and external affairs at UTD’s Naveen Jindal School of Management and UNT Dallas. In those roles, she coordinated corporate relations strategies, public relations, fund raising, and community engagement. Ana also served as the executive director for the Anita N. Martinez Ballet Folklorico, a non-profit arts organization and resident company of the AT&T Performing Arts Center, and she worked for Bank of America in its Global Wealth and Investments division.

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2017 Alumni May 2017

George Killebrew ’85: Helping SMU students break into the big time

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By Bindu Varghese
SMU

Connor Kolodziej ’19 was so excited about his winter break externship that he was up by 5:30 a.m. so he would be early to the office of George Killebrew ’85, executive vice president with the Dallas Mavericks.

Kolodziej didn’t know what to expect going in. He just knew a chance to work in a sports organization was something he’d always dreamed about. Dallas’ five professional sports teams had attracted the Atlanta, Georgia, resident and lifelong sports lover to SMU, where he is majoring in applied physiology and sport management in the Simmons School of Education and Human Development. So it made perfect sense to pursue a one-day opportunity to get an inside look at the business operations of a legendary team.

SMU sophomore Connor Kolodziej ’19 and SMU alumnus George Killebrew ’85 at American Airlines Center. Kolodziej job-shadowed Killebrew, executive vice president with the Dallas Mavericks, and his staff during a winter break externship that “exceeded my expectations.”

Little did he know then that it would land him a three-month summer internship with the team.

SMU’s Hegi Family Career Development Center connected Kolodziej with Killebrew, who’d received his BBA from the Cox School of Business. “When I found out George was with the Mavericks, I was very excited,” says Kolodziej. “The day exceeded my expectations. I understood the daily operations. Everyone was friendly and happy, and that really encouraged me about my future.”

“It’s actually a simple thing,” says Killebrew, who is also a member of the SMU Alumni Board. “Anytime someone comes in, whether it’s for a summerlong internship or a day’s externship, we want to make sure they get a full flavor of the organization and the different business roles within. A lot of people see the Mavericks and think about the basketball piece of it. But we’re over in a warehouse in Deep Ellum. We’re selling tickets and sponsorships and merchandise. Connor came in and spent pretty much the whole day with us. My whole staff took time with him. So everybody had 30 or 45 minutes with him. We’re always trying to help out – especially someone who wants to get into sports.”

Kolodziej values how the externship helped with his longer-term career aspirations. “I got to make new connections and meet new people who didn’t go to SMU. It also helped me see new aspects – so it broadened my horizon about where I’d like to go in the future.”

He parlayed his winter externship into a summer internship by “staying in contact with George and everyone else I talked to during my winter externship. You never know what is out there unless you ask.” In assisting the Mavs’ corporate sponsorship team this summer with promotions and programs, Kolodziej hopes to gain deeper insights into sports organizations and continue to “learn as much as possible.”

Killebrew, who grew up in Hawaii, credits his SMU education and SMU connections to getting him where he is now. “I was a bit sheltered growing up on an island. When I got to SMU, I met people from all different walks of life, all 50 states and a lot of foreign countries. That really helped prepare me for the real world.”

After graduation, Killebrew worked in the SMU Alumni association for two years, then “I got a job in the Athletics department at SMU. So I was working for the Mustang Club, which opened the door to get me here to the Mavericks – because the people at SMU were helping me take the next steps.”

Killebrew encourages others to take advantage of SMU alumni connections. “There are so many resources, in the city of Dallas and within the SMU alumni community, that you can pretty much accomplish anything you want, regardless of your field. Alumni are willing to help. They just need to be asked.”

Kolodziej appreciates how SMU is helping him pursue the career of his dreams and emphatically recommends the externship experience to other SMU students. “I loved the whole day. I learned so much. SMU has a great connection with alumni, and George pushed home the importance of networking and meeting new people, especially as a student in college. And the most important thing I learned is to find a good place not just to work, but also to enjoy what you do.”

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Alumni

SMU’s Gabby Petrucelli ’16 Balances Grad School And Rowing

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hat’s the key to juggling the demands of graduate school and competitive rowing?

“I started drinking a lot of coffee, especially with early morning practices,” Gabrielle (Gabby) Petrucelli ’16 says. “Being able to balance both is a game in itself.”

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Petrucelli, a four-year starter for the SMU women’s soccer team as an undergraduate, is working toward a master of science in accounting (MSA) at SMU’s Cox School of Business while testing the waters as a first-year member of the SMU rowing team.

Gabby Petrucelli ’16 played soccer for four years at SMU and is now a first-year member of the SMU rowing team and a graduate student in the Cox School of Business.

She and her teammates are at the boathouse on White Rock Lake by 5:30 a.m. weekdays and 7 a.m. on Saturdays. They start with a warm-up run before heading inside to practice on rowing machines. Before 7 a.m., they hit the water in racing shells, those long, narrow boats used in competitive rowing. For the next two hours, they glide back and forth across the lake as head coach Doug Wright and assistant coaches Jessie Hooper ’03 and Paige Love take note of performance strengths and weaknesses, offer suggestions, track times and check in with rowers to make sure they’re feeling 100 percent. It takes tremendous strength and stamina to make the sport look so graceful and effortless.

SMU rowing wrapped up its fall schedule on November 5 with several top-three finishes at the Tulsa Fall Invitational. In its season opener on March 11, the Mustangs host Creighton at White Rock Lake.

The team also finished the fall semester as one of nine SMU sports programs to set new academic records.

While the rigors of graduate school would be enough of a workout for most students, Petrucelli, a lifelong athlete, couldn’t pass up the chance to learn a new sport. Besides soccer, she played tennis in high school but had never tried rowing. The transition has been smooth, but she has had to make a few adjustments.

“In rowing you’re competing for a seat in the boat against your teammates, of course, but soccer is more of a contact sport and the competition is more physical,” she says. “I was used to the group dynamic of soccer practice, and I’ve had to get into the mindset of the individual challenge of the rowing workouts.”

She’s used to challenges. As an undergraduate, she played the trickiest soccer position – coach’s daughter. Her father is SMU women’s soccer head coach Chris Petrucelli. During her four years of eligibility, she and her father adhered to a strict rule: When at practice or during a game, they were “coach” and “player,” not “father” and “daughter.”

“To both my dad and me, it was about being members of a team,” says the former soccer mid-fielder. “I felt like I was treated the same by him and my teammates, which I’m grateful for.”

She says the discipline and time-management skills she developed as an undergraduate student-athlete serve her well in graduate school.

“Being an athlete teaches you to work hard and persevere. You learn that you have to keep going, whether you lose a game or have to stay up late to figure out an assignment you thought you’d never understand,” she says. “I have developed the mindset of ‘you can do this,’ no matter what, and that has helped me academically.”

The spring will be a whirlwind, as she finishes her master’s program, competes with the rowing team and prepares to sit for the CPA exam, beginning in May. All this will lead up to the launch of her professional career, when she joins the tax department of PwC (PricewaterhouseCoopers) in July.

“I’ve been fortunate to be able to compete in two sports at the collegiate level while receiving a great education at SMU,” Petrucelli says. “I have learned a lot about competiveness, perseverance and teamwork that will be valuable in my career going forward.”

– Patricia Ward

SEE MORE PHOTOS OF SMU ROWING AT WHITE ROCK LAKE

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Alumni

SMU’s Avery Acker ’15 Nominated For NCAA Woman Of The Year

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Alumni

Celebrating NBA History With SMU Alum Trent Redden ’06, Cleveland Cavaliers Assistant GM

Trent Redden ’06, assistant general manager for the Cleveland Cavaliers in the locker room with the Larry O’Brien Trophy after the Cavs won the NBA championship.
Trent Redden ’06, assistant general manager of the Cleveland Cavaliers, in the locker room with the Larry O’Brien Trophy after the Cavs won the NBA championship June 19.

What’s it like to be at the center of 1.3 million ecstatic fans? SMU alumnus Trent Redden, assistant general manager of the Cleveland Cavaliers, was with the team in a parade on June 22 celebrating the Cav’s National Basketball Association (NBA) championship.

“It’s such a cliché, but words are really hard to come by in trying to describe the experience,” Redden says. “The outpouring of love for the team has been amazing.”

The Cavaliers made NBA history on June 19 after charging back from a 3-1 finals deficit – no other team has ever rebounded from such a lopsided start – beating the Golden State Warriors, 93-89, in Game 7 of the finals. They also lifted the legendary “Cleveland sports curse,” a 52-year title drought for its professional teams.

“There may be other championships, but this moment can never be replicated,” Redden says. “Fifty-two years of suffering by one of the most passionate fan bases in the country is over. Some people might think sports don’t matter, but when you see how happy the city is, you know they matter. And I feel so lucky to be a small part of it.”

As assistant GM, he’s involved in trades and hiring, including coaches and players, and free agencies and helped build the winning team. For six of his 10 years in the NBA, he has worked with superstar LeBron James, who famously returned to the Cavaliers in 2014 from Miami with a future championship in mind.

“We’re all fortunate to be around him,” Redden says. “He’s a great person and a great player. He makes us all look good.”

Redden hasn’t had much time to savor the victory, though. After the team returned to Ohio on June 20, he hit the ground running to prepare for the NBA draft on June 23 and free agency period starting July 1. After that, his attention turns to the NBA Summer League, July 8-18. If he’s really lucky, Redden will be able to sandwich in his first free weekend since September.

The lion’s share of his job focuses on professional and college scouting. He’s on the road 20 days a month, checking out talent across the United States and scouring Europe for prospects.

I had other opportunities, but SMU bet on me on a level that no one else did by giving me a President’s Scholarship,” says Trent Redden ’06. Now he’s paying forward that vote of confidence through the Trent D. Redden Endowed President’s Scholarship. “It’s my way of thanking SMU for the scholarship and a great education.”

His path to the NBA started at SMU. Redden grew up in Portland, Oregon, where he excelled in the classroom. When it came time to select a university, the choice was a no-brainer.

“I had other opportunities, but SMU bet on me on a level that no one else did by giving me a President’s Scholarship,” he says. Each year SMU invites 20 to 25 of the most gifted first-year students to receive President’s Scholarships. The academic scholarships provide full tuition and fees.

He’s paying forward that vote of confidence through the Trent D. Redden Endowed President’s Scholarship.

“The University thought enough of me to make that commitment, and I will always be grateful and indebted,” he says. “It’s my way of thanking SMU for the scholarship and a great education.”

While earning bachelor’s degrees in accounting and public policy, he had internships with two powerhouses: Haynes and Boone, an international corporate law firm co-founded by SMU alumnus and board chair Michael M. Boone ’63, ’67, and KPMG, a global accounting services company.

“They were great experiences, and I learned a lot,” he says. “And they helped me focus on what I wanted to do after SMU.”

He landed on the NBA. Thanks to his academic training, he had developed the front office skills, and basketball was a game he loved and played. He was a walk-on at SMU, joining the Mustangs for two seasons, 2003-2005. After graduating magna cum laude, he applied for a paid basketball operations internship with the Cavaliers. He interviewed three times before he was hired in 2006.

“If I had known what I was up against, I might not have pursued it,” he jokes. “We never advertise the positions, and we get 300 to 400 résumés each year from very qualified people.”

That internship has evolved into a high-profile career. In 2007 Redden became a full-time basketball operations assistant. He has risen through the ranks and was promoted to his current role in 2013.

By his own admission, he’s living the dream. “I’m so fortunate. I get to do something that I enjoy every day.”

With the NBA regular season starting in late October, he doubts he’ll make it back to the Hilltop for his 10-year reunion during Homecoming Weekend, November 3–5. However, he plans to be cheering on the Mustangs at Ford Stadium during the epic SMU v. TCU Battle for the Iron Skillet on September 23 during Family Weekend.

Redden has seen the SMU men’s basketball team on the road and had been to Moody Coliseum several times since the renovation to watch practice and play pick-up, but he had not attended a home game and experienced the new “Moody Magic” until this year.

“The atmosphere was truly incredible,” he remembers. “I saw people I couldn’t get to come to games when we went to school together. What they have built there as a program is a testament to Larry and his staff. They truly have made it the cool thing to do in Dallas.”

– Patricia Ward

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Alumni

Jennifer Burr Altabef ’78, ’81: ‘Scholarships changed my life’

By Kevin Richardson

Growing up in Kansas, Jennifer Burr Altabef dreamed of going away to college as her older siblings had. She had met several SMU graduates, and had set her heart on attending the University.

Jennifer Burr Altabef (left) with Meadows Scholar Gabrielle Bear ’17 at a luncheon honoring donors of student scholarships and support as part of SMU's centennial commemoration on November 17.
Jennifer Burr Altabef (left) with Meadows Scholar Gabrielle Bear ’17 at a luncheon on November 17 honoring donors of student scholarships and support as part of SMU’s centennial commemoration.

But when she was 15, Altabef’s father called her into his office to impart some difficult news that might have shattered that dream permanently. He told her he had lost his job and would be unable to pay for her education after she graduated from high school.

Determined to earn enough money to pay for college, Altabef worked minimum-wage jobs throughout most of her high school career. She ultimately applied and earned acceptance to SMU, but with a little more than $3,000 saved, the Hilltop seemed out of reach.

Then, she received a letter from SMU informing her that she would receive scholarship support that would make her education possible.

Altabef was overwhelmed.

“I almost couldn’t believe that people who didn’t even know me had made it possible for me to attend SMU,” she says about the donors who created her scholarships. “It was life-changing. I was determined to do well because I didn’t want to let them down.”

Fascinated by the Watergate scandal and the role played by reporters, Altabef studied journalism and earned her bachelor’s degree from Meadows School of the Arts in 1978. She eventually decided to pursue a legal career and credits her Meadows professors with teaching her to write, a skill she has relied on throughout her professional life.

“The ability to write well is one of the most important and useful skills a person can have,” she says. “I am so lucky for the rigorous training that I received from my journalism professors. It’s helped me in everything I have ever done.”

When Altabef applied to law schools, she badly wanted to stay in Dallas and knew the SMU Dedman School of Law would offer the best path into the Dallas legal community. The University of Kansas offered a full scholarship that might have taken her back to Kansas. But once again, SMU scholarship support — combined with loans — helped her achieve her dream.

After Altabef graduated from Dedman School of Law in 1981, she began what became a distinguished career in labor and employment law and litigation. She never forgot what had helped enable her achieve so much success.

“Every morning that I went to the office, I was aware that someone whom I did not know had made it possible for me to stay in Dallas, made it possible for me to practice law, and made it possible for me to have the life I chose,” Altabef says.

Altabef became involved with SMU as a volunteer after a former dean of the Meadows School asked her to lunch. He told her about the exciting educational experiences students were having at Meadows and throughout SMU. Memories of her own experiences on the Hilltop and what she heard about today’s SMU inspired her to serve her alma mater.

Altabef has served as a member of the SMU Libraries Executive Board and the Meadows School of the Arts Executive Board, on which she is slated to serve as the next chair. “I feel grateful to SMU for essentially giving me my life,” she says. “So I jumped at the opportunity to be involved.”

In her work on behalf of the Meadows School, Altabef has developed a strong connection with the Meadows Scholars Program, which raises annual and endowed resources to bring top-caliber students in the arts and communications to SMU.

“The simple truth is that scholarships change lives,” Altabef says. “I know that because scholarships changed my life. For that reason, it is also true that people who receive scholarships are the people who most want to give them.”