The long conference table in the Spiro Sports Center’s VIP Room is full to overflowing with students, nibbling on sandwiches and salads while also preparing to take notes. At the front stands Carolina Silva ’16, president of the Wagner Alumni Association Board. She is the speaker for this Lunch and Learn event on “The Art of Networking,” a program of Wagner’s Women’s Professional Network.
“How many of you feel like you’re strong networkers?” asks Silva.
One person raises a hand.
“We’re going to work on that,” Silva tells them. “Today, we are going to cover how I built my network, the value of networking, and how you can network as well.”
Over the next 45 minutes, Silva, a financial advisor for Morgan Stanley, captures the students’ full attention as she shares her own journey, practical tips, and an activity to get them started on building a professional network.
This program is just one example of the many ways Silva has given back generously to the College with her time, knowledge, leadership, and financial support, in the few years since she graduated. As she tells the students, Wagner played and continues to play a key role in her own personal and professional development. Now, she is playing a key role in developing opportunities for Wagner alumni as well.
A Florida native and the daughter of Colombian immigrants, Silva was recruited for Wagner’s water polo team back in 2012. In high school, she was not only a top-flight competitive athlete, but she also got her start in business. “I was a hardcore knife salesperson” for Cutco, she tells the students with her characteristic deadpan humor.
In college, Silva declared her major in international affairs, thinking she wanted to go into diplomacy and international women’s empowerment.
When she was a junior, Wagner’s Center for Academic and Career Engagement started a new program, the Women’s Professional Network, to connect students with alumni for career mentoring. Through WPN, Silva met new people and was exposed to new career fields that interested her.
In particular, she met Wagner alumnae who were in the financial services industry and students in the finance major. She found a good fit for her own talents and lifestyle preferences in this career field. She started a Student Professional Association at Wagner in order to expand her network within the student body. Her alumni connections helped her land her first job after college, as a financial advisor with Merrill Lynch.
As a young professional, Silva says, the Wagner alumni network has helped her expand her business and her career opportunities. And Silva has also bolstered the networking infrastructure for Wagner alumni, building on the successful Women’s Professional Network program.
A year after Silva’s graduation from Wagner, her mentor Elisabeth Cardiello ’06 M’07, who was serving as vice president of the Alumni Association Board, nominated her to serve on the board.
“When I first joined the board, in 2017, it seemed like there was no true way to get involved with the Alumni Association other than joining the board or if you kept in touch with students through an affinity group like Greek life, athletics, or your major,” Silva says. “This was part of the reason why I created the alumnae initiative of the Women’s Professional Network.”
Through Silva’s efforts, the WPN expanded so that it not only connects students with alumni, but also connects alumni with each other. Supported by several alumni board members and also Wagner Trustees Mary Caracappa-Hurtado '82 and Lisa DeRespino Bennett '85, the group meets for breakfasts, lunch-and-learns with students, an annual social that includes alumni and students, and a year-end reception.
One opportunity led to the next, and Silva kept saying yes. She became president of the Alumni Association Board in 2018.
Her vision is to foster more involvement opportunities for alumni. She has helped to recruit new board members and find leadership to start new programs for young alumni, black alumni, and LGBTQIA+ alumni. “These initiatives are an extension of the alumni board,” she explains. “All of these groups and programs have the shared goal of engaging alumni and bridging the gap between alumni and students.”
“Carolina has done incredible work within our alumni board,” says Nicolina Astorina, director of alumni relations. “We have worked together on redefining our structure and growing our initiatives. It’s been a true pleasure to work with Carolina and get to know her and the astounding person she is. I have seen fantastic progress and growth for our initiatives with the leadership of Carolina and all of the other board members.”
Q&A with Carolina Silva
Interested in becoming more involved with Wagner? Read on for more insights from Alumni Association Board President Carolina Silva, who responded to questions via email with these well-organized responses.
As president of the Alumni Association Board, what ideas do you have for encouraging different ways of alumni involvement with the Alumni Association?
We recognize that not everyone can be on the alumni board — there are 27,000 alumni, and only 21 people on the board. Because of the success of the Women’s Professional Network to the benefit of the alumnae AND the students, we are looking to engage alumni through a number of initiatives, which are thriving because of our alumni board members. These initiatives are seen as an extension of the alumni board, with the shared goal of engaging alumni and bridging the gap between alumni and students.
- GOLD, or Graduates of the Last Decade, is led by alumni board members Ashley Sodipo ’15 and Joanna Ciavarella ’11.
- WPN, or Women's Professional Network, is chaired by Aurora Brennan ’13, and Alyssa Ahern ’13 serves as the alumni board liaison.
- BSU, or Black Student Union; Olatunde Ogunlana ’10 M’11 serves as the alumni board liaison.
- OUTWagner, an LGBTQIA+ initiative launched as an alumni program in 2019, is chaired by alumni board member Dillon Quinn ’17.
We are seeking more volunteers for all of these initiatives. Outside of these core initiatives, we would like to partner with alumni across the nation through regional events. Our best regional events are coordinated by our alumni.
- Our most popular event is the Florida event, thanks to the leadership of our ex officio alumni board member Jack Felver ’65.
- This year, alumni board member Christian Rautenstrauch ’13 planned a private tour of the Capitol for alumni in the DC metro area.
We are always open to ideas, so if you would like to plan an alumni event near you, give us a call!
Are you looking to recruit more members to the board currently? If so, what are you looking for in an alumni board member? What are the benefits of this service for the alumni?
Absolutely! Our current goal is to bring on five new board members for the 2020–21 academic year. When it comes to new board members, we are looking for diversity. It is important we represent the diverse population of Wagner alumni.
- We are specifically looking for graduates of the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s.
- We would love to have people who represent different industries like technology, sciences, health sciences, theater, and government and politics, to name a few.
- We are interested in individuals who have actively participated with the Alumni Association or individuals with previous non-profit board experience.
Benefits of service:
- Knowing you have a voice and a say in the future of Wagner.
- The ability to create change and impact.
- The opportunity to meet alumni across the generations — our board has members from the ’60s to graduates of the last decade.
Do you have a favorite Wagner alumni event? If so, what is it and why?
I don’t have one favorite alumni event. Each alumni event serves a different purpose and attracts different kinds of people. I love all of our signature alumni events:
- Homecoming: It brings families and young alumni back on campus; it’s the chance to spend the day on the Oval eating from my favorite Staten Island restaurants. This past Homecoming (2019) was my favorite so far, because we had the perfect weather on the Oval, we brought back a former Wagner tradition by having a Homecoming float for the royal court (shoutout to Ann Giordano '69 on bringing back the floats!), and ended the day with the hospitality tent, which allowed a group of alumni to hang out and connect on the end zone of the football field.
- Holiday Party: We get to connect with local alumni. For this year's holiday party, we had a private dinner cruise with 70 alumni. We had the opportunity to enjoy the beautiful NYC skyline and see the Statue of Liberty (closer than on a Staten Island Ferry ride).
- Career Conversations: It provides the chance to connect students and alumni to talk about professional development. This event is like a “professional homecoming” for alumni. Having attended as a student and an alumna, I get to see familiar and new faces of alumni across a number of different industries and companies. Students dress up in their best professional wear and network with alumni to learn about different career paths and land internships and job opportunities.
- Reunion Weekend: I love it for seeing Wagner alumni across the generations reunite and connect because of our shared love for Wagner College. My favorite part of Reunion Weekend is the Alumni Awards, because it is the chance to recognize and commemorate the achievements of our alumni.