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MARCH 2004

Women Shaping History 2004:
Regina Peruggi, President, Central Park Conservancy

Factors in Career Choice: I think the age during which I grew up and the education I received had the most significant influence on my choice of career. I was in high school and college during the sixties and was very influenced by the Kennedy era during which time there was a tremendous emphasis on being involved in public service. In addition, the education I received in high school and college was also very value focused and emphasized not just "getting a job" or "career", but doing something that would make a difference for your fellow man. At first, I was very interested in joining the Peace Corps, but for a variety of reasons didn't. Instead I was able to find a position as a social worker working with female drug abusers who were in a locked facility in Manhattan. This became the first of many public service positions I've held throughout my career.

Pivotal Points: A pivotal point in my career came when I had worked at The City University of New York for almost six years and decided to go back to graduate school for my MBA. At the time I was running the York College Community Learning Center, which was almost entirely, grant funded. I realized that, in fact, it was like running a small business and I wanted to develop my managerial and financial skills so that I could run the Center as effectively as possible. From this position I moved on to the Central Office of the University (a position I would not have gotten had I not been on my way to completing an advanced degree). It was there that I decided that I wanted to have the opportunity to make a more direct impact on students and returned again to school at night to pursue a doctorate. I knew that having the doctorate would give me the credential I needed to be considered for higher-level college administrative positions.

Achievements: I'm proud of developing the York College Learning Center many years ago. I am proud of the CUNY Literacy, GED and other adult programs that I was able to expand at the University. I believe that the 11 years I spent as President of Marymount Manhattan College made a difference. Currently I am president of the Central Park Conservancy and I am proud of the work we do every day to keep Central Park the glorious Park it has become over the past 24 years.

Obstacles: I think the real obstacles I encountered originally were in relation to graduate education. Pursuing a career in higher education demands graduate credentials and it took me a while to get myself started to go back to school at night. In fact, even once I decided, it took ten years to get my MBA and doctorate at night. Clearly going at night and having a very responsible position during the day was difficult. How did I overcome the obstacles–I can't really say except that once I got on track I just kept going. There seemed to be no other choice and I had good moral support from the man I was living with at the time.

Other obstacles were more internal, lack of self-confidence probably being the most difficult to overcome. But, I think I overcame that by pushing myself into difficult situations and getting through them. After awhile you begin to say...I can get through anything.

Mentors: Early on I would say that my high school teachers were really very instrumental in mentoring me. At my first job my supervisor, Phyllis Hyde, really taught me everything I learned about counseling and supervising other people. Jim Hall, my first boss in higher education was probably my most important mentor throughout my life. He encouraged me, supported my work, pushed me to go further, and taught me so much about education, about people and about life. In fact, I would not be where I am today without his guidance and support. The other important mentors in my life were and continue to be Dr. Augusta Kappner, President of Bank Street College. I worked for her in 1984 and it changed my life. She was an inspiration, a real friend, the best supervisor, colleague, teacher and mentor. The work we were doing was important. We worked really hard but enjoyed every minute of it and had a lot of fun as well. We have remained close friends and I continually seek her advice. And–Mary Anne Schwalbe. Mary Anne is the retired executive director of the Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children. I met Mary Anne when she was a trustee of Marymount Manhattan College and ever since have looked at her as a true role model for the type of person I would like to be. Her commitment, enthusiasm and caring for others are extraordinary. She is a mentor, model, friend and someone on whom I rely for advice.

Advice: I think the most important thing is to find something you truly love to do and are passionate about. If youÕre not passionate about what you do you wonÕt do it well and you wonÕt be successful. Success most often comes when what you do really matters to you. Then, you work hard and you do well.  I would also say that success comes in many forms and ultimately the most important success is the kind that makes you feel good about what you have done with your life and how you have treated the people who are important to you along the way. IÕm a firm believer that success is really a lot more than getting a big paycheck or being a high-powered executive. Success is about being at peace with yourself and how youÕve lived your life.

Goals: My most immediate goal is to preserve and continue to fully restore Central Park for everyone's enjoyment. There is no place that is more the heart of New York City than Central Park. It's part of everyone's soul and is our City's most precious democratic space. It's the play space for our children. It's our City's largest outdoor, free gym. It's the relaxing space for our weary workforce. It's a safe place for our seniors to stroll. Central Park means so much to this City and I am trying to work towards a time when it will be fully funded in perpetuity so that we never have to worry that it will deteriorate again. Most people don't know that the Park is 85% funded through private dollars, so my goal is to try to find a way to ensure that the daily cost of maintaining the Park is assured forever.

Other goals are to pursue my interest in issues related to refugee women and children. I have been a board member of the Women's Commission for Refugee Women and children for almost nine years and I continue to want to do, learn and help more. 80% of the world's refugees are women and children and there is not sufficient attention to their special needs in crisis situations and after.

My other passion is education and I continue to work on various boards and advisory groups to promote access to higher education. I've been involved with higher education for so much of my life that it's in my blood. It continues to be an important part of my life and continuing to be involved is one of my important goals.

Finally, lest you think that I am all work–one of my really important goals is to ensure that I have personal time in my life to "play" with family and friends. My family and my friends are very important to me and is what sustains me. As I said, success is about a whole life!#




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