Patricia Roberts – CUP Fellow Spotlight

What is your occupation and how did you come to work in this field?

I am a Managing Director at AllianceBernstein where I serve as Senior Product Manager for the country’s second-largest, advisor-sold Section 529 college savings program. In addition to product management, my role includes state relationship management and advocacy.

My journey to my current role began while practicing law. While in-house counsel at Citigroup/Smith Barney, one of my asset management client groups entered the newly evolving college savings product arena. As their attorney, I developed expertise in Section 529 (the section of the Internal Revenue Code after which college savings programs are named).

After the loss of our office building at the World Trade Center complex on September 11, 2001, my team was relocated from lower Manhattan to Stamford, CT. While I had been at the company for over a decade and very happy in my legal role, the increase of my daily commute from ten minutes to nearly two hours each way became a challenge. It was difficult to consider changing directions during the dark days and months following 9/11, but eventually my heart and mind became open to alternative ways to add value as a professional.

I was first recruited by Merrill Lynch to work with its education savings products and on related state and federal advocacy.  After five years there, I was recruited for my current role. While my legal background serves me well each day, I now have the privilege of also using some of my other skills in support of a product I love.

What is the biggest challenge of your work?

The biggest challenge is continuing to help American families recognize the value of planning ahead for higher education and to then, move the awareness to action. So many are being saddled by enormous amounts of educational debt while others are either not pursuing higher education or dropping out mid-way.

Having financed my undergraduate and law degrees while working multiple jobs and having repaid sizeable student loans, I can appreciate the difference that even a small amount of advanced planning can make. I can also attest to the tremendous value of higher education and the many doors it opens.

What is your proudest achievement?

I appreciate having a meaningful, well-suited and rewarding career while also being able to remain family-focused and authentic.

What leaders, thinkers or doers do you admire most? 

I admire Joanna Barsh (researcher and author of How Remarkable Women Lead) for her work on “centered leadership” and many of the leaders she has studied and profiled.

Where do you see yourself in ten years?

I see myself continuing to have personal and professional impact, having learned even more about my unique gifts and having discovered additional ways to utilize them to help others.

What is one thing you’ve learned from the CUP Fellows Program that you would pass along to young people who want their careers and lives to have an impact?

There are countless ways to add value and find meaning. Identify and pursue your passions, embrace the unexpected, focus on the bright spots (notice what’s working and replicate it) and don’t hesitate to ask for and offer specific help along the way.