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PCCW celebrates 20 years of helping, engaging Cornell women

Patricia Carry Stewart with President Frank Rhodes

Patricia Carry Stewart '50 with then Cornell President Frank H.T. Rhodes.

The President's Council of Cornell Women (PCCW) celebrates its 20th year with gala events on campus April 29-May 1.

The PCCW comprises 358 highly successful alumnae who advocate on behalf of Cornell women -- faculty and students alike -- by advising Cornell presidents on ways to improve women's standing, mentoring students and raising money for scholarships, faculty seed grants, women's athletics and leadership.

The group was co-founded by two members of the Cornell Board of Trustees, Patricia Carry Stewart '50 and Lilyan Affinito '53, who felt there was a need to engage the growing number of women working successfully in business, the professions and the arts. Using a similar program at the University of Pennsylvania as a model, they developed PCCW with the support of President Frank H.T. Rhodes.

"The university had made no particular effort to identify this group of women and cultivate them," remembers Stewart. "Our first batch of members we got from reading newspaper articles and alumni news notes. The alumni office didn't know them. We took a chance on the women that we selected."

Those initial hunches paid off. Diana Daniels '71 and Jan Rock Zubrow '77, current vice chairs of the board of trustees, were first recruited to become active volunteer leaders for Cornell through PCCW.

Lilyan Affinito with President Hunter Rawlings

Lilyan Affinito '53 with then Cornell President Hunter Rawlings.

Current PCCW chair Carolyn Press Landis '65 was among the steering committee of the group's inaugural 100 members. When she first got a call from Stewart inviting her to join, in 1989, she thought: "I don't think I can fit this in." After all, she was the CEO of a restaurant holding company and a mother of four children. She wasn't going to accept, she admits, "until [Stewart] said, 'The president's council will advise the president on issues important to Cornell women.'

"The opportunity to positively impact Cornell women, both directly and at the policy level, was a very attractive incentive. Without that, I believe few of the founding members would have joined," she says.

Carla Harris at PCCW lunch 2009

Carla Harris, a director at Morgan Stanley, speaks during a Johnson Graduate School of Management panel discussion and women's power lunch as part of the PCCW annual meeting in March 2009. In background are PCCW members Shaz Kahng '85, standing, and Alison Weir '86, left.

Since its inception, PCCW has awarded $652,141 in research and arts grants to 175 women at Cornell through interest payout from its Affinito-Stewart Grants endowment. "This program is most rewarding," explains Landis, "when we see the faculty to whom we gave seed grants achieve tenure and obtain major funding from other sources. For example, professor Rachel Bean, one of the scheduled speakers at the 20th anniversary event, recently received hundreds of thousands of dollars from the National Science Foundation for work PCCW supported in the pilot stage." Since its inception, PCCW has also awarded $430,000 in leadership grants to faculty, students and women's athletics.

Today, the university's senior faculty and its board of trustees include a higher number of women than was the case 20 years ago, thanks in part to PCCW's fundraising, mentoring and advocacy.

"We still see a difference between the proportion of women at the highest ranks of faculty and leadership and the proportion of women in the general Cornell population from which those high ranks are drawn," notes Landis. "In the foreseeable future, PCCW still has a role to play."

Related links:

President's Council of Cornell Women

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