Meet Alumna Diane (McDonnell) Pickles ’89, Program Director at Additional Ventures

Name: Diane (McDonnell) Pickles

Class Year: 1989

Title: Program Director, Project Singular

Organization Name: Additional Ventures


1. In one sentence, what does your job entail

I lead a direct to participant genetic sequencing study of patients with single ventricle heart disease and their immediate family members to fuel research to find curative solutions for this rare, complex disease.


2. What planned and unplanned events connected you to your industry and your first employer after Holy Cross? How did you learn/decide it was a good fit for you?  

My first job after college was in substance abuse prevention education which led me to tobacco control policy work.  I worked on local policy change efforts for several years and then served as Executive Director of a statewide coalition that spearheaded the successful 2004 campaign to make all workplaces in Massachusetts smoke-free.  From there, I moved to a policy advocacy consulting firm where I spent more than a decade working for non-profit organizations helping them advance their mission through policy change.  My passion for advocacy was largely fueled by the unexpected and life-changing experience of having a child born with a rare, complex, life-threatening condition called Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome for which there are no curative treatments, only palliative interventions.  I found it unacceptable that I could bring my sick child into a family restaurant and have someone light up a cigarette at the next table.  Moreover, I had to learn how to be an advocate in so many ways, in so many places, and on so many issues – with the healthcare system, insurance companies, the school system, and employers.  Having a sick child who required three open heart surgeries before the age of 2 and ongoing medical interventions also dramatically impacted my career choices in terms of when, where, and how I was able to work.  I needed to take several years off from my career and then could only return part time.  Even after I was able to return full-time, work was a challenging juggling act and required understanding and accommodating employers combined with a great deal of hard work and commitment.  Throughout these years, I volunteered on several congenital heart disease initiatives because it felt essential to try to turn my family’s experience into something good for others.  Approximately 4 years ago, I decided to make a radical career shift and move away from policy advocacy and into the field of cardiovascular research.  For the past 2 years, I have been able to combine my personal passions with my professional skills and work for a nonprofit research foundation dedicated to finding treatments that will enable normal longevity and quality of life for patients with single ventricle heart disease like my son.


3. What were you involved in when you were on campus?

I was a Student Alcohol Advisor (I believe now called SWEET Peer Educators) for two years.  I also worked off-campus at a Worcester law firm as a legal secretary.


4. What was your major and how did it affect your career decisions?

I was a Psychology major because I found it really interesting, but it honestly didn’t impact my career decisions (please don’t quote me to my parents or professors!).  I really thought I would go to graduate school or law school, become a lawyer or a teacher or a child psychologist – but life had other plans.  However, I do know that it provided me with a solid educational foundation for understanding human behavior and motivations, learning to problem solve effectively, and enjoying research and inquiry.


5. What are one or two skills that you developed at Holy Cross that you use in your work?

  • Writing:  I arrived at Holy Cross thinking I was a pretty good writer, but I had a lot to learn.  It’s a skill I continue to hone, but I know it was strengthened tremendously at Holy Cross.
  • Hard work and persistence:  While this may not fit into the “skills” bucket, I believe this is one of the things I learned a great deal about while at Holy Cross.  More than anything else, my drive to work hard and be persistent have enabled my successes in both my personal life and my professional life, giving me what I needed to overcome the most difficult challenges.


6. What advice do you have for students on campus today?

My father liked to say, “If you want to give God a good laugh, tell him your plans.”  My life has not at all gone in the direction or along the path I envisioned, but I cannot imagine my career having progressed any differently.  Each step of my career prepared me for the next, and I learned so much along the way.  My advice is to dream big but don’t let your dreams prevent you from taking and learning all you can from where you are.  You can’t necessarily plan what’s around the next corner, but if you dedicate yourself to what you’re doing right now, you will be prepared for the next opportunity.  Work hard, be kind, and trust in yourself and your abilities.


Meet Alumna Claire Luke ’10, Program Officer at The U.S. Department of State

Name: Claire Luke

Class Year: 2010

Title: Program Officer

Organization Name: The U.S. Department of State


1. In one sentence, what does your job entail?

I manage or co-manage the State Department’s 40 federal grant awards globally that strengthen rights for workers.


2. What planned and unplanned events connected you to your industry and your first employer after Holy Cross? How did you learn/decide it was a good fit for you?  

My career is a result of natural progression of following my passions and purpose. I was a journalist through my 20s, living in various countries and in DC reporting on international development, human rights- specifically labor rights- and shining light on abuses along supply chains. At HC, I knew I wanted to pursue the path of international affairs and journalism and acquire different experiences in various countries that would build a strong foundation of knowledge to then parlay into higher level policy and programming. My internship in NBC’s political unit during the Washington Semester program taught me I was interested in more global vs domestic reporting, and more socio-political vs traditionally political. I used the HC alumni network to help build journalism contacts, and while stringing for the Boston Globe in Boston I was accepted to work as a journalist abroad for the principal newspaper in Cambodia, opening the door to a journey of intense and immersive learning at the grassroots level in the international and communication fields! After further reporting in Nicaragua, Burma and Eastern Europe, primarily on labor rights, I then gravitated away from reporting  on labor rights and working on a deeper level to address them directly through programming. Graduate school in DC allowed me to hone in more to technical assistance programming and labor expertise, resulting in working with the World Bank, UN, social enterprises focusing on labor rights and supply chains, and ultimately to my current role (and dream job!) with the State Department, where I promote labor rights in accordance with US democratic principles to the most marginalized workers most egregiously exploited in the global trade system in the most challenging of operating environments around the world.

There was a bit of trial by error in the first steps of this journey. After HC graduation, I wanted to try living in Boston to be near networks, and worked at a PR firm found through networking. While I loved the city, the work itself was meaningless and shallow to me, and I realized that I did not wish to spend another day of this finite life without devoting my skills, passion and life force to mission-oriented service work, the global epicenter of which lies in DC. This was an invaluable lesson- to listen to the gut more than anything and not fake or force; I believe we all have our gifts that align with our purpose and shouldn’t have to ‘fake it til you make it’ to any unsettling extent.


3. What were you involved in when you were on campus?

Cross country and track; dance team; Philosophy Student Advisory Committee; writing and editing for two newspapers (Crusader and Advocate) and the HC Office of Public Affairs; Washington Semester program; Kenya study abroad program; tour guide, Appalachia Spring Break program, Manresa; Summer Internship Program (financial journalism in NYC)


4. What was your major and how did it affect your career decisions?

Philosophy major (focus on political and ethical) and peace and conflict studies, which was the closest thing at the time to international affairs! 

I initially wanted to study journalism, but am ultimately glad we received the well rounded liberal arts education that served as a fantastic foundation in the field of journalism, the technical skills and mechanics of which one can learn through the job but the deep understanding of political and economic structures came through the HC education.

The social justice and service-oriented mission and drive to make any sort of footprint of positive change that translates to real people and their lives on any significant scale that flourished at HC definitely translated into my career journey and current role. And spiritually, upholding the dignity,  value and rights of each and every human life and worker who are the backbone of the global supply chain that I do in my work now is rooted in my faith that was able to exist alongside my studies at HC.

I say if you can think well, you can do anything! Philosophy honed our skills in writing, debating, logic, dissecting arguments, deciphering fact vs fiction, and contemplating the structures behind what we see. HC’s excellent philosophy department, especially Professor Lawrence Cahoone as advisor on my DC thesis on ethics of humanitarian intervention who encouraged me to pursue this path, and Prof Maria Granik who served as an example of a strong, brilliant woman in political philosophy, fundamentally enriched my journey.

For political science, Professor Judith Chubb was strongly instrumental in leading an interest into international development! The Kenya study abroad program she developed was my first time traveling abroad, was an immersive awakening to poverty, and gave students a structural understanding of social injustice on the global scale. Profs Maria Rodriguez and Cass Loren also fed the interest in international economies, development and inequality.


5. What are one or two skills that you developed at Holy Cross that you use in your work?

The awareness of inequalities and pursuit of ensuring the human aspect and rights of every person are recognized and represented at the highest levels possible.

Strong writing skills and presenting information thoughtfully, initiative in thinking beyond what is presented but proposing ideas out of the proverbial box. 

Also, Spanish! I kept up with language courses at HC and use the Spanish in my work on Latin America.

From my HC track and cross country coach- that there are no shortcuts to hard work. That you want to ultimately be proud of the person you see in the mirror. That playing small doesn’t serve anyone and to lead by example. That teamwork is important, as is respecting different ideas and everyone has something to say. To not waste energy on overthinking events in anxiety but be present.


6. What advice do you have for students on campus today?

Get involved in as much as you can while you have the rich exposure to multidisciplinary resources in order to help hone down your interests. This is your time to explore and intentionally form your identity and future possibilities! Have fun and enjoy these four years and don’t be afraid to play around with interests in trial by error. Remember to follow your heart and think about how you want to use this life in accordance with your skills and interests versus what other people may think. Know that there are many options for non-traditional career paths and that you can indeed make a stable, lucrative career out of helping others. For women especially- to not over-compromise or over-accommodate to others in your pursuits as an individual.

Meet Alum Brandon Brito ’20, Assistant Director of Equity and Inclusion

Name: Brandon Brito 

Class Year: 2020

Title: Assistant Director of Equity and Inclusion

Organization Name: Meadowbrook School of Weston 


1. In one sentence, what does your job entail?

My role is difficult to capture in one sentence, but essentially, I serve with our Director of Equity and Inclusion in implementing all equity and inclusion initiatives and programming. I work with all of our affinity group leaders which include our Meadowbrook Students of Color (MSOC), ETC. (our LGBTQIA+ affinity group,) and our Jewish Affinity Group (Kehillah.) Furthermore, I take a lead role in planning and implementing AWARE (All Working at Racial Equity) curriculum for our Junior Kindergarten to 8th grade. Finally, I also serve on our Admission Committee to help recruit and retain our students. 


2. What planned and unplanned events connected you to your industry and your first employer after Holy Cross? How did you learn/decide it was a good fit for you? 

I couldn’t have landed where I am without the incredible support at Holy Cross. From my professors like Ginny Ryan, Kendy Hess, and Danielle Poché to the Center for Career Development and mentors like Chris Holguin, Kasey Catlet, and Amit Taneja. Covid had just hit as well and so I was doing a lot of this work at home but I knew I had a team in my corner ready to support me. I remember hopping on numerous zoom calls with Ben Cannon as he mitigated my many fears and anxiety. He was the one that reminded me that it’ll all fall into place… and it did. I started in higher ed and realized quickly, I wanted to work with a k-12 population. 3 years later, I couldn’t be happier than to be in my current role supporting students, faculty, families, and alumni. 


3. What were you involved in when you were on campus?

At Holy Cross, I was a first-year RA, an orientation leader, a member of ACT, LASO, and worked with the Chaplains, the Office of Student Involvement, Coolbeans, and the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. 


4. What was your major and how did it affect your career decisions?

I was a double major in English and Theatre. I always knew I wanted to get into education and originally, I wanted to become a Drama teacher. While that didn’t happen, I found other areas of passion in education. 


5. What are one or two skills that you developed at Holy Cross that you use in your work?

Asking for help! This one took me years to finally grasp. It was in my senior year that I finally realized the impact asking for help had. Holy Cross has such a great network and I’ve been able to utilize it as a resource. In my role, I’ve learned the power of saying, “I don’t know” and reaching out to colleagues for support. 


6. What advice do you have for students on campus today?

I’ll tell you what many folks told me: Everything will fall into place! It may not feel that way at the moment, but it will. You might not get that job you wanted, or internship, or grade… but it all works out. This still rings true for me as I navigate this professional world. Just recently, I worked so hard to get this job I thought I wanted, and got it but ended up hating it. I was there for 41 days and then found this amazing role that I love so much. What’s meant to be yours…will be yours.

Meet Alum Benjamin Howe ’96, Audit Manager at U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)

Name: Benjamin Howe

Class Year: 1996

Title: Audit Manager

Organization Name: U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), Office of Inspector General


1. In one sentence, what does your job entail?

Audit managers supervise a team that conducts performance audits of VA programs and operations. 


2. What planned and unplanned events connected you to your industry and your first employer after Holy Cross? 

I moved back to New England from Washington, DC in 2002 and was looking for federal opportunities in the greater Boston area. During that search, I identified the Government Accountability Office as an opportunity I was interested in pursuing because of its innovative professional development program. I have been conducting performance audits ever since.


3. How did you learn/decide it was a good fit for you?

While auditing can be done on your own, I also enjoy the opportunities to work closely in teams. I also appreciate that this work requires professional skepticism, objectivity, and good oral and written communication. 


4. What were you involved in when you were on campus?

I worked on the Holy Cross newspaper and yearbook.


5. What was your major and how did it affect your career decisions? 

I was a history and Spanish major. After college, I completed my Master of Public and International Affairs at the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs (GSPIA) at the University of Pittsburgh. While I was completing my degree at GSPIA, I interned for different government organizations. I later moved to Washington and started my federal career on Capitol Hill.     


6. What are one or two skills that you developed at Holy Cross that you use in your work?

I developed strong research and writing skills during my time at Holy Cross that have served me well during my career.


7. What advice do you have for students on campus today?

I would recommend volunteering with professional organizations in your prospective career field. By becoming a member of the Boston Chapter of the AGA, I have built strong professional connections while positively impacting my community. I have also taken advantage of the leadership opportunities offered by the Chapter to show my leadership skills as a young professional. As a student interested in a financial management career, I would highly recommend taking advantage of the opportunities AGA offers. In addition, students can join the group for free!

Meet Alumna Meah Austin ’22, Growth Manager at XOMAD

Name: Meah Austin

Class Year: 2022

Title: Growth Manager

Organization Name: XOMAD


1. In one sentence, what does your job entail?

 As a Growth Manager in the Strategic Partnerships division of XOMAD, I support building and sustaining our partners in the public and private sectors by promoting how our technology infrastructure and differentiated approach to influencer marketing can be a valuable resource to their communications strategies. 


2. What planned and unplanned events connected you to your industry and your first employer after Holy Cross? How did you learn/decide it was a good fit for you? 

It all really happened by chance! I was in the running for a Fullbright ETA in South Africa (a program that was unfortunately canceled). While I was anxiously waiting to hear back about the Fulbright, both a Holy Cross dean and alumni reached out to me about another alumni (Rob Perry, CEO) looking to recruit talent from his alma mater (Holy Cross). I had my first interview with Rob and other XOMAD members and immediately felt the synergy! They expressed a certain level of passion and zeal that I instantly connected with. I also realized that joining the XOMAD team presented a huge opportunity for professional growth and development — even though, at the time, I didn’t really see myself in the business world. In retrospect, I also chose XOMAD simply because I felt like I could be myself, which is super important when deciding on any job, but I think especially your first job! 


3. What were you involved in when you were on campus? 

While on campus, I was a member and captain of the Varsity Women’s Track & Field team, mentor of the Odyssey Program, e-board leader of the Black Student Union, co-founder and co-chair of WOCA (Women of Color Athletes), head mentor of the Academic Services Peer Mentor Program, and work-study student for the Audio-Visual Department. Academically, I was a student-researcher for the Psychology/Africana Studies Department and Weiss Summer Research Program. I also participated in various internships and ad-hoc committees. 


4. What was your major and how did it affect your career decisions? 

I double majored in Psychology and Africana Studies. While I am early in my career, I think (so far) these majors have sparked my interest to be in a workplace that is inherently team-orientated and driven to promote social good. For example, XOMAD is currently working to partner with organizations and NGOs to combat the Opioid epidemic through personalized messaging to the most vulnerable communities. This effort is company-wide — all hands on deck! As a Psychology and Africana Studies major, I have grown to recognize the importance of working together towards a common good, and I think my career choice to work at a company like XOMAD perfectly depicts such. 


5. What are one or two skills that you developed at Holy Cross that you use in your work? 

Yikes! Only sharing one or two skills is hard (there are so many I can think of). Off the top of my head, I’d say during my time at Holy Cross, I learned how to be self-sufficient and exemplify grit. At my job, there are often times when I need to develop and communicate strategic directions, plans, and insights with minimal direction. In all my involvement at Holy Cross, I was able to utilize resources (whether it be Writer’s Workshop, office hours, or student/alumni mentors) that eventually allowed me to develop autonomy and an ‘I can do this’ mentality. In my current job, I have the confidence to feel like I can complete any task, even if it might seem daunting. And that the next time a similar task is presented, I can take my learnings from the first time, produce even better results, and support other team members as well. 


6. What advice do you have for students on campus today?

Advice I would give current students is to be open to where their liberal arts education and Holy Cross connections can/will take them! It’s very easy to expect or plan for certain things — but in reality, there’s beauty in the unknown. Do everything on your end (study hard, build relationships, be a part of a team/club, think critically and creatively) and let things fall into place… you’ll be right where you need to be.