For Joe Ferris (TPR'95, MBA'99) there are many reasons to stay connected to his alma mater, but maybe the most important one is the energy he feels as he walks amongst some of the brightest students in the nation. Ferris, a football alum, often returns to campus for Saturday football games, networking events or engagement opportunities with business classes.
"I have such a strong belief in what the university is doing in terms of developing and refining the capabilities and skills of the students," Ferris said. "The students are so gifted and it's energizing to be back on campus talking to them and learning what they are doing."
Ferris, who grew up in Pittsburgh and has since built a family in the Steel City, was interested in attending an Ivy League school. His placement at Carnegie Mellon University happened because of the persistence by head football coach Rich Lackner on the recruiting trail.
"Coach convinced me to come for a visit but I looked at it as a way to get him off my back," recalls Ferris. "But I fell in love with the place—the campus, the university, the people I met and the football program. From there, it was an easy decision."
"My persistence in recruiting him was a direct result of watching him on film," Lackner said. "I envisioned him being an incredibly good football player for us."
When Ferris matriculated to Carnegie Mellon, the football team was coming off a 10-1 season where it played in the NCAA Tournament and won the inaugural University Athletic Association (UAA) football title. Success continued during his four years, as Ferris, an All-UAA defensive player, and the Tartans won three more UAA titles and tallied a 31-8 record, playing schools all over the country.
"My experience playing football for Carnegie Mellon was top-notch," said Ferris. "We had great travel where the university invested in giving us an experience on the road, staying an extra night to explore a city rather than flying in the night before and out right after the game."
Being part of the football team also provided Ferris with something off the field—an immediate group of people with similar interests and an education that classes alone couldn't have delivered.
"Participating in athletics provided a foundation of the skills it takes to manage a heavy load and prioritize appropriately," Ferris said. "The biggest impact was the structure and diligence required to manage the competing priorities and to manage in a way to succeed, not just get by."
Ferris found success in the classroom, as he was named a GTE Academic All-American by CoSIDA his senior year. Those same skills also transitioned to Ferris's professional career in consulting where he has worked for more than 20 years at Deloitte.
"When I began my consulting career there was a heavy burden, a heavy load and at times high anxiety," Ferris said. "I felt like I already had the background because I experienced that for four years and I was able to hit the ground running perhaps more quickly than some peers."
Ferris has been heavily involved in the athletics department, signing up for the Student-Athlete Alumni Mentoring Program and returning for the first annual Student-Athlete and Employer networking session. Traits he acquired while a student-athlete at Carnegie Mellon are qualities he looks for in future employees and believes those that can play a varsity sport and succeed in the classroom set them apart on campus.
"If you can carry the varsity sports load along with classes, to me that sets you apart because you're asked to do twice as much," Ferris said. "That demonstrates you have the prioritization skills and time management skills to fundamentally balance your life and work schedule."
"When it comes to athletics," Ferris continued, "I love the competitive spirit, the leadership qualities, the teamwork, and understanding that there is more than just individual performance and it's about team success."
A successful businessman, Ferris signed up for the mentorship program because he believes it can provide another voice from somebody who has been there and done that and he believes in the student-athletes at Carnegie Mellon.
"The ability for current athletes to have access into the real world in a non-threatening way and non-evaluative way, with someone they can build a relationship with that's not specific to a particular job opportunity or internship, provides additional degrees of freedom to ask the real questions they may be afraid to ask others as part of the more formal channels that are established," Ferris said. "It creates a safe zone which can really benefit them in trying to evaluate different avenues of a career they want to investigate."
The Carnegie Mellon Student-Athlete Alumni Mentoring Program launched this school year as a platform to foster relationships between past and present student-athletes to provide guidance, wisdom and opportunities to the current generation of Tartans. Thus far, student-athletes have eagerly responded to the program thanks to the energy and commitment of alumni like Joe Ferris.