Some women know from when they are very young that they will pursue information technology, science and engineering careers. Others, like Jeanne Casares, take a circuitous path to these same careers.
Her path was varied and diverse, and it was recognized recently by the Upstate New York chapter of the Association of Women in Computing which named Casares, chief information officer at Rochester Institute of Technology, as the 2010 IT Woman of the Year at the organization’s annual breakfast on April 29. The award recognizes the recipient’s impact to the information technology profession, her achievements and contributions advancing the status, opportunities and employment for women in the IT profession, plus community service activities.
Casares has led RIT Information and Technology Services for a year and a half. Entrepreneur, college residence-hall director, world traveler, early Web adopter, Casares acknowledged the people who mentored her early in her career as instrumental in putting her on the IT path.
“I have benefited from the many women and men who mentored and sponsored me along the way,” she told a crowd of more than 200 gathered at the event.
Trained in business management, specifically marketing and human resource systems, she said she had not considered IT until asked to research a new technology just making an impact on businesses at the time.
Casares started her own company, Personnel Systems, in 1987. Three years later, she would take her experience in managing human resource placements to Paychex, where she served as an operations manager in its Client Services Area.
“In 1994, my manager asked me to look into this World Wide Web-thing, to see if there was any value in it for Paychex,” she recalled. “I wasn’t, at the time, interested in technology. Little did I know how that assignment would change the course of my career.”
She collaborated with IT, learning more about the systems the team built and maintained and immersed herself in the technology. By 1996, Paychex had its first Web Technologies Department started by Casares and the journey to produce online products and services began. Her IT teams built and deployed the first company websites and intranets for Paychex clients and employees. She organized a Web content development program, which included document management, publishing tools, Web analytics and reporting.
She acknowledged Dan Canzano, current vice president of information technology at the company, who she described as a fearless leader and one who encouraged all staff, especially the women on the team, to find their voice and become leaders.
It was this example that inspired Casares to reflect on how she is enabling other women to succeed, especially in IT. “IT is a dynamic field. It is exciting today and will become even more compelling tomorrow, and women are an important part of the future of IT,” she says.
In addition to being CIO of the Information and Technology Services department at RIT, she has participated as a featured presenter at the annual Explore Rochester IT. This initiative was started several years ago by local chief information officers of companies such as Paychex, Kodak, Excellus Blue CrossBlue Shield, to encourage IT graduates from local colleges to remain in Rochester after graduation. She also participates as a featured presenter to the Association of Women in Computing and helped to organize a local Upstate New York Help Desk Institute chapter.
Today, in support of RIT's diversity efforts, Casares is an executive mentor in the RIT Global Leadership Program. She also supports and participates in the Golisano College of Computing and Information Science Women in Computing Program that provides orientation to undergraduate women in computing curriculums.
In her address to Association of Women in Computing guests, that included her parents, Val and Eileen Vena, as well as other members of her family, she also recognized her team at RIT.
“They are a great team of talented, hardworking IT professionals who are quite passionate about the work they do as well as the groups they serve. I am proud to be a part of the ITS team at RIT,” she says.
In the last year, the group deployed a state-of-the art, wireless system across the university, as well as completing major upgrades to the email system and embarking onto the redesign of the current student information system, she explained. Plans are in development for green IT and a new RIT data center. During her short time at RIT, she has initiated an enterprise Student Information System replacement and is developing a customer relationship management initiative. She has implemented a project management office that includes staffing and project management processes, and created an IT Advisory Board of senior executives for RIT.