Like Mother, Like Daughter
St. John Fisher College continues to celebrate 50 years of Fisher females. In this issue, Collegium highlights five mom-daughter duos, who share their experiences of Fisher then and now, and how they became Fisher legacy families.
Bringing the Legacy to Life
When rising junior Suzannah Sheeran needs a place to study on campus, she heads to a specific table in Lavery Library. While she’s only been on campus for two years, it’s a study spot with which she has long been familiar. As a middle school student, Suzannah would work side-by-side with her mom, Deborah Pearce ’13 (Ed.D.), who at the time was enrolled in the College’s Doctor of Education in Executive Leadership program.
“Suzannah always had a presence on campus. We would have dinner in the dining hall and she would hang out with me in the library, and she just became very comfortable on campus,” Deborah said.
“When it came time to look at college, we added Fisher to the mix, and it was just the right fit.”
Following graduation, Deborah and her husband, Bill, remained involved with the College, becoming members of the Spire Society and charter members of the Parent Council. She also sits on the Dean’s Advisory Council for the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. School of Education and the Dean’s Leadership Council for the School of Business.
“Fisher operates as a community and sense of place, and that was very important to me during that stage in my life,” said Deborah. “I was stretched in the most unexpected ways, and that’s the best part of learning.”
Suzannah has dreams of becoming a neuropsychologist; at Fisher, she is majoring in psychology, with double minors in philosophy and political science. Over the course of the next year, she is pursuing an independent research study with Dr. Tim Madigan, chair of the Philosophy Department, exploring the ethics of psychology. She had decided to take a course with Madigan because he served on her mom’s dissertation committee, and she thought it would be fun to study with him, too.
“I really liked his teaching methods and how he portrays philosophy,” Suzannah said. “He made it interesting. He was the reason I declared philosophy as a second minor.”
Suzannah said she was inspired by watching her mom successfully tackle the doctoral program’s academic requirements, noting with pride that Deborah was awarded both the Exemplary Performance in Scholarship Award and Exemplary Performance in Service Award at her hooding ceremony, adding that Fisher has given her an opportunity to find similar growth.
“Fisher’s sense of community has helped me gain foundational skills and grow my confidence levels socially and academically,” Suzannah explained. “I’ve earned the Dean’s List twice, and have pushed myself to try new things and meet new people.”
That experience is just what Deborah hoped her daughter would have as a student at the College.
“Now, as a parent with a student there, it makes the legacy feel alive,” Deborah said.
When Renee Aksterowicz ’92 (nee McDowell) thinks about Fisher, she thinks of forever.
“Fisher has literally been with me since I went there in 1988. As a student, alumna, and now parent, once you go to Fisher, it’s forever,” Renee said. “I loved everything about college. You have some hard times and you have to grow up and go through a lot. But it is memorable, and I have nothing but good things to say about Fisher.”
When her daughter, Abigail King, started looking at colleges, Renee knew the young woman could excel at Fisher. Four years later, watching her daughter cross the stage at the College’s commencement ceremony, that theory proved true.
“I look at her now and I think: it was a perfect fit,” Renee said. “She invested in everything and made the most of it.”
An inclusive adolescence education and English major with a literature concentration, Abby was very active in the campus community, serving as a student ambassador, member of the Orientation Team, a peer mentor, and member of the Teacher Education Student Association. A captain for the Teddi Dance for Love, Abby was one of a few dozen students who helped reinvent the fundraiser to meet COVID-19 requirements.
“This year was so different. All the captains could be in person in Cleary Auditorium, and everyone else was virtual,” she said, adding that the team spent hours each day planning for the virtual dance. “That night, when there were still 60 people on Zoom at 3 a.m., and then seeing the final total and beating our goal is something I will never forget.”
That hard work, and her efforts across campus, earned Abby the Senior of the Year Award, given by the Student Government Association.
Watching her daughter experience moments like those has led Renee to reflect on her own experiences in new ways.
“As a parent, I can look back and think there are things I didn’t appreciate at the time. My senior year, my roommate worked for the president, and we would stop by and sit and chat with Dr. Pickett all the time,” she said. “Today, I appreciate President Rooney and the personal relationships he has with parents and students, and how easy it is to approach him. The leadership at Fisher over the years has been incredible.”
Renee and Abby both say that the friendships and relationships they have developed at Fisher are perhaps the most impactful parts of their time at the College.
“In college, everything seems like a big obstacle, but the friends I’ve made at Fisher have helped those challenges be manageable, and we were all there for each other,” she said. “The Fisher family, because it has changed my life, will be with me forever.”
Anneliese Schmitz is following in her mom’s footsteps in more ways than one. Like her mom, Carmelanne Schmitz (nee Fragnito), Anneliese has found a home at St. John Fisher College. And like her mom, who majored in nursing as a member of the Class of 1997, Anneliese is enrolled in the Wegmans School of Nursing.
“Growing up, my mom would tell me these stories about working in a hospital and delivering babies,” she recalled. “Nursing has always interested me, and I’ve shadowed family friends who work in hospitals, too. I knew I wanted to pursue a career where I could help people.”
Carmelanne, and her husband, Dan, who is also an alumnus, were thrilled when Anneliese considered Fisher. The couple has stayed involved with the College, starting with bringing their children to Breakfast with Santa when they were younger. These days, they are members of the Spire Society, and return to campus for Alumni Weekends. Each month, they get together for a “dinner club” with eight other couples from Fisher.
“The nursing program has completely changed from when I was there,” said Carmelanne, who played volleyball as a student. “We were in Murphy, and now they have their own building, and they’re learning hands-on right there on campus. It was great when I was there and it’s leaps and bounds better now, so I knew she’d get a very good education.”
As she and Dan moved Anneliese into her residence hall in the midst of the pandemic, Carmelanne was not worried about how her firstborn would fare on campus.
“It’s bittersweet when you’re dropping off your first, but knowing that she was only 25 minutes from home, I wasn’t a puddle,” Carmelanne recalled. “Anneliese is a very mature firstborn. We knew she could handle it. Her being a strong person and being ready to take on the college experience made me feel comforted that I was leaving my baby. I was excited for her, and maybe because it was at Fisher, I was ready to let her go.”
From that first day on campus, Anneliese knew she would love her Fisher experience.
“Everyone was outside with signs cheering us on,” she said. “It felt so inclusive and I loved it.”
Throughout her first year on campus, Anneliese navigated the COVID-19 mask and social distancing policies while learning the ins and outs of college life. She said peer mentors, academic advisers, and the new friends she has made helped make the best of an unusual semester. As the pandemic wanes, she is ready to see what the rest of her college career will bring.
“I’m excited to get more involved on campus, attend more events, and meet new people,” she said.
Finding a Home on Campus
When Olivia Rogers ’21 made the decision to attend Fisher, she surprised her alumna mom with a clever scavenger hunt that led to a big box. When mom Deli Rogers ’92 opened it, out popped balloons and a sign saying Olivia had chosen Fisher.
Of course, there were happy tears.
The owner of two funeral homes in central New York, Deli said her Fisher education, including psychology and business courses, prepared her well for her profession. She knew at Fisher, Olivia could receive a similarly impactful education.
“We were excited when she even considered Fisher,” said Deli. “She had Quinnipiac on her mind along with a few other schools. We always thought Fisher would be a good fit, but we wanted her to make that decision.”
Olivia was scouting programs for athletic training and sport management. At a Bills Camp event hosted by the Sport Management Department, a conversation with Dr. Katie Burakowski sealed the deal.
“After I spoke with Dr. Burakowski, I knew I wanted to be on the business side of sports,” Olivia explained. “By attending Fisher, I’d be closer to home and be able to carry on the legacy of the Fisher family. It also meant I could play the sport I loved.”
Olivia would go on to play four years of field hockey as a Cardinal, and was a captain of the team that won the Empire 8 Championship this spring.
In a turn of unbelievable coincidence, Olivia’s first year at Fisher also marked Deli’s 25-year reunion, making Alumni Weekend an extra special occasion.
“All of my girlfriends came back and Olivia gave us a tour of campus. One of my friends even got to see her old room,” Deli said.
While Deli notes that many things about the campus have changed–new buildings, upgrades to the athletic facilities (she remembers bringing a couch down from the residence halls to watch football games)–the heart of Fisher has remained the same.
“Fisher has always been a friendly campus where people say hello. They acknowledge your presence. They hold doors for you. That made an impression on me as a student, and it’s nice to see that it hasn’t changed,” Deli said.
Both Olivia and Deli agree that to them, Fisher will always be home.
Aviana Catarisano ’18, ’19 (MBA) is one in a line of family members to attend Fisher, and it all started with her mom, Nancy Catarisano ’83 (nee Engert).
Nancy attended Fisher because of the reputation of its accounting program. In 2000, she received the Accounting Alumnus of the Year award—an honor her brother, Herb Engert Jr. '89, received in 2021.
Upon graduation, Nancy went to work for a regional accounting firm, and at the age of 29, struck out on her own. In time, her firm merged with another company to become what is now Insero & Co. CPAs.
“Fisher gave me a great start in life. I believe that Fisher cares just as much about your personal development as they do your intellectual development,” Nancy said. “I came to Fisher without a lot of confidence, and left knowing that I could do anything I put my mind to. And within a few years, I started my own firm.”
Over the years, Nancy has stayed engaged with the College, speaking in classes, conducting mock interviews, and joining the Spire Society. She also regularly recruits at colleges for Insero, and said that Fisher’s career-oriented programs and strong alumni network mean students leave the College prepared for life after graduation.
“Fisher students are so much better prepared because of that mix of real life experiences with academia,” she said. “And it’s not just the accounting program, it’s nursing, pharmacy, and it’s been consistent over the years that Fisher leaves students prepared for their careers.”
Seeing her mother’s success as an accounting alumna inspired Aviana to follow in her path. At Fisher, she was an accounting major and was actively involved in the School of Business and on campus. She was a peer mentor, Orientation leader, president of the Accounting Club, vice president of the Dean’s Student Advisory Council, and president of the Beta Gamma Sigma honor society. Today, she works at PwC in New York City.
“I attribute the relationships I was able to build with faculty members to my success as a professional,” Aviana said. “The reason I can easily have conversations with my directors and partners is because I had four years creating those relationships with professors.”
Upon earning her MBA, Aviana was invited to deliver remarks on behalf of master’s and doctoral students at the College’s 65th Commencement ceremony.
“We, and we alone, are in charge of the success we make in life, and if we care enough about it, we will go the distance,” she told her fellow graduates. “We create our own path, our own recommended progression, our own passions. All while remembering that the world doesn’t owe us anything, but is endless to those who dare to take advantage of it.”
That’s surely a philosophy Aviana watched Nancy live, and then herself honed while at Fisher.