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Perspectives On The Heights

03/28/13
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Clare Schoenfeld '72

By Reid Oslin | Chronicle Staff

Published: Mar. 28, 2013

Clare Schoenfeld ’72 grew up — literally and figuratively — “in the shadow of the Towers on the Heights.” Her family home was on Beacon Street at the intersection of Hammond Pond Parkway. Schoenfeld’s father, Richard Sr., was a 1943 BC graduate and later served as president of the Boston College Alumni Association. Four of her five siblings would follow her to Boston College.

Schoenfeld came to BC in 1970 after two years at Boston’s Emmanuel College, one of the few transfer students to enroll at the University at the time, and the only female member of the School of Management’s graduating class in 1972.

Graduating with a degree in the emerging field of computer science, Schoenfeld took a job with Exxon in Houston. Within two years, she added an MBA from Babson College and after moving to Exxon International began to climb the corporate ladder, with executive positions at Arthur Andersen, American Express and Goldman Sachs, before accepting an assignment overseeing business systems at United Nations headquarters. 

Now president and CEO of a marketing research and communications firm, CAS Associates, Schoenfeld and her husband, Tom Flaherty, live in Tiverton, RI, and are the parents of Meghan Flaherty ’12.

Recently, she shared some of her Boston College memories with Chronicle correspondent Reid Oslin.

What brought you to Boston College?

We lived in the shadow of Gasson Hall. I think I was closer than most of the kids in the dorms [laughter]. St. Ignatius was our parish church. Growing up, we used to walk up to BC and watch football practice on the Dustbowl. We saw all the buildings go up along Beacon Street: Carney Hall, McGuinn Hall and McElroy Commons. I went to Mount Alvernia [elementary school] right up the hill from Boston College and when the BC School of Education students were being graded on their presentations, they used to come and give them to our classes. I remember some amazing presentations, and they opened my eyes to a whole world that I didn’t know existed.

Back in those days, you didn’t apply to a lot of colleges. In our house, there were six children and my father said “You can go to any college you want as long as you commute.” I applied to Boston College, Regis and Emmanuel. At the time, the only BC schools open to women were education and nursing. I didn’t see myself as a teacher or a nurse; I wanted to major in the sciences. So, even though BC was my “home,” I went to Emmanuel College where I could major in math and physics.

After two years, I knew I wanted something different. I had gone to an all-girls’ high school, I had two years in an all-girls’ college and I figured, “This is not for me.” I was always fascinated by business, so when I heard that BC was considering opening the School of Management to women I arranged to meet with [SOM Dean] Al Kelley, brought my transcript with me and asked if he would consider me. He looked at my credits and said he would give it some thought — I didn’t have any business courses whatsoever and I didn’t want to lose any time because I had done pretty well in my first two years at Emmanuel.

I got a phone call in March or April — right after a Board of Trustees meeting — and they told me that they were going to open SOM to women and if I was still interested they were interested in me. They had reviewed my transcript and felt that my math, physics, chemistry and science courses would fit into SOM’s computer science curriculum, which was a new department they had. I would take my courses in computer science and fill in with the business courses that I had missed in the first two years. That’s how I got to BC.

From the moment I talked to Al Kelley, it had just felt right. I was really delighted to come to BC.

What was Boston College like in the early 1970s?

When I came as a student to BC, W. Seavey Joyce, SJ, was the president and BC was nearly going bankrupt. There was no question about that. One of the major reasons was that they were offering all kinds of classes without necessarily having enough students to support them.

My dad was president of the Alumni Association in 1969-70 and also won the McKenney Award [as the University’s outstanding alumnus].  He was a member of the committee that found Fr. Monan [J. Donald Monan, SJ] and nominated him to become president of Boston College.   

When Fr. Monan came in, they looked around at the talent that they had in the School of Management. I was very lucky to have had Frank Campanella for finance classes and I know that one of the first things that Fr. Monan did was to pull Frank out of SOM [to become the University’s executive vice president] because he knew the college was in serious financial straits and Frank might be able to help find a solution. Frank was an amazing man.

What was it like being one of the first women in the School of Management?

It was an extraordinary experience. It wasn’t anything like I thought it would be — it turned out to be better. What happened was, my classmates became good friends — almost very protective of me in many ways; there was a real camaraderie, it was almost like I was their “little sister.”

Computers were a new field of study in the 1970s. What were your learning experiences?

Jack Neuhauser was the chairman of the Computer Science Department at the time. He wasn’t much older than we were. The computers at the time were located in the basement of Gasson Hall, and the best time to go there was at night, because during the day the school was using the computer for administrative purposes.

We used to do all of our programs on punch cards and they would run it at night. There was a little room off to the side that had two teletype machines.  The machines were connected to Dartmouth, where they had a time-share operating system. We could do Fortran and basic programming on this. We found out there were some games on the computer, too, so periodically we would play a golf game. We had a lot of fun down there.

What was the social life like on campus in those days?

I lived at home. A lot of students were commuters. Our social life was limited by the fact that we went home every night [laughter]. I know it’s not the same as it is now [laughter]. The Mods went up while I was there, and BC was just beginning to get a lot of students from out of state, but they didn’t have enough dormitories. BC rented apartment buildings over on LaGrange Street in West Roxbury and students also lived at the Howard Johnson’s Hotel [now the Crowne Plaza] in Newton Corner. I remember a lot of Saturday night parties in the Mods, or going to friends’ apartments over on LaGrange Street and then we would go to midnight Mass in McElroy Commons, in the room that was until recently called the Chocolate Bar.

What about the student activism of the ’70s?

BC was becoming active — it had been sleeping for a long time, but suddenly there was a lot of activity because of the war in Vietnam, because of the draft. They had a tuition strike [1970] just before I got there and there were a lot of war protests in the 1970s. I remember that when Cambodia was invaded, the school shut down. It was very stressful. There was a lot of turmoil.

I remember there was a march down Beacon Street by McElroy. There were branches along the sides of the road that had fallen off in a snowstorm and students took the branches and blocked the street. Someone said to me, “Don’t worry. It’s just springtime.” But it really caused a commotion.

Any other memorable experiences?

I worked at Bapst Library while I went through BC. My dad had actually worked there when he was a student, too. I had a great opportunity to do office work for Paul Riley, who was the college librarian, and his assistant Alice Dennehy.

One day, Paul and Alice said they wanted to arrange the Irish Collection into Dewey Decimal System order, and asked me if I would be willing to take on the task. The Irish Collection was in a little jewel of a room, and I didn’t know how it was set up. I started putting it in Dewey Decimal order and a woman named Helen Landrith came rushing in to ask what I was doing. She told me “These are very special books!” So, when I started working on the books, she would always appear and would tell me about the people in the books.

She was a good friend of Eamon de Valera, who was the president of Ireland, and when I took a book by Erskine Childers, she told me how he had been running guns and was eventually executed. She had so many stories I always looked forward to working there. I never realized that Helen was the founder of the Irish Collection at Boston College. It seemed that she was friends with all of the people in the books. I learned so much about Irish history, culture, and people. Years later, I went to work at the United Nations and I met Erskine Childers’ grandson.

Every once in a while, I close my eyes and say a prayer for Helen because she was an amazing person. I had no idea who she was at the time, but I just enjoyed her company.

How did your corporate career begin?

My first job was with Exxon. I went down to the Career Center to sign up for an interview on campus but they had a waiting list. The night before the interviews, there was a hockey game — BC vs. BU — and our coach John “Snooks” Kelley got his 500th career win.  

Later that night there was a snowstorm. The next day, between the snowstorm and Snooks Kelley’s 500th win, BC cancelled classes. But Exxon was already coming for the interviews. I lived at the corner of Beacon Street and Hammond Pond Parkway so they called me and said “Can you be here in 15 minutes?” I ran down to the Career Center, had my interview with Exxon, was invited to fly down to Houston for a second interview, and got the job.

Back then, when they made offers, they did not pay women the same salary they paid men. There was another person in my class, a football player, who also went down there and he made more money than I did. I went to my bosses and asked why. They said “Men have to support families and women don’t.” Eventually someone filed a lawsuit on behalf of the women — which I was not a part of — but I was glad it happened.

What has Boston College meant to you over the years?

A lot of doors have opened for me; I had a lot of paths to follow. I feel blessed that I was there at the right time, but also that I was smart enough to recognize it. I really think that BC taught me how to do that.

I have been able to make the choices I have wanted to make because of BC — to go to Texas, to go to New York, to get the jobs I have, to make the money I have. Just to do things that other people maybe chose not to do, but I could figure out a way.

Jack Neuhauser was my statistics teacher, my independent study advisor, my student advisor and he has been my advisor for life. Whenever I run into a problem, he listens, asks a couple of questions, and says “You can figure it out.” You know what? I was always able to “figure it out.” You learned how to think. I have kept in touch with Jack all of these years.

I attribute a lot of that to the Jesuits, too. There were quite a few Jesuits when I was at BC. Fr. Ernest Foley in economics was phenomenal; Fr. John McCarthy in philosophy was tough, but he taught me how to think. I was brought up with a “Jesuit mentality” that I didn’t realize that I even had until I began working. I am indebted to BC for so much — it is a part of me. It’s a part of my daughter, Meghan, too — she has her own stories.

Meghan had an amazing education when she graduated. Her life was so different. I was a commuter; she travelled all over the country on service projects. I had an amazing education, too, but it was different.

My dad got a great education. I got a great education. Meghan got a great education.