Syracuse University Magazine


Leslie Cortese

A Guiding Hand

On any given day you can find Leslie Cortese performing the typical duties of an administrative specialist. On top of that, she helps supervise more than 25 leadership interns tasked with running the Mary Ann Shaw Center for Public and Community Service and serves as a surrogate mother to many students who think of the center as a home away from home. “I love it when the interns have a few moments just to hang out in the office and talk about what’s going on in their lives,” says Cortese, who joined the Shaw Center staff in 2010. “Because we see the students several times a week, they tend to let their guard down with us, and I can keep an eye and ear on their moods in case someone needs a little extra attention or some TLC.”

A Syracuse native, Cortese graduated from SUNY Fredonia in 1977 with a bachelor’s degree in business. She stayed on as a residence hall director for three more years before launching a career in telecommunications, first at a small upstate New York company, then at General Electric in Schenectady, New York. She moved on to IBM in Stamford, Connecticut, where she worked as a national account manager for the ROLM telecommunications product. After marrying, Cortese moved back to Syracuse, started a family, and took a hiatus from the world of telecommunications when her children were young. ”My children were 2 and 4 years old, and I was traveling and working all the time,” she says. “When the company was about to add more territory for me to cover, I decided I needed to have a more active hand in raising my children, so I stepped down.”

In 2006, Cortese was ready to rejoin the workforce on a part-time basis. She was fortunate to find a job-share position as an administrative specialist at Syracuse University’s Office of Government and Community Relations. Four-and-a-half years later, she moved to a full-time position at the Shaw Center, which promotes and supports community service as an essential part of the student learning experience. In addition to taking care of payroll and procurements, and making sure the telephones and front desk are staffed, Cortese sets up the interns’ schedules, monitors their attendance, instructs and reminds them of operational rules, and trains them to help keep the place humming. “I think of Leslie as the conductor of an energetic unruly orchestra,” says Pamela Kirwin Heintz ’91, G’08, associate vice president and director of the Shaw Center. “By bringing harmony to our workplace, she does an amazing job of making sure everything runs smoothly.”  

A coach, taskmaster, and troubleshooter all in one, Cortese also directly oversees the interns who perform the center’s public relations duties and manage the logistics of transporting 400 to 500 students to literacy tutoring sessions and community engagement projects around the Syracuse City School District. Under Cortese’s steady guidance, the transportation team coordinates pick-up and drop-off requests, handles unforeseen schedule changes due to bad weather, mechanical breakdowns, or miscommunications, and arranges alternate transportation for students when necessary. “There are a lot of moving parts to my job,” she says. “Sometimes I find I need to slow down and take a deep breath.” —Christine Yackel

Photo by Steve Sartori