"Dream on the Hill" Comes True For Hoboken Native, Verizon Executive

2/3/2012

No one needed to tell Annmarie Rizzo ’86, M.S. ’92, about the prestige of a Stevens education. Growing up in Hoboken, N.J., she was very familiar with the “dream on the hill.”

"The education I received at Stevens really helped me along the way,’’ she recalled. “The analytical skills and people skills I learned have helped me with my career. At Stevens, I learned about problem solving – how to assess a situation and how to get the right people involved to bring the problem to resolution.’’

As director of Network Operations for Verizon, Rizzo is based in the Verizon Corporate Headquarters Building in Lower Manhattan and has national responsibility for the network creation and the building of network infrastructure, which Verizon’s voice, video and data ride on. She directs the operations of at least 10 provisioning centers, managing 100 supervisors and 200 union workers spread throughout key areas in the United States. She credits her Stevens background with teaching her how to lead, but also knowing when to listen, an equally important skill, she said. 

Rizzo’s career began two months after her graduation when she got a job with New York Telephone as an engineer. Throughout several mergers and breakups of New York Telephone and other companies, which ultimately became known as Verizon, she rose through the ranks to her current position, a job she has held for about 10 years. She noted that she’s spent her 25-year plus career in the same industry. 

As a teen, Rizzo attended the Academy of Sacred Heart School in Hoboken, an all-girls Catholic school, graduating among a class of 48. 

“For some, Stevens is such a small school. Coming from a school with only 48 students in a graduating class, Stevens seemed huge to me,’’ she said.

Always gifted in science and math, Rizzo applied to NJIT and Columbia University, but had her heart set on Stevens. She even earned her M.S. in Management from Stevens.

“When I tell people that I spent my entire academic career in Hoboken, they can’t believe it – that I would have stayed in one place. But when you have the best right in your backyard, why leave?’’ she asked.

But there would be some challenges along the way. Tuition was a hurdle for her and her parents to overcome. Her late father was a carpenter and her mother was a secretary for the Hoboken Board of Education. Rizzo was fortunate to receive some scholarship money from the University and, combined with a job during high school as a waitress and some sacrifices on her parents’ part, she was able to enter Stevens in the fall of 1982. Rizzo also got a job at the Plastics Institute of America on the Stevens campus to help financially while attending classes. 

“My mom was born and raised in Hoboken and still lives in the house she grew up in. My dad was born in Italy and came here in the 1950s,’’ she recalled.

She’ll never forget their reactions on her graduation day. 

“They were very happy to see me graduate from Stevens because as Hoboken residents, they knew what it meant,’’ she said. 

She noted that many skills that are taught at Stevens are transferrable to any job. 

“Teamwork, team building – when you work on your senior design project, for example, you learn to take turns. Sometimes you’re the leader and sometimes you’re the follower. And you have to contribute in all aspects of the project,’’ she said.

In the last decade or so, Rizzo has included Stevens more prominently in her busy schedule, which includes time set aside for cooking, entertaining and traveling. She’s attended many Alumni Weekend events during the past several years and has been a longtime member of the Edwin A. Stevens Society, the philanthropic arm of the university. She currently serves as the EAS Society chairwoman, a position she has held since November 2010, and is working to increase membership. She also established the Rizzo Family Excellence in Engineering Scholarship as a way to have a big impact at her alma mater and give back to the university that gave her so much. 

“Look at how far Stevens has come. Look at what Stevens has produced in terms of leaders of industry and business. It’s amazing,’’ she said.