From humble beginnings in the Philippines to a role on the world stage as physician to three U.S. presidents, Dr. Connie Mariano shared stories of her remarkable journey in a talk titled, “Journey to the White House and Beyond,” as the featured speaker of the Provost’s Lecture Series on Women in Leadership at Stevens Institute of Technology February 26.
Past speakers in this lecture series includes entrepreneurs, policy experts, corporate leaders and technology innovators.
“The goal of presenting this talk is to inspire the university community, especially the women students, faculty and staff to overcome obstacles, seize opportunities and make the most of their unique strengths,” said Stevens Provost Christophe Pierre.
He introduced this year’s speaker as a “trailblazer” accustomed to breaking barriers.
Dr. Mariano, a retired U.S. Navy rear admiral, is the first military woman to become the White House physician to the president, the first woman director of the White House medical unit and the first Filipino American in U.S. history to become navy rear admiral.
Dr. Mariano, who immigrated to the U.S. when she was just two years old, spoke of her struggle to fit in as a minority and a woman.
“It’s hard when your gender, your face, your last name, the way you look doesn’t fit in with the status quo.”
She learned to use that to her advantage. Standing out, she told the audience, is an opportunity to be outstanding.
“The spotlight is on you, take advantage of it. I think the most painful thing is to be ignored.”
She won the high profile position of White House physician by speaking with her “true authentic voice,” she says.
When asked in her interview by the incumbent White House doctor on why she wanted the job, she responded that it was “payback” for all that the U.S. had given to her.
“It gave me an education, a career. I owe so much to this country. If I could repay my debt by serving the Commander in Chief that’s what I want to do,” she recalled saying.
She went on to serve in that high-pressure, 24/7 role for presidents George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.
After nine years in the White House, she retired from the military in 2001, leaving behind a 24-year career in the U. S. Navy. Her post military career has been just as impressive, and includes a four-year consulting role at the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Arizona, the founding of a medical concierge practice providing presidential quality care for CEOs, and a memoir, The White House Doctor: My Patients Were Presidents.
An expert on presidential healthcare, including the 25th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, Dr. Mariano is a frequent guest speaker on television and in print media on topics such as care to VIPS, presidential disability, travel medicine and optimizing qualitative care. She also hosts her own talk show, “House Calls with Dr. Connie,” on the VoiceAmerica network. Hollywood is also calling. She revealed that she was in the process of optioning her memoir for a possible television show.
Her outlook on life and career: “There’s always more, it depends on your imagination.”
At the conclusion of the lecture, Melanie Caba, a third year biomedical engineering student, received the Provost’s Lecture Series on Women in Leadership Award. A Dean’s Scholar throughout her time at Stevens, she is involved in a variety of campus activities and holds many leadership roles. Most notably, she serves as a senator in the Student Government Association and chairs the Health and Wellness Committee.
“It’s such an honor to have my work at SGA recognized. For me, it’s a privilege to be a voice for others and speak out on issues that impact women on campus,” said Caba about being selected for the award.
The lecture capped off an eventful day of women’s leadership. Earlier in the day, a small group of undergraduate and graduate women students had a chance to meet with Dr. Mariano at an intimate luncheon held at the Lore-El Center for Women’s Leadership, a unique living and learning residence for undergraduate women at Stevens.
Stevens biomedical engineering senior Nicole Fosko was one of the invited students at the luncheon. Fosko, who will attend medical school this fall, found inspiration in Dr. Mariano’s story as a woman and aspiring physician.
“What I take away from Dr. Mariano’s remarks is that you can pursue your dreams, excel in your career and maintain a personal life. The decision to do so lies entirely up to you.”
Stevens faculty also met personally with Dr. Mariano prior to the lecture. Increasing the diversity of undergraduate and graduate students, and faculty is an institutional priority at Stevens. Stevens is a recipient of the National Science Foundation ADVANCE grant, which is aimed at increasing the representation and advancement of women in academic science, technology, engineering and mathematics careers.
Susan Metz, executive director of diversity and inclusion at Stevens, says she appreciated Dr. Mariano’s insight and humor in response to a question from a faculty member about how she was able to maintain her optimism and drive in such a tough male dominated workplace as the military.
“Dr. Mariano raised her eyebrows and said, ‘You tell me. Women faculty in STEM do it all of the time. But seriously, women have to advocate for and support each other and you need to find the many male colleagues who are on your side,’” recalled Metz.
To learn more about the Provost’s Lecture Series on Women in Leadership, including future lectures, and recaps and videos of past lectures, visit stevens.edu/provost/lecture.