Recognizing the Amazing Career of an Amazing Professional and Person

An important element of W2O’s strategic journey is our ability to “Ascend.” To excel and climb beyond our dreams, gaining confidence along the way and achieving success at every elevation. It is very rare for someone to find themselves reaching the pinnacle, but that is exactly what my former teacher, mentor, colleague and friend Maria Russell has accomplished. In announcing her retirement, which will take place later this year after a 34-year career as an educator, Maria is fully ensconced at the highest point of the profession.

It seems like just yesterday that I was meeting Professor Russell and sitting in her office at Newhouse, full of energy and ambition. She dutifully directed me to understand the tenets of communications and the underlying skills needed to be an effective leader. Throughout my time at Syracuse University, Professor Russell became a mainstay for me as I took on new and different responsibilities on campus. But the real impact of her influence took place after I graduated.

She was always there for me as I progressed in my career and started my own firm, offering encouragement, perspective and advice and caring beyond what you would expect from a teacher. She has also become a special friend to my whole family.

Over the last nine years, Maria has co-directed the W2O Center for Social Commerce at Newhouse, founded by my wife, Audra, also a Syracuse graduate, and I. The Center is focused on strengthening student skills in social, digital, analytics, insights and strategy through programming, curriculum, expert speakers, workshops, internships and conferences such as SXSW. Maria has built the premier industry-academic partnership, touching the careers of over 500 students.

The Center is actually a microcosm of her entire career, during which she has informed and influenced thousands of young minds, ensuring that her students are prepared to make smart decisions and judgments at every stage of their lives. Her sincere, sober and astute approach to relationships with colleagues, peers, students, industry experts and business leaders is always consistent.

Of course, I can go on and on but the headline for Maria Russell is “Difference Maker!” She certainly made a difference in my career (and continues to do so), and I’m sure she will even in retirement.

There are only so many times you can honestly say you are in awe of someone. A person you respect. A person you want to emulate. That’s  Maria Russell and the impact she had on me and hundreds like me.

She has ascended the highest peak!


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