Background Image

News & Events


Alcoa's Elizabeth Fessenden Awarded Clarkson University Honorary Degree

Potsdam, N.Y. -- Alcoa Inc. Human Resource Director for Executive Staffing and Leadership Development Elizabeth A. Fessenden received an honorary doctor of science degree at Clarkson University's 107th Commencement in Potsdam, N.Y., on Sunday, May 14.

The degree was awarded “for her professional accomplishment as an engineer and manager of both technical and human resources, and for her wise counsel and generous service to her alma mater.”

In addressing the graduates Fessenden said in part, “Tomorrow you will wake up and you will no longer be under the invisible dome that has sheltered you, nurtured you, isolated you and defined your community for the last four years. You will join a global community…

“When you think about what it takes to be a global leader, most of you will recognize the fundamental need for global business savvy: understanding market opportunities and competitive conditions, knowing how to leverage movement in exchange rates, selling and sourcing globally, marketing to accommodate local cultures, and so on.

“Just as fundamental, however, are several leadership characteristics that are desirable in successful global leaders. All leaders must be able to build alliances with people, both inside and outside of the organization. A global leader is one who successfully builds alliances with people of different cultures, ethnicity and race, nationality, religion and gender. There are four characteristics I’d like to share with you:

“A successful global leader is inquisitive and welcomes learning opportunities, is energized when surrounded with diversity—different people, languages, cultures, foods, customs.  To develop this, be open-minded. Cultivate your sense of adventure. Push yourself to be curious about that which you do not know. Don’t ever stop learning.

“A successful global leader must be able to connect, on an emotional level, with people from various backgrounds. This connection is built when you show an interest and concern, when you listen well and when you can understand and respect differing points of view. Making the emotional connection as a leader earns you respect and commitment from those whom you want to follow you.  It is a powerful skill.

“A successful global leader is grounded in personal and professional values. It is your actions that demonstrate your integrity.  Don’t compromise yourself; integrity is one of your most valuable assets.   A consistent demonstration of high ethical standards, in personal and company matters, in any part of the world, increases trust.  People who trust you are more apt to follow you. It’s having followers that defines a leader.

“A successful global leader is capable of managing uncertainty and changing conditions and of tolerating ambiguity in situations.  With a tolerance for ambiguity, you will find yourself more comfortable in a foreign culture. You will be more effective in working with people from different backgrounds different from you and creating followers from this group of people. It’s having followers that defines a leader.

“I encourage all of you to be a global leader.  A leader who is inquisitive, one who is capable of connecting with a diversity of people, a leader who demonstrates integrity and one who tolerates ambiguity.  Do this, and you will gain commitment from people around the globe, they will follow you and that will define you as a global leader…”

Elizabeth A. Fessenden is the human resource director for Executive Staffing and Leadership Development at Alcoa Inc., a position she has held since 1998 at the Alcoa Corporate Center in
Pittsburgh, Pa.

Previously at Alcoa she has held the positions of smelting plant manager at Tennessee Operations in Knoxville, Tenn., and smelting plant manager at Massena, N.Y., Operations. Her professional career includes assignments in operations management, marketing, and engineering at Alcoa.

During 1982-83, she served as assistant dean of Student Life and women’s program coordinator at Clarkson University.

Following an active student career that included her role as a founding member of the women’s basketball team in 1975, Fessenden graduated from Clarkson in 1977 with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. She continued her education on a part-time basis, receiving an MBA from Clarkson in 1981, and returned to earn a master’s degree in systems engineering in 1984.

A licensed professional engineer in New York State, she is a member of Tau Beta Pi, and holds a patent on the invention of a conveying mechanism for the transport of alumina.

From 1985 to 1990, Fessenden was a member of Clarkson’s Board of Governors and Alumni National Executive Council. In 1987 she received Clarkson’s Woodstock Award, presented to young alumni for extraordinary professional accomplishment and service to the University.

A Clarkson Trustee since 1990, Fessenden has been a strong and articulate voice for all students, and particularly for women within the Clarkson community. She has chaired the board’s Campus Life Committee and served on other board committees, including Physical Plant, Enrollment, and Executive.

Clarkson University is an independent institution located in northern New York, in the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains. The University has 2,902 graduate and undergraduate students enrolled in its schools of Business, Engineering, Liberal Arts and Science.

[News directors and editors: For more information, contact Annie Harrison, Director of Media Relations, at 315-268-6764 or]

Calendar View the full calendar >>

Full Calendar RSS Feed