Frank Ciatto and Julia Farr
Category: Georgetown Magazine, Spring 2021

Title:Leading in a Virtual World

GUAA Executive Director Julia Farr (C’88, Parent’19, ’21, ’24) talks with the new GUAA President

On July 1, 2020, Frank Ciatto (B’88, L’94, Parent’21) stepped into the role of president of the Georgetown University Alumni Association. Since that day, he has led the association and its Board of Governors from his home in Bethesda, Maryland. Leadership weekends, retreats, award ceremonies, and all those meetings and campus events that the president typically attends have been conducted through Zoom.

Frank is my ’88 classmate, a fellow Board of Governors member for almost 20 years, and a great friend. We even have daughters in the Georgetown Class of 2021 who are housemates!
I recently sat down with him—virtually, of course— to ask him about what brought him to this moment as the leader of the association and what he envisions for our future.

Why did you choose Georgetown?

I went to a Jesuit high school, St. Peter’s Prep, where it seemed only Jesuit colleges existed in the mind of my college counselor— and he believed Georgetown was the very best.

What was your experience like at the business school?

I really loved it. I was an accounting major and took several classes by the same professor, Alan Mayer-Sommer. I’ve stayed close to the business school because I have so many alumni friends. I think it’s great how Dean Paul Almeida is bringing in alumni to team-teach with McDonough School of Business faculty.

Your wife is a Hoya—did you meet on the Hilltop?

I met Deanne Collins Ciatto (C’89) one morning at a bike rack at Darnell Hall. We struck up a conversation about Bruce Springsteen and she invited me to see her record collection sometime. Our first date was October 19, 1985.

And you’ll be adding another alumna to the family?

My daughter, Sophia Ciatto (C’21), will graduate this spring with a B.S. in art history. It’s been wonderful having a child love Georgetown as much as I do and to see it through her eyes.

What are your top three favorite moments at Georgetown?

First I’d say The Roam to the Dome to see Charles Smith’s last-second scoop shot to beat the Orangemen in 1988.

Next probably the Halloween Pub Party senior year. My then-girlfriend and now wife Deanne and I went as Hot Lips and Frank Burns from the 1970s TV show M*A*S*H.

Third, I loved seeing my buddy, Vinny Cannamela (B’88, Parent ’22, ’24), hitting a half-court shot at USAir Arena and winning two plane tickets to anywhere in the United States.

After graduation, you spent three years with a public accounting firm and then returned to Georgetown for law school. What was it like to experience Georgetown on the other side of the city?

It was not the same experience as the Hilltop, but I had eight really good friends and we shared a bunker mentality in law school. My most memorable classroom experiences involved Professor Chuck Abernathy’s flair for the Socratic method in both Con Law II and Civil Rights. As a practicing attorney within walking distance to the Law Center, I swell with pride being an alumnus of one of the best law schools in the country.

When did you first start serving your alma mater?

I started doing phonathons during law school. After our 10-year reunion, I stepped out of fundraising and helped with communications and events, a role that’s more in line with my personality. I’ve always been a connector.

Why have you stayed engaged with Georgetown all these years?

I’m from Jersey City, New Jersey, and was the first person in my family to go to college. Had I not first gone to St. Peter’s Prep, which provided the path to Georgetown, I believe my life story would have been very different.

My volunteer work has provided me with a deeper connection to a place I love, a place that has given me more than I could ever give back.

Since being a part of the Association’s Board of Governors, I’ve become closer to folks from my class as well as the younger and older ones. We are all very different, bringing different backgrounds to bear, but we are all alike in our lifelong connection to Georgetown. It’s been easy to stay involved because I’ve always cared so much about it.

You’ve been on the Board of Governors for almost 20 years—what has your experience been like?

Working on the board has been a collaborative effort through the years; it’s always evolving and always improving. We are all deeply devoted to making the alumni experience better with affinity groups (like GEMA, GEA) as well as special events (like the Black Alumni Summit and the Wall Street Alliance Dinner).

I see us as more diverse, more closely coordinated with the university, and leveraging technology to a greater capacity so that our mission is known to all alumni. We are serving as an incubator of ideas for the alumni community and the university.

“My volunteer work has provided me with a deeper connection to a place I love, a place that has given me more than I could ever give back.”

What are your top priorities as president?

First we are prioritizing diversity, equity, and inclusion. We are populating our ranks with more people who represent the wider swath of alums. These are not just words. We are implementing the values of DEI through the association’s work, as seen through our programming, membership, and awards processes. But we still have a lot of work to do to be the best in class in this regard.

We are also overhauling our communications—both among our- selves on the board and to our larger constituency—so that more alumni have access to our offerings through our alumni clubs, alliances, and career services programs that unify us as a community.

Our mission is to generate goodwill and support for the university and to foster a lifelong connection to Georgetown. This is key to everything that we do. It’s all about galvanizing a group of governors to serve our alumni through alumni clubs, lifelong learning, career services, alliances, class programs, and philanthropy.

Since you stepped into office in July 2020, your term has been hampered by COVID-19. Recognizing the loss of in-person meetings, celebrations, and networking, what has worked well in the virtual world?

COVID-19 has acted as an accelerant to engagement along a continuum instead of episodically two or three times each year. Where our previous gatherings could only accommodate a certain number of alumni, we now can extend the reach of our programming to an unlimited number. For example, our Alumni Service Recognition Awards Celebration usually has 200–250 attendees, but our most recent virtual awards program had 150 people attending the Facebook streaming event and 1,700 more people viewing it post-event. The Women’s Forum is usually capped at 500 attendees in person and this year it had close to 2,000 registrants.

We will go back to in-person events in the future for sure, but we will also incorporate the virtual component to be more inclusive of our wider community.

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