Alumni Spotlight

Susan Bender Phelps

Susan Bender Phelps

Class Of 1976

Your sister played a large role in your FIT career, please explain.
When I graduated from high school, I had a Regents scholarship and I chose this state school that was furthest away from Long Island as I could get. It was the State University College at Brockport. It turned out to be a big mistake.  To my great surprise, I missed home and my family, and I didn’t have the money or the time to visit as much as I wanted to– it was an 8-hour drive each way. By the end of my sophomore year I was failing several classes, I didn’t see that I could do the work to pull myself out of my slump, so I dropped out and came home. My younger sister who is an artist and always knew what she wanted to be, went to FIT. She majored in Advertising Design and her last term took Advertising & Communication from Fran Lacher. She was carrying a heavy load of creative classes and needed a little support with writing papers - mostly proofing for grammar and spelling. My mom asked me to help her and I did. Toward the end of the term, both my sister and my father encouraged me to audit the class, just to check it out. I went to the very last class of the term and I enthusiastically participated in the discussion. Mrs. Lacher was very impressed and asked to see us after class. It was at that moment she said, “Well now I know who helped you write your papers.” A few minutes later, I was in the Advertising and Communication department office talking with the interim chair, and after maybe 10 minutes of conversation, I registered for classes at FIT. That turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.My younger sister who is an artist and always knew what she wanted to be, went to FIT. She majored in Advertising Design and her last term took Advertising & Communication from Fran Lacher. She was carrying a heavy load of creative classes and needed a little support with writing papers - mostly proofing for grammar and spelling. My mom asked me to help her and I did. Toward the end of the term, both my sister and my father encouraged me to audit the class, just to check it out. I went to the very last class of the term and I enthusiastically participated in the discussion. Mrs. Lacher was very impressed and asked to see us after class. It was at that moment she said, “Well now I know who helped you write your papers.” A few minutes later, I was in the Advertising and Communication department office talking with the interim chair, and after maybe 10 minutes of conversation, I registered for classes at FIT. That turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
Year graduated? 
1976
Major? 
Advertising & Communication
After FIT? Experiences that led you to who you are today?
Every job I got while I still lived in New York came from responding to an ad in the New York Times.  The first job was for a small ad agency where I was hired as the traffic manager. Big title Little job. It really was the classic entry-level position. I was responsible for getting every ad, every project that the agency did from the order from the client until it was placed in a newspaper, on the radio, or television. My office was literally in a closet filled with my desk and file cabinets. 
After the first month I knew this job was not for me. But I wanted to make sure that people wouldn’t think I was a quitter, so I made up my mind stay there for six months and then on the first day of the seventh month I started looking for a new job. 
The company that made E-Z Wider rolling paper hired me to work in their in-house ad agency.  I got to work on some exciting projects. For example, we were the first cigarette rolling paper company to advertise on national radio. I helped them create an incentive program for our clients so that they could win a free trip to Monte Carlo. It was a lot of fun. The company grew beyond our wildest dreams. 
But I really enjoyed working in a much smaller environment. I like the feel of being a pioneer and doing what it takes to get started. So after two years I began looking for another job and became a copywriter for Lane Bryant mail order catalogs. I did that for about a year. Then I went to work for a small ad agency whose clients were in the fine jewelry industry: retailers, manufacturers, and designers. I went to the diamond houses, I wore diamonds, pearls, rubies, and emeralds as I was inspiring myself to write copy about them. I felt as if I was doing what I was trained to do at FIT. 
After I graduated, FIT began to offer four-year diplomas. I enrolled and attended classes at night toward getting a bachelor's degree in Marketing. About that time, I fell in love and moved to California.  When I got there I looked to see if I could transfer to a college in California. None of them would accept my credits from Brockport or FIT. I could enroll, but I would have to start over. I didn’t want to redo or pay again for all that work. 
Then I got a job as the Public Information Officer at Southwestern College in Chula Vista. They chose me because I was good at what I did and because I understood the value of a community college education. It was one of the best jobs I’ve ever had.
Then my husband got a job at a television station in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Of course, I followed him there. Over the 20 years I lived there, I worked for an ad agency that did automotive advertising, the Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce as public information officer, as director of business development for consulting engineers, started a video production company with my husband, and I cofounded a nonprofit that provided mentoring programs for at-risk youth. Eventually I went to work full-time for the non-profit. I ran that organization for a total of 15 years -10 years as a volunteer, and five years as a paid Executive Director. I loved what I was doing. I had found my mission in life.
During that time I had a son, got divorced, fell in love and in 2001, moved to Oregon. While I was running the foundation in Albuquerque, I got a lot of experience in fundraising. My next job in Oregon was as the development officer for my local park foundation I did that job for 6 ½ years. At the same time, I volunteered on my county Commission for Children and Families. 
During that time I learned the Marylhurst University had a special program for people like me.  They would accept all of my previous education and transfer credits and allow me to be in a special program that gave me credit for my career experience. I enrolled and after 30 years of being out of school, working, building a life, I got my bachelor's degree in Communication. Two years later I learned about a masters program in Management and Organizational Leadership at Warner Pacific College, also in the Portland Oregon area. I enrolled and in 18 months completed a two-year master's degree while working full time.
I really missed working with young people and the mentoring program. I had put in so much love and passion into that organization and the schools, youth and families we served. When I was looking for topics for my master’s thesis, I decided to take a look at corporate mentoring programs. I learned that 90-95 percent of corporate mentoring program were rated as being poor or worthless and that participation rates were dismal. Less than 5 percent of eligible employees took advantage of them. That paper would become the basis for my new business a year and half later.
Now I help my clients’ organizations become more productive and more profitable. I design mentorship and leadership programs, deliver powerful training programs that increase employee engagement and maximize performance. My clients include colleges and universities, governments, municipalities, small, medium and large businesses in a wide variety of professions, professional associations, unions and clergy.
Daily routine?
I meditate and stretch every morning. I post a mentoring/coaching question of the day on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and I generally write something about each question. Then I eat breakfast and start making calls, writing, preparing presentations, or practicing a speech. When I work for a client I travel, which I still love. At the end of every day, I post on my personal Facebook page three things that went well that day. 
Where are you from? And how did this shape the person you are today?
I was born in Far Rockaway and raised in Oceanside on Long Island. Though I enjoyed living near the beach, I couldn’t wait to live in Manhattan. I got my first apartment while I was a student at FIT. I lived on the upper Westside and loved it. 
More than where I lived, I believe my family shaped who I am today. My parents met during WWII. They were able to buy our home in Oceanside thanks to the GI Bill. My dad used those benefits to go to college. When I was in grade school, my mom opened a millinery shop. We were solidly middle class, my parents were hardworking, and we thrived. 
If you could translate your style into a person, place or thing what would it be?
I think the film Stand and Deliver, about math teacher Jaime Escalante would be it. When you believe that someone can achieve great things and then, put everything you have into giving him or her the tools and the opportunity to fulfill on those expectations you have a powerful foundation. When the person you believe in begins to believe in their own possibility and is willing to work hard to achieve their dreams – that is the winning combination. In my mentoring programs, I teach both mentoring partners how to maximize what’s possible because of their work together. Mr. Escalante knew his students were smart enough and could do the work to learn higher mathematics. No one else shared his belief and his passion. Once the students realized they could go far beyond any achievement they could envision, so much more than they dared to dream did become possible.
What do you find that sparks creativity?
Dialogue and being truly curious are what sparks creativity for me. When I talk with my clients, the people in my life, my mentors and teachers, I stay open to new possibilities and opportunities. I constantly ask, “What if?” 
What three things you can’t live without?
I’ve learned that there is nothing I couldn’t live without. Now, there are things that I really love having and wouldn’t want to live without. 
1.     Delicious food that is a pleasure to see, smell and taste.  I love to cook, eat out – it doesn’t matter. I just want my plate to be a feast for my senses as well as providing fuel for my body.
2.     Access to the outdoors – ocean, beaches, mountains, forests, deserts, and gardens – love them all and they feed my soul.
3.     My family – husband, children and grandchildren.
Future projects you are working on?
I am marketing a mentoring program for colleges and universities for their undergraduates to help dramatically improve student retention and graduation rates, engage alumni and local business leaders, increase job placement after graduation, and engage future donors earlier. 
 
I have a goal to speak or deliver training in each of the 50 states and Canada over the next five years. So far, I have spoken or led one or more courses in Arizona, California, Colorado, Maine, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, and Washington.
 
In my community I am working to pass a property tax levy to create a sustainable source of funding to pay for out-of-school time programs that support student success. The goal is to fund mentoring, tutoring, pre-school, after-school, substance abuse prevention, child abuse prevention, STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics), food and nutrition programs.

Past Alumni Spotlight's

Reynaldo Gonzalez

Reynaldo Gonzalez

Why FIT? I good friend of mine graduated from FI ...

Engie Hassan

Engie Hassan

F.I.T. was my dream school since I was ten years old. I was told that ...

Wendy Nastasi

Wendy Nastasi

Why FIT?  I participated in DECA in High School, ...

 Michelle Christina Larsen

Michelle Christina Larsen

Why FIT? When I was gearing up to graduate from ...

Allison Dinan

Allison Dinan

Why FIT? It’s the best of the best. If you ...

Jennifer Grove

Jennifer Grove

Lindsey Albrecht

Lindsey Albrecht

Why FIT? I knew from the time I was 13 that I wa ...

Margee Minier

Margee Minier

Why FIT? From the moment my ears heard the words ...

Jane Kennedy

Jane Kennedy

Why FIT? Because FIT teaches real, hands-on skil ...

Sheldon Goodman

Sheldon Goodman

You were in the second graduating class at FIT!
  ...

Jan Guarino

Jan Guarino

Why FIT?

Once I decided to go for Fashion ...

Denise Stoughton

Denise Stoughton

Why FIT? FIT’s Interior Design Program was the ...

Leslie Harris

Leslie Harris

Earlier this month you were awarded Cos Frag Leadership Award, ...

Jennifer Pekoc Ettinger

Jennifer Pekoc Ettinger

Why FIT?

My father is an international art ...

Danielle DiFerdinando

Danielle DiFerdinando

Why FIT?

FIT is a world renowned and resp ...

Izaskun Zabala

Izaskun Zabala

Where are you from? And how did this shape the person you are ...

Robin Rotenier

Robin Rotenier

FIT alumn Robin Rotenier passed on May  20, 2014. He will stay fo ...

Tori Nichel

Tori Nichel

Support your fellow alumn who is on the cast of NBC's Fashion Star ...

John Bartlett

John Bartlett

Back in the mid-1980s, when I went to F.I.T., there was a guy in the m ...

Enrico Casarosa

Enrico Casarosa

Enrico Casarosa (Illustration '97), story artist at Pixar Animatio ...

Jacalyn Bennett

Jacalyn Bennett

The New York Times recently featured FIT alumna Jacalyn Benne ...