Finance student Andrea Cortes ’26 keeps a notebook of everything she learned at this October’s Women in Alternative Investments Career Forum. There are notes on the people she met, summaries of the advice they gave, and information on how to pursue potential career paths. The most important entry, though, is a simple quote from one of the panelists: “If you’re in the room, you deserve to be in the room.”
That message had a special resonance for the conference attendees — 200 college students, MBA students, and other women beginning their careers in finance — all of whom were working to break into a male dominated-field, Cortes notes. “We talked about how the world was changing and how we could be part of that change,” she says.
Finding a community of support
The first Bryant representative chosen to attend the conference, Cortes, a first-generation college student, pursued the opportunity the same way she’s pursued others in her life — with equal parts determination, humility, and an eagerness to explore. “When they first asked us to go into the ballroom to start the conference, all I could think was, ‘This is the big moment,’ ” she remembers.
The connections she’s made have helped her to rise to the occasion. “Every single day I think about my parents, and everyone else who has helped me come such a long way. I want to make them proud,” she says.
Cortes found her first Bryant connection in her North Providence High School accounting teacher, alumnus James Isabella ’88. “He’d tell us Bryant has such amazing programs and employers are always seeking Bryant students,” she says.
Intrigued, Cortes, who knew she wanted to study business, chose to apply early action. With the help of her parents and Isabella, she learned to navigate the college application process, from forms to financial aid. Bryant’s was the first acceptance letter Cortes received, much to her excitement, she remembers. But, noting the enormity of the decision, and the cost, she and her family wanted to keep their options open.
When Accepted Students Day came around, however, her heart was clear. “There was just a different vibe here,” Cortes recalls. Visiting with some of her friends, she was excited to show off the campus. “I told them, ‘Oh, this is Salmanson Dining Hall! This is the gym! This is Fisher Student Center,” she recollects with a smile.
“When I finally got the acceptance email, I was so excited. It was a real ‘oh my gosh’ moment."
Her parents didn’t say it at the time, but they knew the decision had been made. “My mom told me a couple months later that when my dad saw me at Bryant that day, he told her, ‘Yeah, she’s going to school here,’ ” says Cortes, who commutes to campus.
A commuter student, Cortes started at Bryant a week early, taking part in the University’s 4MILE (Multicultural and International Leadership Experience) program, an orientation designed for incoming international and domestic multicultural students. At 4MILE, she made friends with incoming students from all over the world and was introduced to the university’s Multicultural Student Union.
“It was such a great experience and in one week I learned so much about Bryant and other cultures and the importance of diversity,” she says.
Her professional network expanded during her first year too. Cortes, who decided to major in Finance and minor in Accounting and Italian, received an invitation from Lecturer in Finance Mara Derderian to a series of lunch discussions with other women students studying Finance at Bryant.
“I was the only freshman, and the other girls were all seniors,” says Cortes. “It was a little scary at first, but it was really nice talking with them and realizing this could be me in three years.”
Looking ahead and giving back
During the summer, Derderian offered another opportunity: a sponsored trip to the seventh annual Women in Alternative Investments Career Forum, organized by the Women's Association of Venture and Equity, in New York City. “I wrote in my application that I wanted to learn more about all of the opportunities in front of me,” says Cortes. She was also intrigued by the focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion, which has become an important interest for her.
More than 600 applicants applied for only 200 spots at the conference. “When I finally got the acceptance email, I was so excited. it was a real ‘oh my gosh’ moment,” Cortes notes. Derderian, she says, was thrilled for her as well.
When the forum concluded, Cortes returned to campus energized. “It felt good to be in a roomful of other girls with the same goals, and it really helped me to build my network,” she says.
She’s also eager to explore the field of private equity, which she learned about at the conference. “I really like how they talked about the relationships you form in that area and how you’re able to work with other people,” Cortes notes.
“I’m focused on being successful in the future, but I remember the people who got me here.”
That doesn’t mean she’s stopped exploring, though. This semester, Cortes joined Bryant’s Finance Association, which helps to expand students’ knowledge of the financial industry and connect them with alumni in the field. One of the most recent meetings brought alumni working at Dell Technologies back to campus.
And she’s already started doing some mentoring of her own. This summer she was a counselor for both the 4MILE program and Bryant’s PwC Accounting Careers Leadership Institute, which helps rising high school students from diverse backgrounds chart paths to academic and career success.
Volunteering is a way to pay forward the support she’s received from her mentors at Bryant, says Cortes, remembering her own 4MILE counselor, Alejandro Vaquerano ’23. “He was always there for me and always had all the answers, even after 4MILE was over. He made me want to be like him,” she states.
Everyone who's contributed to her journey — from her parents to Isabella to Dederian to the conference panelist who affirmed her place in the room — helped propel her forward, Cortes states. “I’m focused on being successful in the future, but I remember the people who got me here,” she says.