An Alumni Spotlight on Emily (Cusick) Deagen (ILR '12)
Like many of her peers, Emily (Cusick) Deagen (ILR ’12) was attracted to the ILR school at Cornell for the interdisciplinary nature of its curriculum which aligned with her interests in government, economics, and leadership. As an ILR major, this mostly translated to career pathways in human resources and law for Emily, both of which she strongly considered throughout her time at Cornell. When one of her professors recommended her for the position of the Director of Human Resources at Student Agencies her junior year, it sounded like a fun opportunity to hone her professional skills and meet people she would not have met otherwise in her ILR program and her social sorority. She was excited to get involved with another aspect of the Cornell community and become more well-rounded as a student. Furthermore, after having interned in human resources the previous summer, Emily was still deliberating if that was the industry she wanted to enter upon graduating as opposed to immediately going to law school.
One of Emily’s top priorities as Director of Human Resources was fostering diversity in the Student Agencies team. To her, diversity does not necessarily need to be cultivated through grand gestures but making it a present theme in discussions and meetings as well as finding subtle ways to help people defy old expectations for certain roles. “It’s about baby steps of just getting people in the office and normalizing them interviewing for positions that you may not imagine particularly.” Emily worked with then-president of SAI Fiona Yu (’11) to recruit students outside of managers’ social networks and professors’ recommendations, targeting a greater range of student organizations that were more nontraditional including minority-interest fraternities and sororities. She worked to get more women to apply for Big Red Shipping and Storage and Hired Hands Moving Company, two agencies in industries that are typically male-dominated. According to Emily, SAI also ended up getting quite a few international student applicants during that year. Working with people from different backgrounds really benefitted her, she explains, by putting things in perspective and helping her take fewer things for granted.
Another aspect of Student Agencies that impacted Emily was that it helped her grow as a leader. “SAI forced me to figure out my leadership style really quickly in an executive level position.” At the time, it was Emily’s responsibility to lead SAI’s monthly “all-hands meeting” in which every AM and GM would give updates and ask for help from other managers, fostering synergy across agencies. “I had to get up and lead the agenda for the day when we started, which helped me figure out how to speak publicly. I really liked to lead with humor and warmth but I don’t have time for nonsense,” Emily explains. Her experience helped her find her core values for her business personality, which have remained constant for the past 7-8 years. Student Agencies provided Emily with her first opportunities outside of class to work on deliverables and projects and report to a board of directors. Creating and executing checklists, closing deals, and helping determine budgets as a 21-year-old “really helped me figure out who I was in the world of business and realize my strengths and weaknesses.”
Her role as Director of HR presented Emily with unique challenges as well. “Saying no to a candidate during the hiring process or talking to a colleague about performance issues was really difficult for me in the beginning and even scary the first few times. It was especially hard as a woman in the world of business to not be afraid of being seen as the ‘bad guy.’” However, over time and after practice sitting down with people and asking questions objectively, those aspects of her job became easier for Emily. “Being on the other side, it really put things in perspective getting to see people succeed and come out on the other side even following rejection. I learned not to take things personally.”
When Emily was nearing the end of her time as HR Director and the start of her senior year, she knew she had a decision to make about what kind of role she would pursue upon graduation. She was grateful that Student Agencies had provided a safe way for her to try many different ideas and explore the human resources industry while still in college. However, she also learned that just because she had performed well in human resources did not mean that it was necessarily her calling. “I had a wonderful time doing HR for Student Agencies and had immense pride in the job and the team I helped build but going through the process helped me figure out that it was not for me and would not be my future.” While many people choose to take time off before going to law school, Emily decided to apply immediately, excited to pursue her dream of becoming a lawyer. She was able to leverage her role with Student Agencies during the application process, from taking the LSAT during her summer in Ithaca to even writing her admissions essay about SAI.
Emily continued to touch upon her experience with SAI while interviewing with law firms. After graduating from Harvard Law School in 2015, Emily became a tax lawyer, though she recalls, “I went to law school thinking I’d be a transactional employment lawyer.” While still figuring out what exactly she wanted to do within law, she also recalls feeling like she already had a year or two of real work experience and being told by colleagues that she seemed to have “worked before,” which is something she attributes to having worked for Student Agencies. She has since become an M&A/private equity associate, serving as counsel for various equity funds that are undertaking turnaround and buyout deals. Emily enjoys her new position as it entails working on business projects “all day and every day” as opposed to litigation. She recently moved from New York City to Boston, an area which she loves as it is a “private equity hotbed with a smaller legal and private equity community,” adding, “I feel like a part of it already.” Emily now lives with her husband and their two cats Statler and Waldorf, the former named as a nod to Cornell’s Statler Hotel.