Irma Finocchiaro graduated from high school in Panama in 1968. That same year, she began a lifelong career serving the country and forging relationships that have lasted a lifetime.
At the time Finocchiaro was not a citizen, that would come in 1980, but Civil Service made an exception for Panamanian citizens to work regardless. “To work for the Civil Service, you took a test. I took the entrance examinations and I scored very high, but I had no experience. So, I started as a clerk typist for a two-star general,” shares Finocchiaro.
Educational and Career Journey
“I was the first one in my family to be associated with the military. I went to work there and when the person I was working for knew I was getting an accounting degree at night, I was placed as an Army intern which helped me progress in my career,” explains Finocchiaro.
Her internship role was working in budget analysis, which eventually paved the way for Finocchiaro to be chosen to attend Syracuse University’s Defense Comptrollership Program, known as the DCP, where she currently serves as director. Finocchiaro graduated from the program in 1991, earning an MBA.
(The DCP is a unique program that partners with the Defense Department and Syracuse University. Students hone their knowledge of both industrial and military management techniques. Upon completing the program, students earn an MBA from the Whitman School and an Executive MPA from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs).
“I was the first one in my family to be associated with the military. I went to work there and when the person I was working for knew I was getting an accounting degree at night, I was placed as an Army intern which helped me progress in my career.”
She recalls, “After leaving the DCP program, I was able to return to Panama to work with the U.S. Army South. That allowed my family and I to spend time with some of my other immediate family in Panama. I was stationed for about five years and at the end of that time, the Army selected me to attend the Industrial College of the Armed Forces. I received a master’s degree in National Resource Strategy at that school.”
After graduating from the Industrial College, Finocchiaro went to work at the Operations and Plans Directorate under the Secretary of Defense (Comptroller) in the Pentagon as a senior budget analyst. Following her assignment there, she got promoted to the senior executive service. Finocchiaro shares, “To me that was a major accomplishment. I enjoyed working there at the Comptroller’s Office and the department of defense education activity, which oversees K-12 school for military dependent children all over the world.”
Finocchiaro and her husband relocated to Heidelberg, Germany, where she worked as deputy chief of staff, G-8 for U.S. Army Europe for the next five and a half years. After that role, Finocchiaro felt at peace retiring from the Army following more than 40 years of commitment.
Moving Back to Syracuse
Finocchiaro explains, “it just happened that my predecessor announced his retirement and asked if I was interested in my current job, director of DCP, at Syracuse University. Coming back to Syracuse in 2011 after retiring from the Army was an exciting option. I was looking forward to coming back where I graduated from in 1991 and to share with the students what I had learned along the way.”
“When I came to Syracuse, I returned October 31, 2011 at eight in the morning. I started teaching November 1, at eight in the morning the next day,” Finocchiaro reminisces. “It was not much time to unpack from Europe. We were living at a hotel for six months as our house was being built.”
Finocchiaro describes the program she supervises, “DCP is an incredible opportunity where the Army or other active members become students and get two degrees. They get an MBA with a concentration in business analytics from the Whitman School and an executive Masters of Public Administration from the Maxwell School. While they’re here for 14 months, they are full time resident students and when they graduate, the Army or department of defense assigns them to key developmental positions that will continue to develop them to be senior financial managers for the Department of Defense.”
A Family Full of Support
“On a personal note; my husband Albert is a retired Army aviator and he has always been very supportive of my career too. When I said, ‘Let’s go to Syracuse,’ he was willing to support that decision,” shares Finocchiaro.
Dedication to the military has been a key pillar to Finocchiaro’s family. She says, “I would consider us a military family because I gave over 40 years to the Army and Department of Defense. Additionally, both of my children are active duty military members as well. My son is a company commander in Fort Bragg, North Carolina and my daughter is a nurse at Walter Reed Medical Center.”
Finocchiaro credits her parents, who motivated her to pursue education, which led to her career path. She says, “I started from a humble beginning but with parents who focused so much on my sister and I to be successful and contributing members of society. They valued hard work and education and instilled that in my sister and I. I think that was my driving force to do well and achieve.”
“DCP is an incredible opportunity where the Army or other active members become students and get two degrees. They get an MBA with a concentration in business analytics from the Whitman School and an executive Masters of Public Administration from the Maxwell School.”
Becoming Successful, Trust and Mentorship
Aside from teaching, Finocchiaro raves about the relationships that she has built over the past nine years with Syracuse University. She shares,
“One of my strongest things that I have developed is relationships with trust. It’s critical to have people that you can trust and sit down with and bounce ideas off. There’s a lot of people at Whitman I feel comfortable asking for counsel from and I know they feel the same. My students talk to me about careers and what they should be doing. I’m always there for them just as people have always been there for me.”
Her advice to others building a successful and fulfilling career is the following; “I believe people have to have a vision of where they want to go and believe it’s possible to achieve with hard work and a lot of effort. They can become lifelong learners. When you do well, you have an obligation to reach out to others and bring them along the way. Help them, mentor them and provide guidance, whether they follow it or not is irrelevant. I have been very fortunate to have people who helped me along the way and I pay that forward now.”
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