Success & Impact
Announcing the National Alumni Board’s New Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Council Co-Chairs
At the close of 2020, Saint Joseph’s National Alumni Board (NAB) announced the creation of a new Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Council, appointing Reese Blair ’98 and Christian O’Brien ’13 as co-chairs of the initiative.
A subcommittee of the NAB, the DEI Council was created to foster welcoming and inclusive experiences and spaces for the alumni community and to better engage and connect with the diverse segments of the overall alumni population. This effort is part of a larger commitment and strategic vision of the University to prioritize DEI among all audiences, with a tailored and deliberate approach for alumni.
Blair and O’Brien will serve as thought leaders for the NAB executive committee and chapter leadership, and develop strategies to advance diversity programming and promote inclusion initiatives. They will also be part of a larger strategy of the NAB to diversify membership.
Frank Sharp ’67, NAB president, says that the board needs to better reflect the changing demographics of the University’s alumni population, while also increasing participation from new and diverse voices.
“We need to raise the level of diverse alumni involvement of all Alumni Association events, programs and meetings,” he says. “And we need more effective communication with a broader audience, to make everyone feel engaged and included. Our challenge was to figure out what we need to do differently.”
The executive committee of the NAB reached out to Nicole Stokes, Ph.D., associate provost for diversity, equity and inclusion at Saint Joseph’s, to collaborate on the creation of the council. The co-chairs will also work closely with Stokes on new strategies and initiatives.
“We wanted the co-chairs’ own narratives and stories to be inclusive and reflective of the diverse alumni we wish to engage,” says Stokes. “Reese and Christian bring strong complementary backgrounds that will give a new way of engaging diverse alumni. They are ideal candidates to co-chair this council and we are very excited to work with them.”
About Reese Blair ’98
Blair was born and raised in Nassau in the Bahamas, but he always knew he wanted to work in Philadelphia — a city he fell in love with after visiting his aunt here.
During his final year of college at the University of the Bahamas, his school participated in a financial assistance search program geared toward high-performing students. A dozen colleges in the United States were recruiting students from the Bahamas, offering scholarships and financial aid, and accepting college credits — and Saint Joseph’s was the only Philadelphia-area college participating in the program.
“I put all of my eggs into one basket and was accepted to St. Joe’s for the fall of 1996,” Blair says.
At St. Joe’s, he majored in accounting and was a member of the Accounting Society. It was on Hawk Hill that he caught the attention of Deloitte, an audit, consulting, advisory and tax services company.
“In my junior year, Deloitte came to campus, and a hiring manager took me out to lunch. We had a conversation and I visited their office, had interviews, and by my senior year I had secured a job there.”
Blair has been at Deloitte ever since. “I had mentors, sponsors, and champions at an early age who saw something in me, and influenced my desire to stay with the firm,” he says. He found his niche in investment management, and in 2011, he made partner. Now he leads an investment management practice in Philadelphia.
Blair lives by the saying “To whom much is given, much will be required.”
“When you climb the corporate ladder, you make sure you send it down,” he says. “I’ve been blessed, and now I have to give back — to pull folks up with me.” He helps recruit, mentor and assist with education efforts for high school and college students who are part of a mentorship program through Deloitte Academy. He also served as the president of the Philadelphia chapter of the National Association of Black Accountants, and led the affinity group for the Black Employee Network at Deloitte. Last year he was appointed DEI leader for his office, and was concurrently asked to serve in a similar role for Deloitte, for the entire eastern region of the company, from Boston to Florida, and Puerto Rico.
Blair looks forward to continuing his DEI work at his alma mater. “I have tremendous pride in St. Joe’s, and I think there’s an opportunity to move the needle to attract students like me, who come from different countries and backgrounds,” he says. “When a young person looks up and sees someone who looks like them in a position of success … that matters.”
About Christian O’Brien ’13
O’Brien majored in pharmaceutical and healthcare marketing at St. Joe’s and joined the business fraternity Delta Sigma Pi which helped him hone in on his interests, and build his network. He was also involved in student leadership and residence life, which he says helped him be a better student and professional.
Upon graduation, he landed a position as a vaccine specialist at Sanofi, a biopharmaceutical company. “I kept getting promoted into more specialized roles with increasing responsibility, and gained experience in sales training and product marketing,” O’Brien explains. “But the biggest learning experience for me has been within the space of DEI.”
He first learned about DEI during his senior year at St. Joe’s. “I took a capstone course called Managing Human Capital with Dr. Lucy Ford,” he says. “It opened my eyes to the world of human resources and employee capital. I learned about employee groups and why they are valuable and necessary, how to bring issues to light, and how to promote inclusion in the way we communicate with each other. I saw how it leads to better business results.”
O’Brien also says the inclusivity he experienced at St. Joe’s helped him thrive.
“I was out in college,” he says. “And I was able to flourish in my skin. I want more students to have that opportunity.”
At Sanofi, O’Brien led an employee resource group that brought awareness and equity to LGBTQIA employees and patients. He also helped the company design programming to expand employee awareness of LGBTQIA issues at large. While at Sanofi, he co-led the company’s PRIDE Connect Employee Resource Group, an initiative that led to Sanofi’s two consecutive perfect scores on the Human Rights Campaign Corporate Equality Index.
As the PRIDE Connect co-lead, he also helped implement gender-transition guidelines, which enables employees, their partners or dependents to take advantage of the company’s gender transition medical benefits.
O’Brien also recently joined Bristol Myers Squibb as senior manager for oncology commercial training. He has been quickly tapped to lead the PRIDE month programming for the PRIDE Alliance PBRG.
Now, he is eager to bring his expertise in DEI work back to St. Joe’s.
“It’s such an exciting time to bring Hawks back to Hawk Hill to engage in this subject matter,” O’Brien says. “We need more advocates to promote and grow diversity. It’s such a transformative, positive experience to go through St. Joe’s, and this is an opportunity to share that story with more folks, so they can thrive too.”