News Column

Alicia Abella: A 'Change Agent' For AT&T, Also a Mentor to Young People

April 7, 2010

By Joshua Molina, Deputy Managing Editor

At AT&T, Alicia Abella is widely regarded for her efforts in developing long-distance collaboration tools.

In her capacity as Executive Director of Innovative Services Research at AT&T Labs, she led a group of researchers dedicated to eliminating the need for plane travel and other commuting methods that potentially harm the environment or overuse energy resources.

She has developed technologies that focus on teleconferencing, Web-based solutions, and iPhone App-based solutions that promote work and rapid-response collaboration across the globe.

"We are really trying to enhance the way people are communicating with each other," Dr. Abella said of her work at AT&T. "We are innovative and we are doing things that have their best interests in mind."

In 1995, Dr. Abella joined AT&T, shortly after earning a doctorate at Columbia.

As Executive Director of the Innovative Services Research Department, Dr. Abella manages technical staff that specializes in data mining, user interfaces, mobile services and other emerging technologies.

She leads the development of technological innovations that help people collaborate at a distance and over time. She also serves as Vice President of the Young Science Achievers Program and chair of the AT&T Labs Fellowship Committee.

In that capacity, Dr. Abella has worked to increase the presence of minorities and women working in science.
One of HispanicBusiness magazine's 2010 Woman of the Year finalists, she has also been honored with the 2008 Hispanic Engineers National Achievement Award and recognized by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute for her company's work in developing green technology.

Dr. Abella's direct supervisor at AT&T said she has been a key influence in ATT's growing interactive, integrated technology efforts.

"Alicia is a change agent," said Chuck Kalmanek, vice president of Networking & Services Research. "She has a vision of innovative services that draws on her extensive experience in human-computer interaction and an intuitive understanding of how technologies like social networks change the way that users interact with each other and with our services."

Following completion of her doctoral degree in computer science from Columbia University, Dr. Abella joined AT&T Bell Laboratories in New Jersey more than 15 years ago during the boom. Shortly thereafter, she was also there for the bust.

Her experiences over the last decade-and-a-half have helped her company succeed in the current economic environment.

"I have ridden that whole wave from boom to bust and I have seen us go from the big fat years to the leaner years to now our position as an innovative company," Dr. Abella said.

Although much of Dr. Abella's work is on a high technical level, she has also made a commitment to mentoring young people, particularly women and Hispanics.

She is the executive vice president for AT&T's Young Science Achievers program. The goal is to bring more minorities into the science field and to boost their overall awareness of college.

In her capacity as a mentor of young people, Dr. Abella has some sage advice to help them get ahead.
"Young women should participate in internships program," Dr. Abella said.

For women already in the workplace, she said it is important to seek out positive role models.

"Seek out mentors," Dr. Abella said. "Everyone needs a mentor."

She also believes in the importance of quality networking, something that has helped her get ahead.

"It is much better to have quality networking relationships, so you can spend more of your time cultivating that relationship," Dr. Abella said. "Part of that rests on that on a individual's ability to pick the right people. You want to view these people like mentors, but someone who you feel is going to speak on your behalf and be your advocate."

As Dr. Abella looks forward to her continued success, her parents remain her biggest mentors and sources of inspiration.

A first-generation child of Cuban immigrants, Abella's mother didn't know a word of English when she arrived at the age of 23, but went to night school while working in a factory.

She later trained herself to be a commercial artist and her father became a marketing manager.

"They are very proud of me," Dr. Abella said. "My father is no longer living, but he was the one who would brag about me a lot. They showed confidence in me and I was able to show them the type of respect they deserve and were owed."

Source: Hispanic Business Magazine, All Rights Reserved.

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