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Alice Ferreira ’91 Takes Helm of Barnum Museum’s Board of Directors at a Critical Time

Sacred Heart’s influence continues to inspire her community service

By Kimberly Primicerio

Alice Ferreira never struggled deciding what career to pursue. There was no internal weighing of options or pitting one career path against another. Things just lined up, she says.

Ferreira, 47, credits her supportive family and what was once a “small commuter school” for her many successes in life. The 1991 alumna of Sacred Heart University is vice president of communications at United Healthcare and recently became chair of Bridgeport’s Barnum Museum Board of Directors.

The Barnum Museum is dedicated to the life of the famous 19th-century businessman, politician and entertainer, Phineas Taylor Barnum. Ferreira has served on the museum’s board since 2009 and feels a connection to Barnum. “He’s the father of public relations; he’s an international icon,” she says. She looks up to him, she adds, as her own career has been built on good public relations and communication strategies.

While being in charge of a museum dedicated to such a historic figure is exciting for Ferreira, she says the opportunity to give back is just as significant. She feels fortunate to have a great job at a great company, and she’s just as fortunate to be able to help others. “You can serve on a lot of boards, but you have to be passionate about it or you’re just going through the motions,” says Ferreira, who is dedicated to the Barnum Museum, as well as Bridgeport’s Kennedy Center Inc. and the American Red Cross. “I’m fortunate enough to have the capability to do it all.

“To a certain extent, this giving back started in my formal education. At SHU, I was exposed to giving back all the time. It was a huge influence on me going forward. It really molded me into my own…and that’s what SHU is all about.”

Ferreira’s opportunity to take the helm of Barnum Museum’s board comes at a critical time in its history. The museum is in the midst of a multimillion-dollar renovation, rehabilitation and rebranding, resulting from a devastating tornado hit in 2010. It occurred just days before a celebration of the showman’s 200th birthday was about to open. Windows shattered and, within minutes, dust and debris covered the exhibits. There was structural damage as well, and the recovery has been underway ever since.

“I’m lucky to have a great board,” Ferreira says. “If I can use my leadership abilities and passion to make things move forward, I have to do it. I think I can be of value at this phase.”

Separate from the renovation, something exciting is always going on at the museum. Calls come in from representatives at television networks and museums across the world asking questions about P.T. Barnum. A film about him is also in the works, with Hugh Jackman in the starring role, and the museum has received inquiries about the production.

“It’s all very exciting. He died over 100 years ago and he’s still iconic,” says Ferreira, who can remember visiting the Barnum Museum as an elementary school student.

Born and raised in Bridgeport by Catholic, Portuguese parents, Ferreira is an only child. She attended local public schools and excelled. With SHU being a Catholic institution close to her home, the University presented an ideal situation for Ferreira, who eventually would become a first-generation college graduate. She commuted to SHU and studied business, taking a liking to economics.

She also discovered her love for communications at SHU. As a sophomore, she became the youngest editor of SHU’s student newspaper, the Spectrum. “This was the perfect combination for me,” Ferreira says. “I was in the midst of running an operation…there was the business side and the communications side. It couldn’t have been a better combo.”

Then Ferreira received an internship in the University’s communications department, where she “got the bug for event planning.”

“I thrived on that pace,” she recalls. “I was doing commencement one day and setting things up for an author visit the next day. It was great. Between the Spectrum and the internship, I think I was very fortunate to have a clear idea of what I wanted to do early on. I truly believe that’s how it started. Those jobs gave me exposure and crafted my career.”

Two years after graduation, Ferreira landed her first corporate job. She went on to become the director of corporate communications at Health Net for 16 years before taking on the vice president position at United Healthcare in 2010, where she oversees external communications. She says her job has her traveling often to the many states where United Healthcare serves the Medicaid population. She also has the opportunity to work with world-class organizations like Sesame Street and 4-H as part of the company’s efforts to help underprivileged children lead healthier lives.

Ferreira is grateful for all she has been able to achieve in life and says she is forever thankful to SHU and the evolution it has experienced over the past several years.

“Because of its progress, it’s increased my worth,” Ferreira explains. “People know Sacred Heart; it’s not just a small commuter school anymore.”

Ferreira says when she receives an appeal from a SHU student asking if she’d like to make a donation, she doesn’t hesitate to do so. Not only is she helping her alma mater, Ferreira says, she also hopes she’s teaching that student on the other end of the call the importance of giving back.

Knowing the kind of education and student support SHU provides, Ferreira was overjoyed when her oldest son told her he was going to apply. “I don’t think I pressured him,” she says. “I just think he must have heard me talk positively about SHU so much.”

Ferreira says if she wasn’t so rooted and invested in the community, she’s not sure if her life would have followed the same path, from her successful academic career at SHU, to landing the jobs she did, to becoming chair at the Barnum Museum. Regardless, she’s happy and committed to continue serving her community. After all, it’s what she learned as a Pioneer many years ago.