March 2017 Alumni Highlight

Karen MazzaWhen Karen Mazza ('82) graduated from SUNY Albany in 1979 with an English degree she had made up her mind that she would attend law school. After applying to several New York law schools, Karen was accepted into Pace and enthusiastically chose to attend.

"Pace was ideally located in White Plains, which gave me access to the legal market in the Westchester area and also in New York City. It was a fairly new school, but had already begun building a wonderful reputation for educating great lawyers in a practical manner." As a student, Karen was involved – she was the Vice President of the Student Bar Association and also volunteered as a student liaison for recruitment. "My time at Pace was thoroughly enjoyable. I loved my professors and felt they all genuinely cared about my future success as an attorney. I learned how to think and analyze-the most valuable skills you can learn in law school. I also made lifelong friends who I still keep in touch with."

After Karen graduated from Pace and passed the bar exam, she started as Deputy General Counsel for the New York City Department of Probation. After remaining there for four years, Karen moved on to become an assistant district attorney at the Westchester County District Attorney's Office. "Although I was only there for a short time, I learned that it was not what I saw myself doing long-term, so I sought out a different position and was lucky enough to be hired as the Deputy Inspector General for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority."

In 1992, after spending five years with the MTA, Karen became Counsel and Trustee to the Mayor's Pension Unit with the New York City Department of Finance. In this position, Karen was trustee for the NYC Finance Commissioner on the NYC Employees Retirement System, Police Pension Fund, Fire Pension Fund, Teacher's Retirement System and Deferred Compensation Plan. "I really learned the ins and outs of retirement plans in this position. I advised on various issues related to benefits and investments, and assisted in drafting various analyses on legislation for both the city and state. It was this position that allowed me to take the next steps in my career."

In 1994, Karen became the Pension Board Trustee and Liaison for the New York City Comptroller. Then, in 1997, Karen obtained the position of General Counsel with the New York City Employees Retirement System. "It was the exact position I had been seeking for most of my career. I enjoyed the day to day role I played and I found the work to be very challenging, but very interesting. Every day, for the almost twenty years that I was in this role, I provided advice and counsel on agency matters for a fund that serves over 350,000 qualified employees and retirees. I also evaluated legislation, drafted legislation, and managed a staff."

In 2016, Karen was promoted to Deputy Executive Director with the New York City Employees Retirement System. In this role, Karen provides strategic support to the business divisions of the largest municipal pension system in the United States. And, as of January 1, 2017, Karen was named the interim Executive Director of the New York City Employees Retirement System. "I can't imagine another career. It is extremely fulfilling. I truly learn something new every single day – and that is after over 20 years!"

If Karen could give any advice to current law students it would be to "go outside your comfort zone in terms of a career. You may be surprised at how much you like an area of law that you had never given a second thought to before. If someone had told me I would make a career out of being counsel to and advising on retirement plans, I would have laughed. And, I love it. So, try something new and give it a chance would be my advice."

Karen lives in Bayside, New York with her husband Ken Toback and their two children, James and Melissa. She loves finding time to read and knit.