Theresa Pattara, J.D., CPA '95: Prepared for Every Open Door in Her Path

An inaugural member of the University’s Business Leadership Honors Program champions the Jesuit education model, and her family’s lifelong commitment to giving back.

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Theresa Pattara left The University of Scranton in 1995 for what she thought would be a career in accounting.

Life, though, had other plans for her, from earning her law degree at Georgetown, to crafting tax policy at the Internal Revenue Service, to writing legislation in the U.S. Senate.

Today, the Annandale, Virginia, resident is putting all of that accumulated experience to good use as one of the newest members of the University’s Board of Trustees. 

Pattara joined the board in the fall, having been invited by University President Joseph G. Marina, S.J., to serve her alma mater.

“I was completely taken aback when Father Marina called and asked me to be on the board. It’s an honor and very humbling, and being from a first-generation immigrant family makes it even more meaningful,” Pattara said.

 Pattara’s parents, Varghese G’71 and the late Valsa Pattara, moved to northeastern Pennsylvania from Kerala, India, in 1970, settling in Dickson City. Her father was a Chartered Accountant in India and earned his MBA at Scranton before starting his own florist supply business.

After graduating from Scranton Preparatory School in 1991, Pattara followed in her father’s footsteps and enrolled at the University. Having grown up in her dad’s office (she was doing his payroll and filing W2s by age 14), accounting seemed like the most obvious choice of major.

At Scranton, she formed bonds with accounting faculty members Dr. Daniel Mahoney and Dr. Brian Carpenter, and was part of the inaugural class of the Business Leadership Honors Program, which allowed her to “take MBA-level classes as an undergrad.” She also worked part-time at ParenteBeard, today Baker Tilly US, and had the opportunity to shadow Dave Hawk, then co-owner and chairman of the board of family-owned Gertrude Hawk Chocolates. 

Those experiences provided a sturdy foundation for her professional life – as did the University’s classic liberal arts curriculum.

“I’ve always been fond of the Jesuit education model,” Pattara said. “Besides the business courses, the other classes, whether speech and communication or ethics and philosophy, really forced you to hone your reasoning and writing skills, which serve you well no matter what profession you go into.”

Pattara’s post-college career began at accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers. But after a few years she changed course, earning acceptance into Georgetown University Law Center, where she spent the next several years taking evening classes while continuing to work full time.

“I was fed up with tax accounting, so I went to law school – and then I got a job at the IRS,” she said with a laugh.

Because of her accounting experience, she was assigned to high profile projects such as managing a $23 million redesign of the federal Form 990. For her work, she received the IRS Commissioner’s Award, the highest accolade given to an employee.

In 2005, Pattara was selected to be a Capitol Hill Fellow in the Senate, serving on the Finance Committee, then chaired by Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa. She enjoyed the experience so much that she left the IRS in 2008 for a position as a permanent tax counsel to the Senator. There she contributed on key pieces of legislation, including the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

“People on Capitol Hill tend to put themselves into the policy category or the political category. I personally enjoy the policy work much more. I get to see the truly bi-partisan nature of many Senators when those with opposing ideologies compromise to enact legislation,” Pattara said.

Upon leaving the Senate in 2012, Pattara became a lobbyist, first as senior director of public policy and advocacy at H&R Block, then as the vice president of government affairs at data and records management company Iron Mountain. Most recently, she served as vice president of federal relations, public policy and advocacy for Aflac.

“My feeling is, when a door opens, I should just walk through it,” Pattara said. 

I didn’t fully appreciate it when I was a student, but the education I received at the University opened doors to the professional opportunities I’ve had. Now I get to give something back, which is great.

— Theresa Pattara, J.D., CPA ’95

Purposeful Philanthropy

That same ethos applies to Pattara’s volunteerism, which includes serving as a member of Many Hands, a women’s “giving circle” that raises money for organizations in support of low-income women, children and families.

For many years, Pattara has financially supported Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA)/Prince George’s County, a non-profit committed to finding permanent homes for foster children. Recently, she became a member of its board, and for her 50th birthday undertook a $50,000 fundraising campaign.

Her involvement in CASA came out of a moving experience experience as a volunteer in an orphanage/foster care home in Kathmandu, Nepal, in 2008.

“I wanted to take every kid home with me. Instead, I committed to paying the tuition for eight kids to attend an English-language school there,” Pattara said. “After that, I became more interested in foster care issues in the U.S. CASA’s source of funding tends to be more grassroots, so I’m trying to help them elevate their fundraising.” 

Pattara’s philanthropy extends to the University. In 2022, she and her family established the Pattara Family Scholarship in memory of her mother, who died of Lou Gehrig’s disease, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, in 2021. The need-based scholarship is awarded to students who emigrated or whose parents emigrated from a South Asian country. No question, her sense of service and commitment to giving back “stems from my grandparents and parents,” said Pattara, whose niece, Elizabeth Pattara, ’19 and nephew, Varghese Pattara, ’22, also earned undergraduate degrees from Scranton.

Now, Pattara is contributing even more through her Board of Trustees service. She attended her first meeting in September and is serving on its audit, finance, and mission and identity committees.

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