Alumna Spotlight: Three Questions for Sarah ALTMAN (Bumsted) McSorley '95

Sarah ALTMAN (Bumsted) McSorley '95 has varied and unique connections to Ellis. An alumna of the Class of 1995, she has also held the titles “faculty kid”, “substitute teacher”, and “EPA President”. Currently, she serves on Ellis’ Board of Trustees, chairing the Development Committee. She and her husband, RJ, are both native Pittsburghers. They have six children, three of whom are current Ellis students: Annie, Class of 2027, Mary, Class of 2028, and Kit, Class of 2029.
During her professional career, Sarah worked for the NYC Department of Education as a lead special education teacher, a mathematics instructional trainer, and a tutor in city-operated group homes. She has also worked in the fields of family preservation, foster care prevention, and school social work. As a Special Education Therapist in Bermuda, Sarah developed a consultancy practice partnering with families and teachers of students with complex learning needs. Most recently, she created an inclusive curriculum and a professional development program for Early Childhood programs.

Unwaveringly dedicated to every community of which she has been a part, Sarah has worked with many nonprofit and charitable organizations. She acted as Board Chair of The Lancashire Foundation and served on the founding Board of Directors for Tomorrow’s Voices, the first Autism Spectrum Disorder program of its kind in Bermuda. Locally, she has volunteered for 412 Food Rescue, Calvary Episcopal Church, East End Cooperative Ministries, Second Harvest Thrift, and St Margaret’s Hospital. She currently serves as a mentor for the Trade Institute of Pittsburgh, a vocational training program providing opportunities for individuals with significant barriers to employment. Sarah is also a member of the outreach team for Jeremiah’s Place, Pittsburgh’s only crisis nursery.

Sarah holds a B.A. in Sociology from Hobart & William Smith Colleges, an M.S.Ed in Special Education from Bank Street College, and an M.S.W. from Columbia University. She talked with us in June about her favorite Ellis memories and experiences.

What is your favorite memory (or place) from Ellis?

[Middle School Division Assistant] Marie Kanz used to sit at a front reception desk at the main entrance of the school. As I remember it, only the seniors had a lounge, so as underclassmen, we just plopped ourselves wherever we wanted. My favorite place to be during free periods was in the reception area hanging out, laughing, and certainly bothering Marie. It was so fun. She loved us, just ask her!

It brings about this idea of being so comfortable in your community. It’s this idea of, "This place is mine.” This place is mine in that I am so welcome in every space...I am part of the fabric of this. In hindsight, I realize that we were the first people any visitor saw when they came to the school. They got a full, authentic dose of Ellis girls as soon as they walked in. We were likely a little too rambunctious, but there was also something about the comfort level and the ability for us to be whoever we were at that time. We were—and are—so known here.

What Is Something You Learned at Ellis That You Still Carry with You Today?

It really is 1000 percent the power of female friendships and female relationships. My Ellis friendships remain really strong, but so are my relationships with other women from other places—female coworkers and friends, my mother, my daughters. It is special, and it is different. This notion of women lifting women up, and that when one of us wins we all win, is something I feel I wasn’t explicitly taught—no one said that to me verbatim in the 90’s—but that was my lived experience at Ellis. Everything worked better when we were supporting each other, whether that was in a play, or on the field, or in class. I learned that by doing it, and I feel so lucky to have had so many repeated examples of working together with other girls.

What Ellis Experience Do You Attribute to Your Personal or Professional Success?

I legitimately always felt like I was being celebrated at Ellis. Not with accolades or special recognitions, but for being myself. I was a Lifer, so over 13 years I had every phase and fad and haircut, and I tried so many things. I consistently heard this message of "go for it.” Go out for this sport, this play, this club. That club doesn’t exist? Start it.

Today, I really do not hesitate to put myself forth. It feels natural to enter a situation with confidence because I know nothing else than to say, "Why not me?” There’s no reason not to try something. Even my failures have not been reasons. Failures weren’t discouraging. If it happened, I tried again or I went a different direction. What a privilege! The notion that there’s never a reason not to go for it is something that I apply in my professional and personal life. Move to another country and create a new career? Why not? Learn how to waterski at age 45? Sure! It isn’t necessarily about risk taking, but it’s more about assuming a successful experience and having the confidence to know I’ll survive even if it doesn’t go according to plan.
    • Sarah ALTMAN (Bumsted) McSorley '95

    • Sarah as a student at Ellis