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Alumni Profile

Smashing the Glass Ceiling

As a young woman, Alice Hahn, BS’69 (R), was looking for a certain role model: a successful woman who enjoyed a career in science and a strong family life. Her criteria did not appear that demanding yet her search came up empty. So Hahn set out to make sure the next generation of women wouldn’t have quite as far to look.

Today, she is the president and chief operating officer of Advanced Mobile Solutions, Inc. (AMS), an internationally recognized research and development firm founded by her and her husband, Stan, BS’68 (T-H). The company develops cellular phone accessories and compact power supplies for companies like Motorola. With annual sales of $70 million, AMS is one of the largest minority-owned businesses in the San Francisco area and has international operations in Mexico, Brazil, China and Korea.

The company has been a leader in establishing a diverse workforce, with more than 20 nationalities represented among its employees. “All my life I’ve been underestimated because I’m a woman and a minority. Well, at AMS we don’t do that. We hire and assess people purely on the basis of their abilities.”

Hahn is quick to credit the company’s diversity for its success. “In the 21st century, the companies that make it will be the ones that best utilize a diverse workforce. The ethnic makeup of this country is becoming less homogenous. Our company could serve as a model of how diversity encourages competition and innovation.”

Hahn is well versed in the subject of diversity. She was born in Korea and traveled to Rutherford, N.J., as a high school exchange student. Then known as Ulhee Kang, Hahn picked up the name Alice from a woman in town who found it easier to pronounce than Ulhee.

When Hahn wanted to stay in the United States, she talked to the late Sylvia (Sally) Sammartino, wife of FDU’s founder, Peter Sammartino, who helped her gain a full scholarship. “It was a great opportunity for me. I’m forever grateful to her,” says Hahn.

Hahn was surprised to see an international flavor on the campus. “Unlike many other colleges at the time, FDU had many international students. Dr. Sammartino had traveled widely and had recruited students from all over the world. He was a visionary.”

At FDU, thousands of miles from Korea, Hahn fell in love with someone from Korea. Alice and Stan met as members of the FDU Korean Student Association. “It was just a great time in my life. I still remember the Castle and studying on the lawn. All the professors were so dedicated. I have very fond memories.”

After receiving a BS in chemistry, she continued her education, gaining a PhD in chemistry from the University of Southern California in 1974. She succeeded in three management-level chemistry research positions and then, in 1985, she and her husband decided to form their own company in Moraga, Calif., where they live. “Stan and I both felt that we hit a glass ceiling and that we wanted to control our own destiny.”

“There’s a myth
that says you can’t
be a successful
career women
and still have a
strong family life.”
— Alice Hahn,
BS’69 (R)

Starting with nothing but family funds, AMS has grown from a couple of engineers to a multimillion dollar operation with more than 400 employees worldwide. Its latest international branch opened in Korea this summer. The company is now wrapping up production on a hands-free, wireless headset that has the potential to significantly impact the telecommunications industry.

In the meantime, Hahn and her husband have been equally devoted to raising their three daughters. Their favorite hobby is traveling together each year to a new vacation spot. Last year the clan visited Costa Rica, and this year the family went to Greece. “There’s a myth that says you can’t be a successful career woman and still have a strong family life.”

Long active in civic affairs, Hahn was elected to the local school board in 1995. She also served as the president of the Moraga Educational Foundation and a member of the Moraga School District Technology Committee. In addition, she is a volunteer for and sponsor of Battered Women’s Alternative and an initiator, sponsor and teacher of the Future Scientists and Engineers of America, which encourages girls and minorities to pursue the study of science. “There’s still an assumption that science is just for boys.”

Hahn, who holds three patents, was named International Business Woman of the Year in 1991 and Woman of Achievement for Science and Technology in 1996, while AMS received praise as the Northern California International Business of the Year in 1995. Last year, Hahn was honored as Citizen of the Year in Moraga.

Hahn, though, is most proud of receiving The PINNACLE, the highest honor FDU grants to its alumni, in 1998. “Fairleigh made such a big impact on me, and to be recognized by the school I love means so much.” Both Hahn and her husband consider it important to give back to the University. “I received a great opportunity to make something out of myself. I want to do the same for others.”

Whether it’s working within her local community or contributing to FDU, Hahn is committed to helping the next generation of leaders succeed. Along the way, she’s showing young women the sky’s the limit.

— A.C.

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