Perspectives: Women Who Excel 2013 – Always put your best foot forward

Nancy Udelson, Executive Director, Alzheimer’s Association Cleveland Area Chapter

Nancy Udelson, Executive Director, Alzheimer’s Association Cleveland Area Chapter

Nancy Udelson is the face of the Alzheimer’s Association, Cleveland Area Chapter. For more than five years she has been its executive director, ensuring the Cleveland Alzheimer’s Association is getting proper funding and advocacy.

While Udelson’s current position has been the most rewarding one she has ever had, the job came after having been an alumni director at Cleveland State University and Case Western Reserve University. Throughout her career, Udelson has overcome several challenges, including a critical turning point when she was laid off from Case and didn’t know what she wanted to do next.

“I had already been an alumni director at two universities and didn’t really want to do that,” Udelson says. “I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do. I started working my network and a friend of mine asked if she could send my resume to the Alzheimer’s Association, and I said sure.”

It turned out that the executive director position was vacant, and while Udelson was interviewing for a development position, she was asked whether she would like to apply for the executive director job.

“I had to think long and hard about it and whether or not I wanted to work that hard at this point in my life,” she says. “I decided I did and was planning to work for a long time. This was the first position that I had with a mission-driven organization that was something that I felt was incredibly important. That’s how I made my decision to come here.”

When Udelson was, in effect, rewritten out of her position at Case, it was a turning point because it gave her the opportunity to step back and ask what she really wanted to be doing.

“When I look back on my career and the positions that I’ve had, each one seems to build on the one before it,” she says. “It wasn’t by design, but it did seem to work out that way. I feel like the position I have now is really truly the culmination of all the years that I’ve been working.”

The most important key to Udelson’s success and her ability to transition into the next role in her career has been maintaining a network of friends and colleagues.

“You have to keep in touch with people and keep a list of who you’ve worked with that have gone on to other positions that you stay in touch with,” Udelson says. “Having a really good network is critical to moving ahead in a position whether you’re early, middle or late in your career. For anyone to think that they can do it all by themselves, it’s not true.

“You never know where you’re going to end up and who might be the right person to pick up the phone and call. You can’t be afraid to ask for help or ask for information or assistance. You have to have confidence.”

In addition to keeping a strong network, Udelson has overcome challenges and been able to move to the next stage in her career by having a positive attitude and being willing to gain new skill sets.

“You have to learn how to roll with the punches in life,” she says. “When something doesn’t go right, like when I got divorced, I could have stayed in bed with the covers over my head, but I couldn’t. I got up, took care of my kids, got a job and put one foot in front of the other.

“As much as you are angry, hurt or crushed or whatever the various emotions you go through, you have to think about yourself and the skills you have, what you’ve gained, what you have to offer and try as hard as you can to move forward. Had I not done that, I don’t think I’d be in the job I have today. You have to put your best foot forward.” ●

How to reach: Alzheimer’s Association, Cleveland Area Chapter, (800) 272-3900 or


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