Alverno at Work: Maricruz Talavera-Pettis

Maricruz Talavera-Pettis ’99 fell in love with accounting through a high school course and then got a window into the corporate world as a co-op student at M&I Trust. “It gave me an exposure to something I wasn’t used to,” Talavera-Pettis says. “It really set my goals a bit higher because I knew what I could achieve.”

Now Talavera-Pettis is director of finance and operations for Cristo Rey Jesuit High School Milwaukee, a role that combines her love of numbers with a mission of inspiring students to reach their own high goals. In 2017, the Milwaukee Business Journal named Talavera-Pettis nonprofit CFO of the Year.

Talavera-Pettis began her career as an accounts payable clerk. But she longed for more, so she decided to pursue a four-year degree at Alverno as a full-time working mom.

“I knew if I wanted to grow, I needed to expand my education,” she explains.

At Alverno, she got more than just a convenient class schedule and a major in management accounting. “Alverno gave me the foundation not only to be well-educated but also well-rounded. It gave me enough confidence to go out into the world,” she says. She became such a believer in Alverno’s abilities-based curriculum that she later persuaded two nieces to attend Alverno as well.

She eventually earned her master’s degree in accounting and financial management from DeVry University and used her financial savvy at a variety of nonprofits, including St. Charles Youth & Family Services, the Council for the Spanish Speaking (now Centro Hispano Milwaukee), Rosalie Manor Community & Family Services, and St. Joan Antida High School. She didn’t set out to focus her career on nonprofits, “but once you start learning nonprofit accounting, it’s very different from corporate accounting,” she explains.

When the opportunity came to join the leadership team of a new Jesuit high school in 2015, Talavera-Pettis didn’t hesitate. “What really caught my attention at Cristo Rey was not only its mission of helping the underserved but also the work-study program,” she says, noting the similarity to her own high school co-op experience. “It gives our students the opportunity to take part in something they normally would not. Our students come in very shy, very quiet. By sophomore and junior year, they’re holding conversations with CEOs and are comfortable giving speeches.”

At Cristo Rey, Talavera-Pettis oversees the school’s finances, operations, information technology, food program and facilities, all of which have grown faster than anticipated as the student body has quickly ballooned from 120 students to 400. She has also managed the finances for the construction of Cristo Rey’s new school building at 18th Street and National Avenue.

“I like the diversity of my tasks,” she says. “As you’re growing a small school you have multiple roles, and I’m a very hands-on person so that was appealing to me. And in the accounting and finance field you rarely have a direct impact on the client. Here, I’m having a direct impact on our students, and I do think their futures are bright.”

That became clear in May, when she watched with pride as Cristo Rey’s first graduates accepted their diplomas. Not only was 100% of the graduating class accepted to colleges, but many also earned full rides. “To see what our team has achieved to hit our goals and have such an impact on our students and their families is so rewarding.”

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