Rosemary B. James ’91

Rosemary B. James ’91

Written by Nataly Cifuentes ’16

Rosemary B. James '91

Rosemary B. James ’91

Holding two law degrees and as a registered patent lawyer in the field of Physics, Rosemary James ‘91 has made her mark in the Department of Homeland Security by establishing the Intellectual Property Law Practice Group. Her responsibilities include the development and implementation of policies regarding the treatment and disposition of all forms of intellectual property created or used by the Department of Homeland Security.

Encouraged by her high school guidance counselor, Rosemary inquired about Manhattanville’ s fine arts program. With an impressive curriculum, Manhattanville became one of her top college choices. James visited the College for her interview and was enamored with campus, with the Castle being the highlight of her tour.

She considers her experience at Manhattanville to be unique.  In small classes with individualized attention, James found that Manhattanville offered a variety of opportunities to excel and to be involved in the community. To elaborate she said, “New housing options were introduced our sophomore year, including the chance to live in the ‘International House.’ Responsibilities came along with living there. We held lectures and hosted cultural events, such as Spanish night, where Latin food was cooked. It was fantastic to have that exposure, to be nurtured.”  In addition, James was also a student advisor to incoming freshmen, an Art History teacher’s assistant, a tutor to foreign students learning English as a foreign language, an editor of a newsletter, and a student worker in the library.

James’ love for learning drove her to take an array of diverse courses. Yet, in the end, she decided to major in Art History and minor in both Mathematics and English. Within the Art History department, one of the most influential professors she had was Gillian Hannum, who encouraged her to develop her senior thesis on the Harlem Renaissance. James’ exceptional work became an addition to the department’s curriculum, as it expanded on African American art.

Moreover, James’ academic experience at Manhattanville influenced the path she took after college. Given her passion for art, she had never considered becoming a lawyer; in fact, she had only taken one law course at Manhattanville. However, Laura Kaufman, Chair of the Art Department at the time, encouraged her to consider law school as opposed to pursuing a Ph.D. in Art History. James felt that with the critical thinking and analytical skills she acquired through her courses in Art History and her passion for social justice, she could definitely build her future as an attorney. To fulfill her new plan, James earned her Juris Doctor (JD) degree from Albany Law School and her Master of Laws (LLM) from New York University.

James’ first significant legal job was at Hogan Lovells where she worked on project finance matters. Later, she became a staff attorney at a Bell Atlantic company, which became a Verizon subsidiary, overseeing cases about new technologies, satellite television services and Internet services.

After leaving Verizon, she joined the Department of Homeland Security as an Attorney-Advisor at the Transportation Security Administration in the Legislation and Authorities legal division. James had no experience in legislative law or government work.  During her interview for this job, she referenced her lack of experience in legislative law, and her future supervisor looked her in the eyes with confidence and told her, “Rosemary, smart people can do anything!”

Her work in this legal division led to a coveted position within the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.  She was called upon from that role to assist in the Legislative Affairs legal group at the Department’s Office of the General Counsel.  As a result of her exceptional work there, she was offered a permanent position in the Office of the General Counsel’s relatively new Legislative Affairs legal group.

At this stage in her career, James had had a few possibilities to start something new.  She was given a similar opportunity to formally establish an intellectual property legal practice group at DHS’s Office of the General Counsel; however, there was one condition. Although James had a Masters of Law in Intellectual Property Law and work experience, she was not a registered patent attorney which this new positon required.  Without hesitation, James worked to become certified, earning a Bachelor of Science degree. To do so, James did the most audacious thing. Deciding that Physics was the most efficient route to her goal, she registered for physics coursework at George Washington University.  The Department of Homeland Security offered to cover the costs of her education, showing how tremendously valuable James was to the team.

In due course, James earned the Physics credits she needed from George Washington University and passed the patent bar exam, allowing her to practice law before the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) in regards to inventions, applications and related rights.

Several of Rosemary’s favorite aspects of the Department of Homeland Security related to her roots at Manhattanville.  Similar to Manhattanville, the DHS fostered a supportive atmosphere that allowed her to excel and lead.  After eleven years in the Department, Rosemary shared, “Working at DHS is hectic. Whatever is on the front page of the newspaper is what we will be confronting the next day when we go to work. There are always challenges. What I love most about working at DHS is their confidence in me. I have had the opportunity to do something of value for the Department of Homeland Security, for the country. I have been an instrument in contributing to the SAFE Port Act.”

Throughout her career, Rosemary has confronted a number of challenges. As an African American woman, she has faced discrimination in the workplace. Yet, she has not let this discourage her and has always found a way to overcome obstacles and continue on her path to fulfill her dreams.

When looking back at her trajectory, Rosemary feels the most proud about her accomplishment in Physics. At the time, she never imagined how challenging it was going to be for her to achieve this goal and gain the qualification she needed for the patent bar exam, which would require her to quickly build a foundation in math and science to succeed in the demanding classes. Balancing work and school was not an easy task. James had to study hard and seek help outside of the classroom to earn the excellent grades she was accustomed to getting. “It was a very humbling experience. I had never failed so spectacularly before. And it was frustrating because I was doing everything I could, yet it felt like it was not enough. I never gave up, though, and at the end earned some A’s in Undergraduate Physics – that is unheard of for someone with my background,” James reflected.

To Rosemary, being a Manhattanville alumna is something she is extremely proud of. James shared, “I feel really proud of being an alumna from a place that instilled in me a level of exploration, or openness, of diversity, that broadened my horizons in every single way. I really feel an obligation to give back to a place that put me on the path that I am today. I often ask myself, ‘How can I give back to Manhattanville. How can I be of service?’” she said with a chuckle.

She still remembers the wonderful feeling of those sunny days on the Quad with dear friends. The highlight of Rosemary’s college years was when she had the opportunity to be the guide for Gwendolyn Brooks (1917-2000), African American Poet Laureate, when she visited campus. Having the honor to introduce a Pulitzer Prize winner to Manhattanville was an exceptional privilege. “I was selected to be her guide… It was one of the coolest things that have ever happened to me in my life,” James admitted. She also has very fond memories of her professors Randy Williams and Eleanor Carr, RSCJ, who were always especially encouraging and challenging.

Rosemary B. James traveling with her sister through Europe

Rosemary B. James traveling with her sister through Europe

Rosemary has also had the opportunity to satisfy her wanderlust. Starting with a trip to Paris that her mother gave her as a graduation gift, James has continued to travel around the world with her sister. Together, they have gone to France, Spain, Hungary, Italy, Ireland, England, the Czech Republic, Germany, Austria, Bali, South Korea, China, Brazil, Argentina, and Peru. For their next trip, James would like to go to Egypt, South Africa or Australia.

As a personal recommendation for all who would like to follow her path, Rosemary offered, “You should always have some balance in your life. Thrive in your careers, but add balance along with your personal life. It is never too late for anything.”

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