Assistant took job beyond answering phones

It has been just a shade under two decades, but according to Carrie Lee Carlascio, her time at Portland State has flown by.

“I grew up here,” she said. “This has been my home for 18 years.”

Carlascio has decided to leave PSU to take the job as director of development at the Scandinavian Heritage Foundation. She will be tasked with raising $3.5 million to build a new home for the foundation.

For the last eight years, Carlascio has been serving the university as assistant to the athletic director. Her job may have involved scheduling and answering phones, but her role has extended far beyond that of the typical administrative assistant.

Carlascio’s role as an assistant quickly changed when the athletic budget shrank and the need for fundraising grew. She has been the brainchild behind the Night of Wine and Roses fundraising event since its inception five years ago. Each year the fundraiser has generated more money than the previous year. According to Carlascio, the event raised $130,000 this year, $15,000 more than last year.

This past weekend Portland State’s yearly Night of Wine and Roses took place in the Smith Ballroom. The evening involved an auction, student athletes showcasing various talents and wine tasting. This event was created to help offset athletic costs by helping to raise additional scholarship money for student athletes. This is by far the biggest of the 40 different fundraising events Carlascio plans throughout the year. A modest Carlascio was quick to add that she does not make this event happen all by herself. “The athletes came up and thanked me,” Carlascio said. “I said, ‘You guys did it.'”

Students are the focus of the event, the idea being that if people see them as people, they will be more apt to donate money to them to pay for school. The athletes are responsible for performing dances, singing and various other activities. “They worked their butts off to make sure it worked,” Carlascio said. She recalled one student from the women’s golf team practicing her performance months ago. “She was so timid and shy, but now she has so much confidence,” Carlascio said.

Unlike the students that Carlascio helps, she never went to college. “It just wasn’t discussed in my family,” she said. But she has yet to allow that to hold her back. She said she has had a great opportunity at PSU, and along with the support of her husband Gill, she has been able to do more than she imagined. Her husband played the role of stay-at-home dad before it was very common.

Carlascio said that her experience without a degree is part of the reason she has devoted so much energy to seeing that students have the opportunity that she herself did not. “Some kids are the first in their family to graduate, and I played a piece in that,” she said. “I don’t know every single one of them, but I know a lot of them. And that’s why I do this.”

Carlascio said she never wants to see anybody miss out on an opportunity to get a job they want because they don’t have a “piece of paper.” She herself feels limited in life without a degree. “It bothers me that I don’t have a degree because it’s held me back,” she said. “I am working here to make sure they get that piece of paper.”

There is a lot more to a college education than a piece of paper, Carlascio said, adding that a lifetime of experience does not always guarantee stability in the world.

The Scandinavian Heritage Foundation already had a property near Washington Square Mall. The foundation was created to give people interested in their Scandinavian heritage an opportunity to learn more about it through language and cooking classes.

Looking back at her time at PSU, Carlascio said she is very pleased with all she has accomplished. “Hopefully I’ve been able to help other people and give more of a piece of me than I’m getting,” she said.

Mostly, Carlascio said, she is going to miss the people she has met here at PSU. She says she will miss being able to walk down the street and be greeted by everybody on the way to the coffee shop. But she insists that although she is leaving, she will still be here to visit. “I’m not going away,” she said. “I’m still going to see my friends. I’m just 10 minutes away.”

Carlascio said she sees her exit as bittersweet, but knows that it is her time to go. “It’s time for a change,” she said.