Communications alum ventures into political climate, thanks to encouragement by a Sister of Mercy

Maria Guzzo -


PITTSBURGH — Carlow University’s objective is to offer students transformational educational opportunities, and in the case of alumni Amie Downs ‘94, mission accomplished.
“I frequently laugh and tell people I’m Carlow’s Frankenstein,” she said. “(Carlow) made me. I was a mouse in high school.”
Carlow’s “monster” transformed from a bashful college freshman who went home every weekend to director of communications for Allegheny County, handling media relations, outreach and other communications to the executive branch of the government.
Downs initially chose Carlow because of its generous scholarship offer and small class sizes.
“My graduating class was 80 people,” said the Laurel High School grad from New Castle. “Coming to the big city was horrifying.”
She said she became a communications major because she loved to write, and she landed an internship at Dorrance Publishing Co. Inc. in Pittsburgh.
“Once upon a time, I wanted to work for a magazine or book publishing company, but those are mostly in major cities,” which left her apprehensive. “After Dorrance, I got a little more guts, but I was still a baby.”
But then she received an unexpected ask at the end of her sophomore year. Sister of Mercy Marie Immaculee Dana, PhD, who served as Chair of Education at the time, called Downs into her office.
“She wanted me to go to a program at Rutgers’ Center for American Women and Politics,” Downs said. “Their goal is if you show women what is available to them, they are more likely to get involved. It was my first exposure to any type of career that might be possible in government or politics.”
Rutgers sent her back to Carlow with seed money to start Women Organizing and Leading for the Future, which sought to engage women in politics. WOLF remained an active organization for several years, but has since disbanded.
“I have no idea why she chose me, but I’m grateful,” Downs said. “It pushed me in a whole different direction, and my career played into it. My mom always stressed to me growing up that it was important to be giving back and serving to others, and that really fell into the mission of Carlow.”
After receiving a bachelor’s degree in communication, writing, with a minor in sociology, in 1994, she later went on to obtain a law degree from Duquesne University’s part-time program.
While her first job out of school had little to do with her major, six months later she landed a job at the Allegheny League of Municipalities, tracking state and federal legislation. Following that, she became director of legislative services with Allegheny County Council. When then-county councilman Wayne Fontana became a state senator, she moved to Harrisburg for the position as his chief of staff. Upon Richard Fitzgerald’s election to Allegheny County Executive, she headed back to Pittsburgh for the communications director role.
In 2016, Carlow honored her with a Laureate Award, which honors alumni who demonstrate the highest standards of professional accomplishment and leadership.
Political jobs can come and go at the whim of voters and elected officials, but Downs said she is not concerned about landing another job in the future, which may come sooner than later.
“Provided (Fitzgerald) wins in November, it will be his third and last term. My job may be at an end after the four-year cycle, so we’ll see what’s next for me. The skills I’ve learned have allowed me to be open to whatever is out there.”

For information about Carlow University’s communications programs, visit

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