GCSU professor’s words carried out: Alumna lives a colorful, fun life
P atti Perry Zimmermann, ’78, dared to venture across the professional spectrum from teaching music to become a senior analyst in technology and finance at Macy’s Technology, a division of Macy’s, Inc.
After graduating from Georgia College & State University with a degree in instrumental education, Zimmermann taught music in the classroom a few years to approximately 1,000 elementary students each week and gave private woodwind lessons.
“I couldn't get a job as a band director as a woman, where I wanted to teach,” Zimmermann said. “Some people didn't believe that women should be high school band directors. That was crushing to me.”
She saw each class once a week for 30 minutes. Often, she would sit on the floor with students playing the guitar and singing with them.
“They looked forward to that time,” Zimmermann said. “Every child should be able to sing as a way to express themselves. Singing is something you carry with you no matter what instrument you play.”
Zimmerman started singing in a church choir when she was 5 years old and participated in other choral groups throughout her life.
“In addition to all the research on what music does for your brain, it's just something that’s uniting, beautiful and joyful,” Zimmermann said. “I wanted those students to walk away with that same feeling.”
Through the years, teaching music to students put stress on her voice. She took what she had learned in Professor Dr. Jim Willoughby's classes—to have the ability to research and learn how to do anything—and transitioned to a senior analyst in technology and finance at Macy’s. She’s been in this field 26 years and participates in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
“My IT job is never boring, because it changes every year,” Zimmermann said. “My manager tells me I'm this fixer of broken things, because I can bridge the gap between nontechnical people and technical people.”
“I still stay in touch with Dr. Willoughby today, after all these years,” she said. “He's dear to all of us. He has a huge sense of humor. One of the things that I took away from him is that you can do anything you put your mind to.”
“Being able to be flexible and think for yourself are the things I love about Georgia College,” Zimmermann said. “I love that we’re teaching students to think and analyze concepts to develop real thought processes.”
Zimmermann served on the GCSU Alumni Association Board of Directors for six years. It gave her insight into how the university functions.
“I became fascinated with learning about the inner workings of Georgia College,” Zimmerman said. “I discovered things I never thought about and got to see behind the curtain of how things work and what it takes to run a university.”
When she served as chair of the Alumni Association’s Scholarship Committee, she urged students to give back to the university as alumni by volunteering and providing financial support. She and her team also continually asked themselves, “How can we serve the students better?”
“Each year, we looked at how we could improve the scholarship application review process,” Zimmermann said. “We wanted to make sure we were doing a diligent job for the university and students to spend those dollars wisely. The stories that came through on those applications about their financial need were often heartbreaking. That gave the scholarship process even more purpose.”
Zimmermann just wrapped up her fifth year in the 2023 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade aboard the Singing Christmas Tree.
“I auditioned and made it,” she said. “There's nothing like it.”
Zimmermann thinks the best part of being in the parade are the people in New York City lining the parade route.
“They are so excited to be there,” she said. “People sing with us along the parade route and up in the apartment buildings, condos and hotels—they are so happy when we look up to see them. They wave at us, and we wave back to acknowledge that connection.”
“The Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, by far, is the most magical thing I've ever done,” Zimmermann said. “It was such a part of my life growing up. We watched the parade every year, and you didn’t eat your Thanksgiving meal until you saw Santa Claus at the end of it.”
For the first time, the “bigs” and “littles” from the Big Brothers Big Sisters organization joined Macy’s colleagues performing on the tree. In previous years, the Macy’s Singing Christmas Tree has been the last float before the Santa Claus float. This year, Cher performed after the tree before Santa reached Herald Square.
“The caliber of people that we get to work with is phenomenal,” she said. “Judith Clurman, our conductor, teaches at the Manhattan School of Music, and our rehearsal pianist was a student of Judith’s who works in musical theatre. Our music arrangers are nationally known. The entire team are graduates of some of the best music schools in the country.”
“Judith has a different approach to pulling music out of people and getting them production ready,” Zimmermann said. “She's just a treasure. Macy's gives us this wonderful opportunity to use our talent and give back to the community and nation.”
In her spare time, Zimmermann quilts, is a family historian and tends to her family’s pets which include an African Grey parrot, alpacas, cats, chickens, a cow, dogs, donkeys, guineafowl, horses, llamas, peacocks and pigs—many of which she and her husband rescued. They even get visitors to their farm.
“It's so fun being around our pets,” she said. “We’re a colorful crew.”
Zimmermann enjoys staying busy with her career, hobbies, pets and Georgia College. She still visits campus regularly for alumni events and lives out her advice to students by volunteering and donating to her alma mater. She wouldn’t have it any other way.