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28th Athena Award finalists

See correction and amplification below.

Thirteen women are finalists for Rochester’s 28th Athena Award. The honor–sponsored by the Women’s Council of the Rochester Business Alliance Inc.-is given annually to a local woman who best reflects the values of achievement, community service and support for other women in their pursuit of professional excellence. The Athena Award recipient will be announced at a luncheon Jan. 16 at the Rochester Riverside Convention Center.

Chief operating officer, Wilson Commencement Park

Education: B.A., SUNY Empire State College

Family: One daughter and one son

Professional and community leadership: Board treasurer, Huther Doyle Inc.; board secretary, DePaul Key Housing Corp.; board treasurer, Latinas Unidas; member, New York State Advocacy Committee, Supportive Housing Network of New York; vice chairwoman, Rochester’s Homeless Services Network

Staying motivated: My motivation comes from a deep desire for a healthy and safe Rochester. Many families have experienced significant losses, difficulties and crises. My approach is to meet each individual with the utmost respect, focused on the most important thing-finding the best way to help the individual in need. 

Changes in store for Rochester: Established leaders have often asked where the next generation of leaders are. We have made history by electing Lovely Warren as Rochester’s youngest and first female mayor. We will see a different type of progress in this community when young, rising women like Mayor-Elect Warren obtain legitimate opportunities to lead and serve.

Recent lessons learned: I’ve learned that servant leadership is not about me and my successes. It’s about connecting with a purpose greater than yourself-which in turn makes you fearless, think big and, most importantly-think beyond yourself. 

Partner, Harter Secrest & Emery LLP

Education: B.A., SUNY Albany; J.D., Rutgers University

Family: Husband, Michael; two daughters, son

Professional and community leadership: Founder, immigration practice, unit manager, immigration, employment benefits, tax, executive compensation and employment and labor law practices, Harter Secrest & Emery; former chairwoman, member, governing board and member, international coordinating committee, Lexwork Americas; past president, member, advisory board, International Business Council

Staying motivated: Working with people from throughout the world who seek to immigrate to the United States is a constant source of inspiration and motivation. They sacrifice much to come here, their stories are unique and powerful, their contributions are substantial. I love every minute of it.

Changes in store for Rochester: Rochester’s vibrant commitment to social justice isn’t merely history. It’s abundantly present: in our focus on improving public education, Foodlink, Lawyers for Learning, the Volunteer Legal Services Project, the sanctuary movement, refugee resettlement efforts and quiet philanthropy. Such actions, bolstered by strong universities, innovators and entrepreneurial spirit, will fuel our success.

Looking back: I hoped I thanked my mentors and role models sufficiently for the seeds they sowed, the quiet lessons taught and the guidance given. I have worked with splendid people of intelligence and integrity in this community. I suppose the best thanks given will be showing how those lessons were put to use for those who follow.

CEO and founder
Stepping Stones Learning Center

Education: B.S., M.S., Nazareth College of Rochester; Ph.D, Williamsburg University, Williamsburg, Va.

Family: Husband, John Sweeting; two daughters and one son; two stepsons

Professional and community leadership: Member, advocacy committee, Early Childhood Development Initiative; chairwoman, quality assurance committee, Local Early Intervention Coordinating Council; member, Council of Agency Executives; member, advisory committee, Universal Pre-Kindergarten; board member, I-Circle, Office for People with Developmental Disabilities

Staying motivated: My personal motivation comes from my commitment to full inclusion of those with special needs. Seeing children and youth with and without special needs learning and growing not only together but from each other, is truly inspiring and has motivated me throughout my career to meet their ever changing needs.

Changes in store for Rochester: Rochester’s future will rely less on its past large corporate successes and more on the innovation and creativity of smaller more responsive employers in both the profit and non-profit sectors.

Recent lessons learned: Despite difficult circumstances or individuals saying that my dream of a new facility for our organization was unattainable, I continued working diligently in order to achieve this goal. I learned that if a project or idea benefits children and meets their needs, I will never stop working to accomplish it.   

Ronald McDonald House Charities of Rochester

Education: B.A., Hobart and William Smith Colleges; M.A., Syracuse University

Family: Husband, Scott; one son and daughter

Professional and community leadership: Member, Rochester Rotary; member and past president, Association of Fundraising Professionals; ex-officio board member, Golisano Children’s Hospital; member, Council of Agency Executives; parent liaison, swimming and diving team, University of Rochester

Staying motivated: Dream, believe and take a risk every now and then: those are strategies that keep me energetic and motivated in my career. Since we learn from both success and failure, I am not afraid of either one! If each day, I make one positive difference, it is a good day.

Changes in store for Rochester: Efforts will continue to strengthen business growth and development as well as urban residential solutions in Rochester; our city offers high-level education, health care, entertainment and beautiful natural surroundings. We need to keep young professionals here, taking advantage of a great quality of life and a place to raise families.

Surprising fact: I chose college classes that did not require oral presentations because I feared public speaking. During senior year, my advisor learned my secret; she changed her requirements to include a presentation. I still do not love public speaking but I learned overcoming fears is tremendously powerful. What a great lesson.

Treasurer and chief accounting officer
Manning & Napier

Education: B.S., University of Akron, Ohio

Family: Husband, Christopher; three daughters

Professional and community leadership: Member, executive group and company officer, co-initiator, Lean-In Circle, Manning & Napier; Christian education teacher, member, mission committee, event organizer, Mendon Church; past president and sergeant-at arms, Postprandial Toastmasters of Rochester; past troop leader, Girl Scouts

Staying motivated: One of the greatest motivators in my career has been guiding employees to assume leadership positions within Manning & Napier. By encouraging them to reach outside of their comfort zone and ensure processes are systematized, it is very rewarding to witness the hard work and opportunities that result.

Changes in store for Rochester: In recent years, we have seen a number of small to mid-size companies emerge in Rochester, which I think will continue thanks to a healthy entrepreneurial ethos. I am optimistic that the investments Rochester makes in its people-whether in academics, policy, or community-will foster a culture of innovation and growth.

Surprising fact: I have learned so much in life about perseverance from my passion of competitive slalom waterskiing and lake wake surfing. Through teaching others to ski, my greatest joy comes from witnessing their "I did it" gleam, which reminds me that with determination and a smile, anything in life is possible. 

President & CEO
Villa of Hope

Education: A.S., Monroe Community College; B.A., SUNY College at Geneseo; MSW, Marywood University, Scranton, Pa.; MBA, Rochester Institute of Technology

Family: Husband, John Mueller; one daughter, one stepdaughter and one stepson

Professional and community leadership: Member, steering committee, senior leadership conference chairwoman, Alliance for Children and Families; board member, Bivona Child Advocacy Center; board member, Council of Family and Child Caring Agencies; past president board member, Friendship Children’s Center

Staying motivated: I am motivated by talking with our adolescents, where I am constantly reminded of the privilege it is to work with these remarkable individuals, especially those youth that many have given up on.

Changes in store for Rochester: I think we will see renewed efforts to improve the local educational system and to reduce violence in our community. Those two goals are critical to improving the poverty level in Rochester, which is a major barrier for youth to achieve success. We must look for solutions to all three to positively impact the community with sustainable results.

Surprising fact: I grew up on a farm and was the first in my family to obtain a college education. I had strong women as role models in my family and I saw firsthand the work ethic of running a farm. I learned to stack hay at age 7, drive a tractor at age 14 and to work hard to achieve goals I set for myself.

Our Lady of Mercy School for Young Women

Education: B.A., Nazareth College of Rochester; M.S., SUNY College at Brockport

Family: Husband, James, deceased

Professional and community leadership: Former teacher, grades 6-12, Rochester City School District; past principal, Wilson Magnet High School; adjunct professor, Graduate School of Education, St. John Fisher College; past trustee, Charter School of Science and Technology; external educational consultant, Rochester City School District

Staying motivated: I find great satisfaction in seeing young people grow, learn and flourish. It is especially rewarding to observe unanticipated successes. I am inspired by the award-winning all-girls robotics team at Mercy and the numerous Wilson graduates, who in some cases beat considerable odds to live highly successful lives.

Changes in store for Rochester: Rochester’s future is aligned to the viability of its educational system. Both urban and suburban districts face growing challenges. Without creative, efficient and effective approaches that meet the needs of all students, we will face continued social and economic decline.

Surprising fact: Growing up, I had little or no interest in athletics, and during my years in the City School District, the only exercise I got was walking the halls of Wilson and Franklin. Thus it might be surprising that at age 60 I began taking active vacations and participating in at least one cycling or hiking trip annually.

Chief operating officer
Employee Relations Associates Inc.

President, ER Select LLC

Education: B.S., MBA, St. John Fisher College

Family: Husband, James; one daughter

Professional and community leadership: Board chairwoman, campaign chairwoman, Bivona Child Advocacy Center; trustee, St. John Fisher College; member, Women’s Presidents Organization 

Staying motivated: I believe each morning every person chooses what kind of day it will be for them. Personally, I believe that positive energy and positive relationships drive positive results. I embrace change as an opportunity to re-think, re-tool and re-energize. I strive to surround myself personally and professionally with great people. 

Changes in store for Rochester: I believe we have a gem in Rochester. We have one of the top philanthropic populations in the nation and our people are highly skilled and educated. I am excited to be part of the evolution that Rochester is undergoing utilizing the knowledge and expertise from companies that are no longer headquartered here. Attracting new companies to the greater Rochester region will be very important.

Recent lessons learned: I have learned that asking for help shows strength and not weakness. Surrounding myself with positive energy and positive people is key to my well-being. Taking time for myself and my family is one of the most important things I can do to be successful throughout my business and not-for-profit leadership initiatives.

CEO and founder
Rochester Clinical Research Inc.

Education: BSN, SUNY College at Brockport; MSN from the University of Rochester.

Family: One daughter and two sons

Professional and community leadership: Board member and treasurer, Mary Cariola Children’s Center; member, national advisory board, School of Nursing, University of Rochester; past president and current member, the Alliance for Multi-Specialty Research LLC; member, Women’s Presidents Organization, Rochester Chapter; member, Rochester Women’s Giving Circle

Staying motivated: With curiosity and passion to learn all the time, there is always something new to discover and perhaps a better way to approach a problem. To lead a team that contributes to the advancement of potential new treatments is always rewarding. We are not finished yet-there is more to do.

Changes in store for Rochester: We have seen the beginning of many of the changes-replacement of big business with the growth of small companies, high tech, biotech spinoffs from research at local universities. The small entrepreneur will continue to have an increasingly important contribution to 21st century Rochester.

Recent lessons learned: I have learned to trust my instincts-with facts as a guide. I am stronger than I thought, life goes on after loss. You can choose to be happy again. Have the right people on board, they will rise to the occasion surpassing your expectations. Life is short-share your passion.

Executive director
Monroe County Bar Association

Founder, Foundation of the Monroe County Bar

Education: B.A., St. John Fisher College

Family: Two sons and one daughter

Professional and community leadership: Member, National Association of Bar Executives of the American Bar Association; member, Rochester Downtown Development Corp.; affiliate member, Greater Rochester Association for Women Attorneys; past president, Conference of Metro Bar Associations; past president, St. Joseph’s Neighborhood Center

Staying motivated: I am a believer that we are at our best when we do what we love-I love what I do. One of the gifts in my job is the generous and extraordinary attorney volunteers and my great team who challenge and inspire me to always do my best.

Changes in store for Rochester: Born and raised here, I see a lovely future for Rochester with great possibilities. This requires a more positive attitude from all of us as we build a community with so much to celebrate. I want to launch a "Life Is Good in Rochester" campaign. Please join my campaign!

Looking back: Raising my children, busy career, community obligations, has not always left much "me" time. My brother’s untimely passing gave me the courage to examine my own life. Loving and taking care of me is a precursor to being there for and taking care of others. Be gentle with yourself, we have but one life.

J. Lowell Orbison Endowed Chair and Professor
Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics

Director, Center for RNA Biology: From Genome to Therapeutics

Chairwoman, University of Rochester Graduate Women in Science

University of Rochester

Education: B.S., University of Connecticut Storrs; Ph.D., University of Wisconsin-Madison

Family: Husband, Mark Spall

Professional and community leadership: Member, National Academy of Sciences; member, American Academy of Arts and Sciences; fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science; adviser, National Institutes of Health; past president, secretary/treasurer and board member, International RNA Society

Staying motivated: I teach young scientists in Rochester and while traveling who help keep me energized. My research laboratory has individuals in their 20s and 30s who are training with me to become independent scientists. Their talent and eagerness to learn is palpable and making new discoveries with them is very exciting.

Changes in store for Rochester: Technology is changing our world. With this comes information available to kids about what others have done with their lives and what they can do with theirs. We are seeing more women in leadership positions. I think future generations will be better informed and feel more empowered about their options. 

Surprising fact: I’m an introvert. I think this is important for people (especially other introverts) to know. You may be surprised at what you can do. Be prepared and do it.

Portfolio strategist and senior investment analyst
Manning & Napier Inc.

Education: B.A., Fordham University, Bronx, N.Y.; J.D., St. John’s University School of Law, Queens, N.Y.

Family: Husband, Richard; two daughters

Professional and community leadership: Board member, Defined Contribution Institutional Investor Association; speaker/mentor, National Association of Government Defined Contribution Administrators; classroom volunteer/competition sponsor, Junior Achievement of Rochester; co-initiator/facilitator, Lean-In Circle, Manning & Napier; co-chairwoman, mentor program, Emerging Markets Trading Association

Staying motivated: I sustain my drive by never losing sight of three things. First, it is a privilege to work on retirement plans at a time in history when the industry, policy makers and academics are collaborating to improve financial security for millions of people. Second, Manning & Napier’s Level 5 leadership inspires me and others to deliver our professional best for clients who entrust us with their money. Most importantly, our daughters both chose careers intending to make the world a better place.

Changes in store for Rochester: I witnessed early on that Rochester’s people are its best asset. Rochester is also the pulse for other regional gems; particularly, the Finger Lakes, which showcases our expertise in agriculture, the culinary arts and conservation of precious watersheds.

Surprising fact: I carry two stones from the hometowns of my parents in Northern Italy and Northern Ireland. These stones remind me of my roots.

Senior marketing specialist, Department of Neighborhood and Business Development
city of Rochester
Co-founder Latinas Unidas

Education: A.S., human services, Monroe Community College; B.A., Nazareth College of Rochester

Family: Husband, Albert; two sons and one daughter

Professional and community leadership: Board chairwoman, Salvation Army; co-vice chairwoman, Al Sigl Community of Agencies; co-chairwoman, Circle of Red Awareness Campaign for Women, American Heart Association; chairwoman and founder, Latina Woman Scholarship Fund; Democrat and Chronicle blogger, UNITE Rochester; advisory board member, Center for Urban Entrepreneurship at Rochester Institute of Technology

Staying motivated: I’m easily motivated; therefore, few are the days that I’m not. I think my motivation comes from my gratitude and privilege to serve others. Don’t get me wrong; there are days when I want to "holy ghost slap" someone, as my mom would say, but lucky for them I don’t.

Changes in store for Rochester: I’m excited about the leadership for city government and changes to come. We will be swearing in the first woman mayor, and I’m eager to continue building on the work started by past administrations. I’m especially optimistic about the potential and grass-roots-level impact the Warren administration will have.

Recent lessons learned: I always knew that I could "tough out" many things. However, I wasn’t prepared for all the personal changes that occurred in 2013. My son got married; I became a grandma; my daughter announced her engagement, moved out of the state and got married. I’m just surprised that I was able to "survive" and enjoy them all.

1/10/14 (c) 2014 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email rbj@rbj.net.

Correction and amplification.
The Jan. 10 Athena Award supplement omitted an educational institution from the biography of finalist Patricia Larrabee. She received her MSN from the University of Rochester.

1/17/14 (c) 2014 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email rbj@rbj.net.


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