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2017 Biographies

Farida Abjani

CEO, Shining Nightingale 

Farida Abjani is the CEO and Co-Founder of Shining Nightingale, INC, a Home Health and a Hospice Agency. She has a Master’s degree in Arts and a Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing.  Abjani is also intimately involved with several charities as a board member, and she has raised thousands of dollars for nonprofits, including the Alliance for Multicultural Community Services, Texas Executive Women, and Fort Bend Women’s Center. She was recently appointed to the advisory board for the Department of Aging and Disability. 

The one cause that is particularly close to her heart is taking care of the emotional needs of chronically and terminally ill patients and their caregivers – due to her background in nursing. Abjani graduated from AKU SON with a degree in nursing in 1997. She also has a Bachelor’s degree in nursing from Grand Canyon University. During her career she has worked in ICU, cardiac ICU, PACU and orthopedic PACU. Abjani is guided by the moral teachings of her father who taught that she should keep only 75 percent of her disposable income and the remaining 25 percent must be given to a charity of her choice.  She was recently honored as one of the 30 most influential women of Houston, named "IT Girl 2016," and listed as one of the "Women who run Houston" by the Houston Chronicle, which recognizes women for their successful careers as well as philanthropic efforts. Abjani was also recently honored with the “Friends of Charities” award given to her by the Indian American Charity Foundation.


Nancy Almodovar

CEO/President, Nan & Company Properties 

Nancy Almodovar has worked in Houston residential real estate for over a decade and has built a reputation for professionalism, innovation, and absolute devotion to client satisfaction. She is known for consistently providing her clients with world-class service. Almodovar graduated from the University of Houston Bauer College of Business and is an active member of the Houston Association of Realtors, Texas Association of Realtors and the National Association of Realtors. She is also a certified and frequently cited International Property Specialist. Almodovar’s business was named one of the "Best Places to Work" in 2015 by the Houston Business Journal. As a technology-driven business owner, wife, and mother of two, Almodovar is also a role model for many women. In her community work, Almodovar volunteers for Houston Children Give Back, the Houston Ballet, St. Anne Catholic School and Learn Grow Lead, among other organizations.

Lauren Anderson       

Former Principal Dancer, and Program Manager, Education and Community Engagement, Houston Ballet 

Lauren Anderson trained at the Houston Ballet Academy from the age of 7. She joined Houston Ballet in 1983 and was promoted to principal dancer in 1990. Anderson was the first African-American principal dancer in a major ballet company in the United States and has danced leading roles in all of the classical ballets. Her repertoire includes works by choreographers Ben Stevenson, George Balanchine, Sir Kenneth MacMillan, Christopher Bruce, James Kudelka, Trey McIntyre and Stanton Welch. Additionally, Anderson has performed across the globe as a guest artist and teacher. 

In January, 2007, Anderson was named the Education and Community Engagement Program Manager in Houston Ballet’s education department. She teaches ballet classes at the Ben Stevenson Academy, conducts master classes at area schools and lectures to students on dance and her historic career as one of America’s most distinguished African-American ballerinas. As of  September 2016, her pointe shoes are on exhibit in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. Notwithstanding a brilliant career, Anderson feels her greatest production to date is her son Lawrence Turner.

Keliy Anderson-Staley  

Assistant Professor of Photography/Digital Media, UH School of Art

Keily Anderson-Staley is a photographer nationally known for her work using historic photographic processes. In the last decade she has produced several thousand tintype portraits all over the country, and her work is in a number of private and public collections, including the Library of Congress, the Portland Museum of Art, and the Museum of Fine Arts Houston. She has an MFA from Hunter College, and she is an assistant professor of photography and digital media at the University of Houston. Her work has appeared in New York Magazine, Hemispheres and Conde Nast Traveler, among others. Anderson-Staley’s work has been reviewed in the Boston Globe, the New Yorker and the New York Times. Her first book, On a Wet Bough, was published in 2014 by Waltz Books. She is represented by Catherine Edelman Gallery.


Nory Angel

Executive Director and CEO, SER-Jobs for Progress of the Texas Gulf Coast, Inc. 

Nory Angel is the Executive Director & CEO for SER–Jobs for Progress of the Texas Gulf Coast, Inc. SER is a community-based, nonprofit organization that assists individuals from low-income communities by providing career and financial coaching, occupational-skills training, and employment services. 

Angel is passionate about empowering people and driving social change. Her career has been devoted to workforce development, community impact, and improving the lives of disadvantaged individuals. Angel works, lives, and plays in the East End, where she has been a force for good throughout the community. As CEO of SER-Jobs for Progress, she has expanded access to opportunities for individuals in need throughout the region. Angel serves as a voice for low-income, and minority individuals looking to obtain financial stability and economic inclusion, including opportunities for young people, elders, veterans, and women. As co-founder of the East End Collaborative, she has led cooperative efforts among residents, community organizations, government agencies, and businesses to promote growth and progress. Angel’s commitment to Houston is also evident in her Board service with the Greater East End Management District as Chair, as well as with the Buffalo Bayou Partnership.  In 2012, she was recognized as one of the 25 Top Women of Houston; in 2014 Ford Motor Company recognized her as a Mujer Legendaria for her work in creating green jobs for the Latino community; in 2015, she was named one of Houston’s 50 Most Influential Women by Houston Woman Magazine; and in 2016 she was named the Impact Award Winner by the Center for Houston’s Future.


Rhonda C. Arnold   

Chief Municipal Affairs Officer, Houston Airports 

Rhonda C. Arnold is the Chief Municipal and Community Affairs Officer for the Houston Airport System. She promotes Houston Airports and their economic importance to the region by maintaining positive, collaborative relationships within the business community, with an emphasis on diversity and inclusion.  Arnold has a B.A. in Political Science from the University of North Texas and a J.D. from the Thurgood Marshall School of Law. She is a proud member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority and The Links Incorporated. 

In 2016 Arnold was named by the Houston Chronicle as one of the Top 30 Houston Business Women to Watch. She is a member of the board of the Women in Transportation - Houston Chapter and the recipient of their 2015 Woman of the Year Award. Additionally, Arnold was a 2016 Congressional Black Caucus Annual Legislative Conference Panelist Advocate for Minority business participation in Aviation and beyond.  Arnold is also a fellow for the 2016 Center for Houston's Future Civic Leadership class, an advisory board member of the Greater Houston Black Chamber of Commerce, as well as the Greater Houston Women's Chamber of Commerce. As Diversity Liaison, Ms. Arnold has addressed Aviation Business Strategies in Aberdeen, Scotland; London, England; and Barcelona and Madrid, Spain. 


Decie Autin    

Vice President, Project Management, ExxonMobil 

Decie Autin was named Vice President of Project Management and Execution for ExxonMobil Development Company in January 2017.  Previously, Autin served as Upstream Production Operations Manager for ExxonMobil, and from 2008 to 2014, she held the position of Project Executive for the PNG LNG Project. In her 30-year career with the company, her responsibilities have  included planning, development and execution of all aspects of a $19 billion project to commercialize natural gas resources in Papua New Guinea. The project was successfully started several months ahead of schedule in May 2014. 

Autin graduated from Georgia Tech with a B.Ch.E. and began her career in New Orleans in the offshore facilities surveillance team.  She moved within the organization, holding positions in facilities and mechanical engineering management, natural gas and gas liquids marketing, continuous improvement, and operations. After 15 years in New Orleans, Autin moved to Houston in 1995, as a Planner with Natural Gas. In 1998, Autin joined the Upstream Development Company, where she held project-management positions on Hoover-Diana (Gulf of Mexico), Thunder Horse (Operated by Others – Gulf of Mexico) and Erha (Offshore Nigeria). Autin is married with 2 children and 3 step-children, and she enjoys traveling and birdwatching. 


Devi Brown

Radio Personality, iHeartmedia; CEO, Karma Bliss 

Devon Anjelica Brown is a music industry influencer with a mission. Whether on radio, television or podcasts, Devi connects with listeners through stories of struggle and success.  She inspires her audience by sharing a passion for mindfulness and fulfillment. Brown has hosted shows for iHeartMedia, Radio One, MTV and Sirius XM, and been a feature on major media outlets like CNN and Good Morning America. Off the air, Brown is a Vedic meditation teacher and CEO of Karma Bliss, a company dedicated to spiritual exploration. Brown splits her time between Los Angeles and Houston. When not working, Brown enjoys meditating and seeking adventure. 


Marcilynn Burke  

Associate Dean and Associate Professor of Law, UH Law Center 

Professor Marcilynn Burke joined the University of Houston faculty in 2002, and teaches courses in property law, land-use law, and federal natural-resources law. Her research articles have been published in noted journals, including the Notre Dame Law Review and the Duke Environmental Law & Policy Forum. In the past, she served as the faculty editor for recent developments and book reviews for the Law Center’s Environment and Energy Law and Policy Journal (EELPJ). 

After receiving tenure in 2009, Professor Burke took a leave of absence from the Law Center until 2013, to serve at the U.S. Department of the Interior, where she began as the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Deputy Director for Programs and Policy. In 2011, President Barack Obama designated her as the Acting Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management (ASLM). As the Acting ASLM, she helped develop the land use, resource management, and regulatory oversight policies that are administered by four federal agencies—with over 12,000 employees—that work to ensure appropriate management and use of federal lands, waters, and cultural resources, and the regulation of surface coal mining. 

President Obama nominated Professor Burke in 2012 as his Assistant Secretary-Designate, and the U.S. Senate’s Committee on Energy and Natural Resources positively reported on her nomination later that year. While awaiting action by the full U.S. Senate, Professor Burke served as Acting ASLM until January 2013, before resuming her professorship at the University of Houston.  Professor Burke received her bachelor’s degree in International Studies from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and her law degree from Yale Law School.


Ellen Cohen   

Mayor Pro Tem, Houston City Council 

Ellen Cohen has lived and worked in the city of Houston for the past 40 years. She served for 10 years as the Executive Director of the American Jewish Committee, and for 18 years as the CEO of the Houston Area Women’s Center, working with survivors of sexual and domestic violence. In 2006, she was elected as the Texas State Representative for District 134. After serving two terms in the Texas State Legislature, Cohen continued her public service career at home where she ran for Houston City Council, and was sworn into office in January 2012 as the Council Member representing District C. During her tenure on Council, Cohen has championed the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, the elimination of the sexual assault kit backlog, the creation of a dedicated Human Trafficking Unit within the Houston Police Department, the introduction of a Parking Benefit District for the Washington Corridor, and many other initiatives to improve the quality of life of her constituents. She is currently serving her third term on Council and is Mayor Pro Tem for the City of Houston.


Minal Patel Davis  

Special Advisor to the Mayor on Human Trafficking, City of Houston 

Minal Patel Davis serves as Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner’s Special Advisor on Human Trafficking, the first municipal-level position of its kind in the U.S. Appointed in July 2015, Davis is charged with making a local impact on human trafficking in the 4th largest city in the U.S. from a policy-level perspective and by advancing systems change. She developed and is currently implementing Mayor Turner’s Anti-Human Trafficking Strategic Plan, which is the first comprehensive municipal response to human trafficking by a U.S. city. 

Davis also chairs Mayor Turner’s multi-disciplinary task force, the Houston Area Council on Human Trafficking (HAC-HT), which addresses human trafficking through collaborative, community-based initiatives. In less than five months after her appointment, the Houston City Council unanimously voted for her proposed amendments to the massage establishment ordinance. Due to the amendments, law enforcement now has the legal means to inspect, and, if need be, to secure warrants to inspect, illicit massage businesses that had previously exploited loopholes in the ordinance to avoid such inspections. To increase disclosures by victims of human trafficking, Davis and HAC-HT developed palm-sized cards that feature intake-style questions designed for victims. Double-sided, perforated, and available in five non-English languages, three sets of cards are available, each tailored to a specific industry or venue in which victims are forced to labor or sell sex (cantinas, food establishments, and illicit massage establishments). 

Davis is passionate about helping other cities in their own anti-human trafficking efforts, and she has spoken on several local, national, and international panels to present the City of Houston’s approach. Davis brings experience both in non-profits and the business and legal profession to her current work with the City of Houston. She served as Executive Director of a Houston-area nonprofit for two years, prior to which she practiced law. Davis received her J.D. and M.B.A. from the University of Connecticut and her B.A. from New York University.


Shannon Deer

Director, Full-Time M.B.A. Program, and Accounting Faculty, Mays Business School, Texas A&M University 

Shannon Deer teaches in the Professional and Executive M.B.A. programs that Texas A&M University offers in Houston, in addition to directing the full-time program in College Station. She has a background in public accounting, auditing large SEC-filers in the upstream energy sector. Shannon has established several energy-related initiatives at Mays. 

The new vision for Mays Business School is to advance the world’s prosperity. Aligned with this big vision, Deer’s research involves using sustainable business solutions to address social challenges. Deer’s latest study is investigating how women exiting sex trafficking find legal, economically sustainable employment. Deer’s research focuses on the challenges women face finding employment after exiting and the role of social entrepreneurship in helping women exit. When not at work, Deer prefers to be in or near a body of water or spending time with her husband and dogs.


Mimi Del Grande

Co-Owner, Café Annie 

Mimi Del Grande is Co-owner of the restaurant Café Annie along with her husband, Chef Robert Del Grande. She attended the University of California at Riverside. Del Grande is very active in her community and serves on the Board of Directors for AVDA (Aid to Victims of Domestic Abuse). She is on the Advisory Council of Dress For Success Houston, whose mission is to empower women to achieve economic independence by providing a network of support, professional attire and development tools to help them thrive in work and life.


Susie Distefano  

Senior Vice President and CEO, Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital 

As Chief Executive Officer of Children's Memorial Hermann Hospital, Susie Distefano has expanded women’s services to better serve the Greater Houston community and expanded The Fetal Center with specialists in high-risk pregnancies. The hospital’s internationally recognized affiliated team is the most experienced in the region in advanced fetal imaging and fetal intervention. Distefano has spent much of her career working in a range of leadership roles in healthcare. Prior to being named CEO of Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital, she served as the senior vice president of patient care services and Chief Nursing Officer at Texas Children’s Hospital. She played an instrumental role in a $145 million building expansion and a $575 million building project. Before joining Texas Children’s Hospital, Distefano was a research officer at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center (TMC), where she oversaw clinical research studies in close collaboration with The University of Texas Office of Research. Earlier in her career, she also served as nurse manager in Memorial Hermann-TMC’s neonatal intensive care unit, as well as a neonatal Memorial Hermann Life Flight® transport nurse and team coordinator. 

Distefano graduated from The University of Texas at Austin with a bachelor’s degree in nursing and continued her studies at UTHealth School of Nursing, where she earned a master’s degree. She also completed the Wharton Fellows Program in Management for Nursing Executives at the University of Pennsylvania and the Intermountain Health Advanced Training Program in Salt Lake City, Utah.  

Currently, she is a board member of DePelchin Children’s Services, Cornerstone Recovery, the Children’s Defense Fund and the Children’s Hospital Association. She has been honored with numerous awards over the years, most recently in 2012 when she was recognized as one of 10 “Women on the Move” by Texas Executive Women (TEW). Distefano lives with her husband, Iggy, and children, Nicholas and Nina and enjoys cooking, traveling, and reading.


Sissy Farenthold   


Sissy Farenthold is a politician, attorney, activist, and educator.  As a member of the Democratic Party, she is renowned for having been placed in nomination for the office of Vice President of the United States during the 1972 Democratic National Convention. As President of Wells College (1976-1980), Farenthold worked with women’s groups and anti-nuclear, peace, and human rights groups. She was an active member of Helsinki Watch, the predecessor to the organization Human Rights Watch and Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. Farenthold left Wells College in 1980 to return to Houston, where she opened a private law practice and taught law at the University of Houston. She also continued to devote significant time to the international women’s movement and began a collaboration with her cousin, Genevieve Vaughan. 

Farenthold and Vaughan organized the Peace Tent at the 1985 U.N. NGO Forum in Nairobi, Kenya, in conjunction with the third United Nations World Conference on Women. They also were founding members of Women for a Meaningful Summit, an ad hoc coalition of female leaders who voiced concerns for nuclear disarmament at the Reagan-Gorbachev summits. Farenthold worked with the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS), a progressive multi-issue think tank devoted to peace, justice, and the environment. With IPS, Farenthold made trips to investigate human rights violations in Central America and Iraq. She is an emeritus trustee for the Institute for Policy Studies and serves on the Advisory Board of the Bernard and Audre Rapoport Center for Human Rights and Justice at the University of Texas. She also serves as Honorary Director of the Rothko Chapel in Houston. 


Sameera Faridi

Director/Designer, Poshak Fashion and Style 

Sameera Faridi moved from the Middle East to Houston where, upon arrival, she was introduced to the renowned fashion and design program at Houston Community College. The program became Sameera’s springboard into the world of fashion and a stepping stone to opening her own boutique, Poshak Fashion and Style. In 2015, Faridi celebrated the boutique’s 10th year of business and a decade of accomplishment. Faridi was awarded Best in Show at the 2004 Chic Streak Fashion Show, which kicked off a career of news features and participation in local fashion events, panel judging, guest speaking, and community engagements.

Faridi is the current President of the Fashion Advisory Board at Houston Community College. She was named in 2013 by Houston Press as one of the 100 Creatives of Houston. In 2014 Faridi was the first South Asian female to showcase her collection at Fashion Houston.

Poshak continues to be the premier boutique for South Asian fashion, and the store’s expansion to a clientele outside of the South Asian community has contributed greatly to its success. Sameera Faridi also handles bridal and custom orders at her Sameera Faridi Design Studio.  With an eye for timeless fashion, Faridi is known for an ability to make women look and feel beautiful. Having her finger on the pulse of trends and innovative combinations gives Faridi’s styles a cosmopolitan edge while remaining sophisticated and elegant.


Debbie Ferguson-McKenzie

Assistant Coach, University of Houston Athletics; Three-time Olympic Medalist 

Debbie Ferguson-McKenzie is the women’s sprints and hurdles coach for the Track and Field Program at the University of Houston. She was born and raised in the Bahamas, and attended the University of Georgia, where she was an NCAA champion before graduating in 1999. 

Ferguson-McKenzie is a ten-time Bahamas national champion in the 100 and 200 meter sprints. She was awarded the Austin Sealy Trophy for the most outstanding athlete of the 1995 CARIFTA Games. Ferguson-McKenzie has represented the Bahamas at five Olympic Games: Atlanta 1996, Sydney 2000, Athens 2004, Beijing 2008, and London 2012. She is a three-time Olympic medalist and four-time world championship medalist. 

Outside the track, Ferguson-McKenzie has built a charitable reputation serving as a motivational speaker, a mentor and teen-pregnancy counselor. She has worked with the Willie Mae Pratt Center for Girls, the Simpson Penn Center for Boys, and the Bahamas Humane Society. Ferguson-McKenzie has also served as a member of the IAAF Athletes’ Commission and was nominated as a Goodwill Ambassador of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. 


Julie Baker Finck, PhD   

President, Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation 

Julie Baker Finck, Ph.D. serves as the President of the Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation, a charitable organization whose mission is to improve lives through the power of literacy. Dr. Finck has more than 20 years of experience in nonprofit and K-12 education, including four years on the executive leadership team of the Houston Independent School District. Prior to her move to Houston in 2009, she worked for Battelle for Kids, providing strategic consulting to urban school districts towards advancing large-scale improvement efforts. In addition, she served as Assistant Superintendent for the Franklin County Educational Service Center and Executive Director for the Ohio SchoolNet Commission, a state agency dedicated to implementing $1 billion in educational technology initiatives across Ohio during her tenure. Dr. Finck began her career as a classroom teacher in Kentucky and earned her Doctorate of Philosophy in education administration from The Ohio State University in 2001.


Irma Galvan   

Owner and Chef, Irma’s Restaurant 

Irma Gonzalez Galvan was born in Brownsville, TX as the oldest of four children. When she was only five years old, her mother brought the family to Houston. Galvan started working at a very young age to help her mother and siblings. 

As an adult, Galvan worked at the Purse Wholesale Furniture Company for over 20 years.  In 1982 tragedy struck her family when her husband Louis was murdered.  Louis and Irma Galvan had four children, and she struggled as a single mother.  Galvan now had no insurance and no income.  Even though the city was in the middle of an economic collapse in the 1980s, she decided to open a business and started a small sandwich shop in downtown Houston. 

On many occasions Galvan almost gave up, but for the benefit of her family she knew that she had to keep her enterprise afloat. In an effort to keep the business open, Galvan changed her menu to serve Mexican food, which is how Irma’s Mexican Restaurant first started. She brought personal furniture from home to decorate the restaurant and soon was successful enough to hire her children to work for her. 

Irma Galvan is a self-made entrepreneur, a role she embraced in her middle years.  She is a high-energy person and known to give the utmost attention to all her customers. Galvan has been an inspiration, and has taught women that hard work, dedication, and love can make your dreams come true.


Beatrice Garza   

Former President and CEO, Association for the Advancement of Mexican Americans, Inc. 

Beatrice Garza recently retired as President and CEO of AAMA where she led the work of a 236-member staff committed to inspiring and empowering Latinos to pursue and achieve their potential. AAMA’s efforts are focused in the areas of educational attainment, workforce readiness, and leadership development. A $12 million nonprofit organization, AAMA serves more than 20,000 people annually in Houston, San Antonio, and Laredo. 

Garza currently serves on the National Advisory Board on Community Engagement in the State Courts, and on the board of The Women’s Home. She is a Senior Fellow of the American Leadership Forum, a graduate of the Center for Houston’s Future Leadership Class and a member of the Connecting Communities Initiative at the Kinder Institute for Urban Research at Rice University. She served as Chair of the United Methodist Church Foundation Board, and on the boards of Boys Town USA, Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, American Leadership Forum, Houston Wellness Association, Literacy Advance Houston, and AAMA.  She has been awarded the 2014 Woman on the Move, Houston Woman Magazine’s Wise Woman Award, the Education Impact Award from the East End Chamber of Commerce, and Latina Style Magazine’s Latina Leader Award. 

Garza’s prior work experience includes Executive General Manager for Human Resources at the Houston Independent School District, and Director of Employment at St. Luke’s Episcopal Hospital. She has an M.B.A. from the University of Houston and a B.A. from Stephen F. Austin University.


Leslie Gaworecki

Table Talk 2017 Featured Artist 

Artist Leslie Gaworecki is interested in the relationship between intent and outcome as they define mistakes in art and in life. Her intuitive abstract paintings include layers of scratches, marks and text, at play with vibrant color and repeated pattern. As the mother of four sons, Gaworecki’s mark making is often inspired by the creative freedom of children. 

Gaworecki received a B.F.A in photography from The Ohio State University in 1999.  After more than ten years as a photographer she followed her curiosity to paint and began showing work in her Houston studio in 2016 where she encourages visiting children to paint alongside her.


Winell Herron

Group Vice President of Public Affairs and Diversity, H-E-B 

Winell Herron serves as H-E-B group vice president of public affairs, diversity and environmental affairs, statewide. Winell began her H-E-B career in 1988 in store operations. She has held many positions including service team leader, director of workforce diversity, vice president of customer service, and group vice president of diversity and people development. In 2002, she was promoted to her current position. Winell earned a B.A. in business administration from the University of Texas at Austin. She later completed the Food Industry Management Program at the University of Southern California and received her Executive M.B.A. from the University of Texas at San Antonio. Winell serves on the board of Ensemble Theatre, Houston Zoo, Houston Museum of African American Culture, March of Dimes, Texans Care for Children, Texas Lyceum, Texas NAACP Corporate Advisory Council, Tobin Performing Arts Center, is a member of the Houston Chapter of the Links, and on the board of trustees for the University of Incarnate Word. She and her husband, William, reside in Houston.


Shezi Kirmani, MD

Medical Director, My Pure MD, PLLC 

Shezi Kirmani, M.D., is the founder and medical director of My Pure MD and a Board Certified physician in Internal and Integrative Medicine. She has served the Houston community as a primary care physician with the Baylor St Luke’s health system at the Texas Medical Center for over 13 years. She is highly regarded in medical circles and has been the physician of choice for many other medical practitioners and their families. 

Dr. Kirmani completed her residency training in Internal Medicine from the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston. She completed her fellowship in General Medicine while working on her Masters in Public Health, from the University Texas Health Science Center in Houston. She is one of the select few physicians in the world and the only Internist in Houston with advanced fellowship training in Integrative Medicine, under the direct mentorship of Dr. Andrew Weil. She is also trained in Functional Medicine through the Institute of Functional Medicine. 

She has led International and Executive Health programs at  Baylor St Luke’s.  She has been on the teaching faculty with the Baylor College of Medicine and has taught and mentored many medical students over the years. She has served on the Board of Integrative Medicine at Baylor St. Luke's, World Presidents’ Organization, Young Presidents’ Organization, and on the St. Luke's Medical Executive Committee. She has been the recipient of numerous awards and honors, including the Compassionate Doctor Recognition, the Top 10 Doctor - State of Texas, and Top 10 Doctor - Houston Metro Area.


Cheryl Mills Knight

Brand Director, Kendra Scott Jewelry 

Cheryl Mills Knight is the Brand Director at Kendra Scott, LLC, and is one of the “Original 7” joining forces with Kendra Scott in 2005. She has helped grow Kendra Scott from a local startup to a global, multi-million dollar brand. As the heart and soul of the brand, she is responsible for supporting and reinforcing the brand strategy and experience and its pillars of Family, Fashion & Philanthropy, both internally and externally. 

Formerly the Director of Marketing and Creative Services, she developed the brand’s marketing approach while managing the multi-versed Creative Services team, including Art Direction, Graphic and UX Design, Photography and Copywriting. With her passion for authenticity and intuitive eye for design, Knight has fused her cunning visual, analytical and creative skills into every facet of the brand’s strategy and presence. A graduate of The University of Texas at Austin, Knight worked in marketing and design before joining forces with Kendra Scott over 11 years ago. With over 15 years of experience, she is an expert in business brand development.


Bonna Kol

President, Asia Society Texas Center 

Bonna Kol is a nonprofit executive with more than 20 years of experience in the development and implementation of multi‐million dollar projects. As of January 2014, Kol has served as the President of Asia Society Texas Center. Asia Society's mission is to promote mutual understanding and build partnerships between the people, leaders and institutions of the United States and Asia. 

Prior to her appointment at Asia Society, she was the Chief Advancement Officer at KIPP Houston Public School, a charter school serving more than 10,000 students in the Houston area. As a member of their executive team, she managed the operations of development, marketing, community relations, and advocacy for the organization. From 2005 to 2012, Kol served as the President and CEO of Catholic Charities of Greater Houston, an agency dedicated to providing social services to more than 90,000 people annually. There, she led the development of a strategic plan for geographic expansion, service to seniors, and housing development. From 2001-2005, she was the Executive Director of Mended Hearts in Dallas, the nation's second largest support organization offering hope to heart patients, their families and caregivers. 

Kol was born in Cambodia and was with her family visiting the United States right before the fall of Cambodia in 1975. She attended Texas A&M University and the University of Houston, earning a B.S. in political science, later receiving her M.B.A. from Our Lady of the Lake University. Kol is married to James Clifford and they have two daughters ages 13 and 11.


Rhea B. Lawson

Director, Houston Public Library 

Dr. Rhea Lawson has served as the Executive Director of the Houston Public Library (HPL) since 2005. HPL is the largest public library in the state of Texas, serving over 2.2 million people through a network of 42 locations.  Dr. Lawson is a strong and passionate advocate for public libraries and keenly focused on ensuring that they remain highly visible and contribute to the quality of life in their communities. Under Dr. Lawson’s leadership, HPL has earned over 40 prestigious local, state, and national awards for services, programs, innovation and building projects. Active on the local, state and national levels, Dr. Lawson serves on a number of professional and civic committees and boards.  She holds a B.A. from Morgan State University, an M.L.S. from the University of Maryland, and a Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.


Nicole Longnecker

Owner, Nicole Longnecker Gallery 

Nicole Longnecker is originally from Cambridge, Iowa, and has a M.B.A. and a B.A. from Iowa State University. During her studies, Longnecker’s curiosity in the arts and its relationship to the world centered around the intersection of art, literature, and film and how these mediums could be used to create narratives and give a wider voice to people who are unable to tell their stories. After earlier successes in business, nonprofit and educational work, Nicole opened a contemporary art gallery devoted to representing established as well as emerging artists. Nicole  Longnecker  Gallery  is  located  in  the  heart  of  Houston's  Gallery  Row on Colquitt Street, near the intersection of Kirby and Richmond. The gallery maintains a rotating schedule of exhibitions that display abstract expression in drawing, painting, printmaking, and sculpture. The gallery is committed to their roster of artists, to allowing each to grow professionally, and to providing a venue for the expression of personal narratives and vision. 

Through marketing, solo exhibits, as well as group exhibitions, Longnecker places artists’ work in a wide range of private and public collections. Nicole Longnecker Gallery is dedicated to promoting visual art in Houston by supporting local educational efforts and various non-profit organizations along with engaging new collectors and educating the community about art. Longnecker serves on numerous boards and believes in continuing her passion for community involvement through the Nicole Longnecker Gallery.


Marian Luntz

Curator, Film and Video, The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston 

Marian Luntz, a native New Yorker who attended Dartmouth College, has worked in the film and media arts field for over three decades. After positions at Kino International and the American Film Institute, she moved to Houston in 1983 to become Director of Exhibitions at the Southwest Alternate Media Project (SWAMP). Since 1990 she has been the Film Curator at The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, programming over 200 screenings annually and overseeing the museum’s archive and distribution of films by Robert Frank. She is on the production team for the SWAMP-Houston Public Media shorts showcase, The Territory. Luntz has served on juries and panels for the Sundance Film Festival, South by Southwest, FICCI Festival in Cartagena, the Herb Alpert Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, Creative Capital, Texas Commission on the Arts, Rockefeller Foundation, Houston Arts Alliance, and the Austin Film Society. In 2014 and 2015 the Houston Press named her Best Curator.  She was honored at the 2010 Houston Cinema Arts Festival for two decades at the MFAH.


Ann MacNaughton   

Wealth Management Advisor, Merrill Lynch 

Ann L. MacNaughton, JD MBA, is a Chartered Advisor in Philanthropy and the senior editor of the American Bar Association's handbook "Environmental Dispute Resolution", first released in Johannesburg at the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development where Ann served as a Delegate for the American Bar Association. Inspired by her research for a keynote talk on Financial Issues in Sustainable Development at a linked conference of sustainability-focused attorneys, Ann returned to the US determined to develop an 'impact' investment strategy that could actually incent ~ perpetually ~ ongoing improvement in US corporate environmental and social behavior. Ten years in the making, that uniquely transformative 'impact' strategy launched in Houston in 2013.


Nina Magon

Creative Director/Principal, Contour Interior Design 

Nina Magon is an award-winning interior designer; her signature modern aesthetic balances bold design with glamorous appeal. As Creative Director of Contour Interior Design, with locations in Houston and Miami, Magon designs one-of-a-kind environments tailored to her client’s unique taste. She was named one of the top designers in the country by NBC. She was also deemed The Design Industry’s Next It Girl by POPSUGAR and designated The Breakout Star by RUE Magazine.  In 2016, Magon was selected by Housing Works and Elle Decor Magazine as one of the 25 participants nationwide to participate in Design On A Dime Miami. Oprah Winfrey’s interior designer, Nate Berkus, selected Magon to appear on NBC’s American Dream Builders in 2013.  

Born in Saskatchewan, Canada, to a family of Indian descent, Magon relocated to Houston with her family when she was thirteen. Magon received a B.S. from Southern Methodist University, with post-graduate studies in architecture and design at the Art Institute of Houston. Her first speculative house, which Magon designed from concept through construction, sold for close to a million dollars prior to completion. 

Magon is a member of the International Interior Design Association (IIDA), Interior Design Society (IDS), American Association of Interior Designers (ASID), the Greater Houston Builders Association (GHBA), and National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO).  She dedicates her free time to many non-profit organizations, including Hope Endowment, Dec My Room and Texas Children’s Hospital.


Lisa Malosky

Sports Journalist; CEO, Lisa Malosky Productions, LLC 

Lisa Malosky has been a trailblazing journalist for more than two decades. She was the first female sports anchor at KPRC TV2 in Houston, the first female co-host of the original American Gladiators show and a member of the first, all-female network broadcast team for NBC’s coverage of the inaugural WNBA season. Malosky grew up in Duluth, Minnesota, and is a graduate of St. Olaf College (B.A. English) where she played and captained the women’s basketball team. 

Currently, Malosky is CEO of Lisa Malosky Productions, LLC, where she works with her three-time National Emmy Award winning cameraman/husband Don Friedell, creating videos for corporate, commercial and nonprofit clients. Lisa and Don Friedell have been married 23 years and are the proud parents of two sons, Dylan and Luke.


Ashley McClellan

CEO, The Woman’s Hospital of Texas 

Ashley McClellan moved from Dallas to Houston in May 2015 to assume the leadership of the Woman’s Hospital, the first hospital in Houston to prioritize the care of women and newborns. During her tenure, McClellan has expanded the hospital’s Pediatric Service Line, which became fully operational in January 2015; expanded Labor and Delivery/ Observation; initiated construction on 22 additional Neonatal Intensive Care Unit beds; and launched a Master Campus Expansion Project to expand all services, including new Operating Suites, more Post-Partum Beds and additional Imaging Services. Prior to her role at Woman’s, McClellan served as Chief Executive Officer at Hospital Corporation of America’s Medical Center of Lewisville from 2011 to 2015, after joining the Lewisville team as the Chief Operating Officer in 2008. 

McClellan is from Overland Park, Kansas, and moved to Dallas to attend Southern Methodist University where she obtained a B.B.A. and a B.A.  She received an M.A. in hospital administration and M.B.A. from Texas Woman's University.  Currently, she serves on Southern Methodist University Cox School of Business Alumnae Board and the board of the March of Dimes Foundation-Houston Division. 

In 2016, McClellan was recognized by the Houston Business Journal as a 40 Under 40 honoree. McClellan also received the 2011 Young Healthcare Executive of the Year from the Dallas Fort Worth Hospital Council.  She lives in Houston with her husband, Brett, and their two sons.


Martha Montalvo

Executive Assistant Chief/Former Interim Chief, Houston Police Department 

Martha Montalvo has served the Houston Police Department for 37 years. She is retiring effective March 25, 2017. Montalvo began her career in 1980 just two years after HPD hired its first female officers. She has been promoted through the ranks, having served as a sergeant, lieutenant, captain, assistant chief and executive assistant chief. Montalvo served as the Interim Police Chief from February 27, 2016, until November 29, 2016. 

Montalvo is currently an Executive Assistant Chief over Investigative Operations, which includes the following two commands and 12 divisions: Criminal Investigations Command, consisting of: Burglary and Theft, Homicide, Investigative First Responder, Juvenile, Robbery and Special Crimes; and Special Investigations Command, consisting of the following divisions: Auto Theft, Gang, Major Offenders, Narcotics, Vehicular Crimes and Vice. Prior to her appointment as interim chief, she served as Chief of Staff to Chief of Police Charles A. McClelland, Jr.  

Chief Montalvo earned a B.S. in Criminal Justice from the University of Houston Downtown in 1990 and a M.S. in Criminal Justice Management from Sam Houston State University in 1995. She holds a Master Peace Officer Certification from the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement and, as a result of serving as an active hostage negotiator for 10 years, also holds a Master Certification as a Hostage Negotiator.


Chau Nguyen

Chief Marketing Officer, Houston Area Women’s Center 

Chau Nguyen is a mother, a Licensed Social Worker and the Chief Marketing Officer of the Houston Area Women’s Center, the city’s largest non-profit provider of Domestic and Sexual Assault services. 

Nguyen is known by many for her television news career, having served as an anchor and reporter with KHOU TV. She is the first Vietnamese American journalist to receive an Emmy Award for her documentary series covering a medical mission in Vietnam, and the Houston Press named her reporter of the year in 2007. Nguyen holds a M.S.W. from the University of Houston and a B.A. from the University of St. Thomas. Currently, she also serves on the boards of Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Texas and Know Autism, and the advisory boards of Houston Achievement Place and The Women’s Home. Nguyen is frequently asked to emcee events, including Mayor Sylvester Turner’s Inauguration in 2016. Nguyen is the proud mother of two young girls, Ryan and Myles, and is a member of Unity of Houston.


Yudith Nieto

Youth Organizer, Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services (t.e.j.a.s.) 

Yudith Nieto was born in Mexico and grew up in the fence-line refining community of Manchester in Houston, which inspired Yudith to become involved in the environmental justice movement. Yudith now works with Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services (t.e.j.a.s) to address the environmental impacts, public health, and urban development issues in her city. She is a member of the Environmental Justice and Health Alliance and the Moving Forward Network. Earlier this year she was named one of the 15 youth leaders of Climate Justice workgroup within the EPA’s National Advisory Council of Environmental Justice. She is a 2013 graduate of the Four Directions Intergenerational Youth Exchange of Los Jardines Institute in Albuquerque, NM, where she learned how to build an intergenerational movement along with how the Chicana, Mexican American, and Indigenous cultures are intrinsically linked to the struggle of environmental justice. 

Yudith is dedicated to confronting the petrochemical industries that perpetuate environmental racism and classism in marginalized communities of color, which lead her to be part of a Rights of Nature Tribunal that was held concurrently with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC COP 21). In collaboration with other Indigenous South American, African, and Native American communities, she was able to contribute to the discussion on the many issues they face due to the fossil fuel industry, as well as other human rights issues that impact their way of life.


Linda Flores Olson   

Executive Director, Houston Hispanic Forum 

Linda Olson is a native Houstonian and has served the nonprofit arena as a leader for over 31 years. She has worked at large Houston nonprofits like the University of Houston, the University of Houston-Clear Lake, the Greater Houston Partnership, the Alley Theatre and HoustonPBS. She has also worked for smaller organizations like Children at Risk and now the Houston Hispanic Forum. Olson serves on the Early Matters Steering Committee, Mayor Turner’s Hispanic Advisory Committee, Coalition for Great Houston Schools, HoustonISD Hispanic Advisory Committee and the Executive Committee of HoustonGPS (Houstonians for Great Public Schools). She is a proud alumna of the American Leadership Forum Class (ALF) XXIX and a Center for Houston’s Future grad. She serves on the ALF Board, co-leading the ALF COPE (Council on Public Education) committee, the UH-Downtown Nonprofit Management Advisory Board, and The Rose Advisory Board.  Olson’s greatest passion is for serving at-risk children. Olson says that she wakes up each day delighted to continue her journey to become a life-altering agent for at-risk children.


Melanie Espinosa Pang    

Co-Chair, Mayor Turner’s LGBTQ Advisory Board; Qualitative Research & Evaluation Manager, The Salvation Army 

Melanie Espinosa Pang is a social worker, serving as a data and program evaluation manager with The Salvation Army in Houston. In June of 2016, she was appointed co-chair of Mayor Turner's LGBTQ Advisory Board, the first of its kind in the history of the City of Houston. Pang has served a variety of communities in many capacities, aiming to further equity and lived equality--from advocacy efforts to reduce and prevent childhood obesity in food deserts to serving as a case manager to refugee minors in foster care as well as young adults experiencing homelessness. With nearly a decade of experience in LGBTQ rights advocacy, Pang was awarded the President's Award for Distinguished Community Leadership by The Houston GLBT Political Caucus this year and received the honor of being named Social Worker of the Year in 2015 by NASW Houston. Pang is a proud, queer-identified Asian American woman who believes we can achieve social justice through more connection, more creativity, and more compassion.


Annise Parker    

Former Houston Mayor; Senior Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer, Neighborhood Centers Inc. 

Annise Parker served three terms as Mayor of Houston, after her terms as a City Council Member and Controller. She is currently a Fellow at the Doerr Institute for New Leaders and Professor in the Practice at Rice University, as well as Senior Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer at Neighborhood Centers, Inc. In addition, she serves on the board of FirstNet and on the Airbnb Mayor's Advisory Board. 

Parker was only the 10th woman and the first openly GLBT mayor of a major American city. In 2010 Time magazine named Mayor Parker one of the 100 most influential people in the world. She was named top-US and seventh-ranked world mayor in 2014 by City Mayors Foundation. Honors include Scenic Houston’s Scenic Visionary Award, Guardian of the Human Spirit Award from Holocaust Museum Houston, Guardian of the Bay Award from Galveston Bay Foundation, Rice University Distinguished Alumna, and Local Arts Leadership by Americans for the Arts. 

Parker was a member of President Obama’s Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience, chaired the US Conference of Mayors’ Criminal and Social Justice Committee, was a steering committee member of the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, a Department of Homeland Security Secretary’s Advisory Council member, and served on the boards of Texas Environmental Research Consortium and Houston Galveston Area Council. 

She is a past Fellow of the Institute of Politics at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government. Parker worked for 20 years in oil and gas prior to entering politics, and co-owned Inklings, a lesbian/feminist bookstore for 10 years.


Carrin Patman    

Chair of the Board, Metropolitan Transit Authority, Harris County 

Carrin F. Patman serves as chair of the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County. She is the agency’s first woman chair, appointed in 2016 by Mayor Sylvester Turner. She previously served on the board from 2010 to 2013 and chaired the Government and Public Affairs Committee. 

In her professional career, Patman was a partner of Bracewell, where for three decades she worked as a trial lawyer representing diverse clients in major litigation involving commercial disputes, securities matters, antitrust and competition issues, and regulatory compliance.  She was the first woman elected to the firm’s seven-member Management Committee and is the only woman to have been twice elected to serve on that committee. Patman retired from Bracewell in December, 2016. 

Patman graduated from Duke University and from the University of Texas School of Law. Patman’s extensive civic involvement reflects her passion for community service. Currently, she serves as a senior trustee on the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston Development Board. She is a founding board member of the Center for Women in Law at the University of Texas School of Law, which is dedicated to improving the status of women in the legal profession. In 2001, Carrin became the first woman to receive the Karen H. Susman Jurisprudence Award from the Anti‐Defamation League Southwest Region. In 2000, she was selected as a Woman on the Move by the Houston Chronicle, Channel 11 and Texas Executive Women. In 2012, she was inducted into the Greater Houston Women’s Chamber of Commerce Hall of Fame, and in 2013, received the Pacesetter Award from the Ivy Educational and Charitable Foundation of Houston.


Juanita Campbell Rasmus     

Pastor, Spiritual Director, St. John’s United Methodist Church; Founder, The Art Project Houston 

Juanita Campbell Rasmus is co-pastor at St. John’s United Methodist Church with her husband Rudy and is a spiritual director with a passion for outreach to impoverished citizens. The St. John’s family began with nine members in 1992 and now has over 9,000 people who are a part of the church. Each week people of every social and economic background share the same pew, and St. John’s is one of the most culturally diverse congregations in the country. Pastor Rasmus attributes the success of the church to a compassionate congregation who has embraced a vision of tearing down the walls of classism, sexism, and racism and building bridges of love, recovery, and hope. 

Pastor Rasmus serves on the board of her alma mater Houston Graduate School of Theology and has served on the board of Renovaré Inc., founded by renowned author Richard Foster. She co-founded Bread of Life, Inc. with Rudy in 1992 to serve dinner to the homeless in the sanctuary at St. John’s. Bread of Life changed the landscape of downtown Houston and provides eighteen tons of fresh food weekly to hungry families. The couple also founded the Temenos Community Development Corporation in partnership with Tina and Beyoncé Knowles and the City of Houston Housing Department. The corporation built the Knowles-Temenos Place Apartments, providing 43 formerly homeless residents with an apartment. Additionally an 8-unit Temenos II project just began receiving residents. Temenos III is under construction. 

Rasmus began an art program to facilitate recovery for homeless and transitioning individuals. The Art Project Houston empowers participants to be painters and artisans and to earn their livelihood by displaying and selling their art in exhibits held in collaboration with other non-profit organizations. Juanita and Rudy Rasmus have been married for 31 years and are the proud parents of daughters Morgan and Ryan and son-in-law Hamilton.


Maria Rios   

Founder/President/Chief Executive Officer, Nation Waste, Inc. 

Maria Rios has turned trash into treasure as the founder, president and chief executive officer of Nation Waste Inc, a fully-certified Commercial Solid Waste Disposal and Recycling Company that serves small businesses, Fortune 500 companies, and the government.  Rios’s business is the first female, Hispanic-owned waste removal company in the United States.

Rios emigrated from El Salvador as a child and came to the U.S. to pursue an education. She received a B.A. from the University of Houston.  Upon graduation she purchased two trucks and Nation Waste was born. Today, she has a fleet of over 25 vehicles and has expanded her operations and product line, which resulted in a multi-million dollar contract with the City of Houston. Rios was named one of Houston’s Most Influential Women by Houston Woman Magazine, Female Entrepreneur of the Year by the Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and has been recognized by the White House and the Texas Governor. Rios won the 2013 Fortune Most Powerful Women Entrepreneur Award for her innovative and ground-breaking business model, as well as the Greater Houston Women’s Chamber of Commerce 2014 Breakthrough Women Award. Rios gives time and money to different non-profit organizations and serves as an executive board member of the Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the Greater Houston Women’s Chamber of Commerce, and The Houston Food Bank.


Martha Serpas, PhD    

Poet and author of The Diener, Professor of English, University of Houston 

Dr. Martha Serpas has published three collections of poetry: The Diener (LSU Press, 2015), The Dirty Side of the Storm (Norton, 2007), and Côte Blanche (New Issues, 2002). Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Nation, Southwest Review and in anthologies such as Bearing the Mystery: Twenty Years of Image, The Art of the Sonnet, and the Library of America’s American Religious Poems. She received degrees in creative writing from Louisiana State, New York University, and the University of Houston and also holds a Master of Divinity from Yale Divinity School. 

During her time as a student at the University of Houston, Dr. Serpas worked with children at Project Row Houses, an independent arts center in Houston’s Third Ward, and in the public schools. After receiving her Ph.D. in 1998, she lectured in the UH Honors College and then joined the faculty of the University of Tampa for ten years. She taught as a visitor at Yale Divinity School while also reading and lecturing at Duke University, Boston University, and Seattle Pacific University’s Glen Workshop. She serves biannually as a hospital chaplain at Tampa General Hospital. She joined the faculty in the UH Creative Writing Program in 2009. 

A native of Bayou Lafourche in south Louisiana, she is involved in efforts to restore Louisiana’s wetlands and co-produced Veins in the Gulf, a documentary about coastal erosion and which features her poems.


Bridgitte Shen Lee, OD

CEO and Founder, Vision Optique; Founder, iTravelCE 

Dr. Bridgitte Shen Lee is co-founder of Vision Optique, an innovative high-end optical and contact lens practice and comprehensive ocular health center started in 1999. She is passionate about helping people see better and live better lives, and inspiring other eye care professionals. 

Dr. Shen Lee immigrated to Dallas from Beijing at age 14. Both of her parents graduated from China's prestigious medical school, Peking Union Medical College (PUMC). Her upbringing in medical academia helped to shape her own career in helping others with their sight. In addition to practicing at Vision Optique, Dr. Shen Lee also founded iTravelCE in 2010. iTravelCE is a bridge between the Asian and the American/European optical industries. It brings Western optometrists to Asia for their continuing medical education and to gain a better understanding of the optical industry in Asia. Through iTravelCE, Dr. Shen Lee is a consultant and a speaker for various optical industry companies to introduce eye care professionals in the U.S. and Asia to the latest innovations in ophthalmic lenses, contact lens, luxury eye-wear, anti-aging eye care, Digital Eye Health℠ and Ocular Aesthetics℠ products. 

Dr. Shen Lee earned her B.A. in Biology from the University of Texas at Austin and her O.D. from the University of Houston. Dr. Shen Lee enjoys raising her young daughters and volunteering her time and talent at schools and in the community. She was appointed by the Houston Mayor to serve on the Miller Theatre Advisory Board, and she currently serves on the Houston Ballet Foundation Board.


Carrie Shoemake    

Founding Partner, GSMA, Inc. 

Carrie Glassman Shoemake established the architecture firm GSMA Inc. in 1996. She continues to shape the firm’s voice and remains committed to the practice and service of architecture. A native Houstonian and graduate of the University of Texas at Austin, Shoemake creates memorable and delightful, award-winning designs that express the city’s “anything is possible” attitude with grace and elegance. Within the firm, she is a designer and leader, setting high expectations for both design and client happiness. Shoemake is proud to be one of the 3% to have been named a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects (FAIA), a recognition for outstanding contribution to the practice of architecture. In the community, she has long served within the Rice Design Alliance (2015 President) and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston Design Sub-Committee.


Carey Shuart   

Owner, Shuart Farms; Activist, Shuart Women’s Archive and Research Collection, University of Houston 

Carey Chenoweth Shuart, a Houston native, is a partner in Shuart Farms in Eagle Lake, Texas.  She is also co-founder of the Shuart Women’s Archive and Research Center at the University of Houston. She founded and served as president of the Friends of Women's Studies Advisory Board and was awarded the Chair’s Award from the University of Houston Alumni Association for her many volunteer contributions. Nationally, Shuart served for four years on the National Women’s History Museum planning board, acting as Interim President for 2.5 years, and as Secretary for one year. 

Shuart was a member of Governor Ann Richards’ Leadership Council, a board member and Houston representative of the Texas Arts Alliance, and has served in a leadership role at Junior League of Houston, the National Society of The Colonial Dames of America, Texas, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. 

Shuart has received numerous awards, including the Outstanding Alumni Award at St. John’s School, the first annual National Tupperware Award for Excellence in a School Volunteer Program as the chair of the HISD kindergarten screening, and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education Special Events Award as the chair of a fundraising event at St. John’s School. Shuart is recognized in Who’s Who in American Women, Who’s Who in America, and Who’s Who in the World.


Deepi Sidhu    

Broadcast Journalist and Texans Insider, Houston Texans 

As the Texans Insider, Deepi Sidhu has been a co-host on Texans Radio, Texans TV, and a writer on houstontexans.com. Sidhu is a co-host and associate producer on the newest addition to the Texans TV lineup, “Texans Buzz,” a look at the lighter side of football which features interviews with players off the field. She also co-hosts “Texans Countdown LIVE” for FOX Sports Southwest, a Texans pregame show live from the sideline. Sidhu is a regular contributor to the Bill O’Brien Press Conference, Texans Extra Points, Texans 360, and Texans Training Camp LIVE. For Texans Radio, Sidhu co-hosts year-round and is a regular contributor on Texans All Access with exclusive interviews. This season, she added the Fuddruckers Texans Players Show, which regularly features DeAndre Hopkins, Duane Brown, Johnathan Joseph, and Whitney Mercilus. 

Prior to joining the Texans organization, Sidhu worked for the station SportsRadio 610. She wrote for CBS Houston, covering local professional and college sports. From the age of 15, Sidhu has been involved in radio broadcasting. She previously had a weekly radio show on KPFT Houston, GenerAsian Radio, which she co-hosted and produced for 11 years. Sidhu has been a freelance writer for multiple outlets including CNN.com and CNN’s Headline News site, HLN.com. 

Sidhu graduated from Purdue University with a B.S.E. and then attained her M.B.A. from the University of Houston.  Born and raised in Indianapolis, Sidhu has resided in Houston for the past 20 years and considers herself a Houstonian. She and her husband, Sham, live in Bellaire and have three sons ages 13, 10, and 6. In her free time, Sidhu enjoys running and traveling with her family.


Kavita Singh, PhD

Assistant Professor of English, University of Houston 

Kavita Singh specializes in Caribbean literature and culture in French, English, and Creole. Her approaches to research and teaching span literary analysis, cultural studies, translation theory, critical race theory, and postcolonial studies. She is part of the Empire Studies and Translation Studies collectives in the English department, and her writing interests are diverse. Dr. Singh is currently working on projects on gender and ethnicity in Trinidad, on the erotic in Caribbean women’s writings, and on the intersection of performance and language in postcolonial Caribbean writing. Her book manuscript, The Carnival Language: Exhibitive Multilingualism in the Postcolonial Caribbean, brings her passion for thinking, language and translation together with her interest in Carnival cultures. It theorizes performance and multilingualism as intrinsic to postcolonial Caribbean expressions of cultural and political autonomy.


Juliet Stipeche    

Director of Education, City of Houston 

In 2016 Mayor Sylvester Turner selected Juliet Stipeche to serve as Director of Education, a new position within the mayor’s administration. Stipeche passionately believes that public education is a human right, the great social equalizer, and the foundation for a prosperous community. She is excited to collaborate with educational institutions and community partners to build lasting relationships to promote educational opportunity and excellence in the City of Houston. 

Stipeche attended University of Texas School of Law and was elected to the Texas Law Fellowships program where she assisted in raising funds to provide stipends for students. Stipeche received her B.A. from Rice University and was awarded the Joseph Cooper Prize as the most outstanding Policy Studies student in her graduating class. After graduation, she spent the summer as an adult advisor for the YMCA’s International Exchange Program to Kyoto, Japan, and participated in the Hiroshima Peace Conference. Stipeche was born and raised in Houston and is the daughter of immigrant parents from Argentina and Mexico. She graduated valedictorian of the High School for Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice and earned an academic scholarship to Rice University. She also received an academic scholarship from the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. Prior to college, she participated in the YMCA’s Mano-A-Mano Sin Fronteras Exchange Program where she worked with children in an impoverished colonia near Chihuahua, Mexico, and assisted with the development of a dental health program.


Paula Sutton

Senior Financial Advisor, Senior Vice President-Investments, Wells Fargo Advisors 

Paula Sutton has been recognized as a Premier Advisor, a distinction reserved for the firm’s top producers who demonstrate exceptional client service. Her experience includes 32 years with a former firm before joining Wells Fargo in 2009. Sutton majored in accounting with a minor in art at the University of Arkansas. With an emphasis on continuing education, she earned the Chartered Retirement Planning Counselor SM certification by meeting rigorous professional standards and passing a comprehensive examination from the College of Financial Planning. As a Financial Advisor, Sutton manages assets for individuals, trusts, retirement plans, charitable organizations and businesses.  Her mission is to provide objective and timely financial advice and guidance with the highest level of professional service. 

Sutton is active in the community and participates in many civic organizations including serving as chair of the board at Interfaith Ministries of Greater Houston and volunteering for Career and Recovery Resources, Pratham, USA, the Tagore Society, Gaston LeNotre Endowment and Scholarship, Girl’s Inc. of Greater Houston, and Reverend Lawson’s Institute for Peace and Prosperity.


Hannah Terry

Associate Pastor, Westbury United Methodist Church 

Hannah Terry is an ordained United Methodist deacon and serves alongside and connects with the church and the world as friend, neighbor, and visionary. She is passionate about creating a community where all persons are welcomed. She discerned with the people of Westbury UMC that southwest Houston needed trust-building and holy friendships for the purpose of personal wholeness, communal healing, and systemic change. Terry founded Fondren Apartment Ministry (FAM) in 2013 which works for justice by building community among refugees, immigrants and local Houstonians through practices of hospitality, storytelling, and inclusivity. She lives in FAM's intentional Christian community and builds bridges in the neighborhood to cultivate prayer and action. 

Terry received her B.A. from Roberts Wesleyan College and M.Div. from Duke University.


Frances Valdez   

Owner, FValdezLaw PC 

Frances Valdez is an activist lawyer who works in Houston at her firm FValdezLaw PC.  Valdez is a graduate of University of Texas School of Law. She began her career as a clinical fellow with the UT Immigration Clinic and was part of the team that fought to end family detention at the T. Don Hutto Detention Facility in Taylor, Texas. Through her work at Neighborhood Centers Inc., Valdez developed best practices for providing individuals with naturalization and DACA assistance through free, group processing workshops. 

Valdez is a founding member of Latino Giving Houston, a giving circle that provides funds for nonprofits serving the Latino community in the Greater Houston Area. Valdez is also a member of the National Immigration Project and has been the AILA Citizenship Day Coordinator for the Texas Chapter since 2012.


Amitha Verma   

CEO, Amitha Verma, LLC, and Owner, Village Antiques 

Amitha Verma is an award-winning interior designer, popular YouTuber and frequent guest on networks like The Home Shopping Network, CBS, FOX, and NBC. She created her sought-after paint line, Amitha Verma Chalk Finish Paint, to help an exponentially growing number of homeowners who want to create the house of their dreams without breaking the bank. When she is not busy with news appearances, blogging for 30,000+ subscribers, hosting paint workshops and working on design projects, you can find her at the antique, furniture and home décor store that she owns and operates in Houston. Village Antiques is widely known as the place for everything antiques, furniture and home décor, with a wide selection of one-of-a-kind pieces. The perfect piece awaits every style, taste and budget. Not only is Village Antiques a prime shopping destination, customers rave about the store’s paint workshops, demos, seminars and events.


Kiran Verma   

Executive Chef and Owner, Kiran’s Restaurant 

Chef Kiran Verma is considered the ‘godmother of Indian fine dining’ and has created world-class Indian cuisine at her eponymous restaurant, which reopened at a new location in Upper Kirby in January this year. 

Chef Kiran is self-taught and was guided by her Indian upbringing and love of fine cuisine. She defines her menu as a combination of cultures, philosophies and cooking techniques. The restaurant is known for serving Indian hospitality, with French sophistication and American informality. Kiran’s award-winning wine list of over 300 labels, along with monthly wine dinners, complements the delicate flavors of the food. Guests also enjoy an afternoon tea service every Friday and Saturday. Chef Kiran recently launched her own chai blend. 

The many awards bestowed upon her restaurant include Best New Restaurant – Zagat 2006, Award of Excellence – Wine Spectator 2006-2016, Chef of the Year Nominee – My Table Magazine 2010, 2013, and she was selected to be a participant in Michelle Obama’s ‘Chefs Move to Schools’ Campaign in 2010.  Kiran is involved with Aid to Victims of Domestic Abuse, March of Dimes, Virtuosi of Houston, Houston Symphony, Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, M.D. Anderson, UNICEF, Akshaya Patra, and Recipe for Success.  


Alvia J. Wardlaw, PhD

Director and Curator, University Museum, Texas Southern University 

Dr. Alvia Wardlaw is a scholar in the field of African, African American, and modern and contemporary art.  She began a teaching career at Texas Southern University in 1972 as an art historian in the Department of Art.  Concurrently, she started working for the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, where she served for 22 years as curator of education, curator of African art, and curator of modern and contemporary art.  In 1996 Wardlaw became the first African American to receive a Ph.D. in art history from the University of Texas at Austin.  Her dissertation on the art of John Biggers became the basis for a major retrospective organized by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and curated by Dr. Wardlaw. The exhibition examined the impact that the artist’s travels to Africa had on his work, and the show toured six cities including Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Richmond, Virginia; and Boston, Massachusetts. Dr. Wardlaw received major awards for this and other exhibitions including The Quilts of Gee’s Bend; Our New Day Begun: African American Artists Entering the New Millennium; Something All Our Own: The Grant Hill Collection of African American Art; and Thornton Dial in the 21st Century. In 2010, Wardlaw was awarded the Wellesley College Alumnae Achievement Award for her outstanding contributions to the field of American art. 

As director and curator of the University Museum at Texas Southern University, Wardlaw has organized over forty exhibitions including the acclaimed exhibition Traces of Confucius where she collaborated with University Confucius Institute to bring the exhibition to Houston from the University of Maryland. Dr. Wardlaw is currently working closely with the National Museum of Tanzania to bring art and artifacts to the University Museum. Dr. Wardlaw grew up in Houston, where she attended Jack Yates High School. She graduated with an A.B. from Wellesley College and received an M.A. from the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University. While in New York, Wardlaw worked at the Museum of Natural History and completed an internship at the Studio Museum in Harlem.


Andrea White 

Editorial Board, Houston Chronicle 

Andrea White currently serves on the editorial board of the Houston Chronicle. After retiring from the practice of law in 1990, she published four books of historical fiction: Surviving Antarctica, Window Boy, Radiant Girl, and most recently Windows on the World. In 2006, Surviving Antarctica was selected for the Bluebonnet list and awarded the Texas State Reading Association Golden Spur award for the best book by a Texas author. Her second novel, Window Boy, was translated into Chinese with a forward written by NBA star Yao Ming. In 2012, Windows on the World won the Spirit of Texas award for middle school fiction. 

White serves on the boards of Houston A+ Challenge and the Houston Museum of Natural Science and is a graduate of American Leadership Forum and Leadership Texas. Married for 30 years, Andrea and former Mayor Bill White are the parents of three young professionals.


Beth White   

President and CEO, Houston Parks Board 

As one of the nation’s leading urban park planners, Beth White brings a broad range of experience and accomplishments to her role at Houston Parks Board. In January 2012, President Obama appointed White to the National Capital Planning Commission, the federal planning agency for the National Capital Region. Prior to her role at Houston Parks Board, she served as director, Chicago region, for The Trust For Public Land and oversaw the development of Chicago’s innovative park and elevated trail system, The 606. Over the past decade, White has led several successful projects that involved public-private partnerships, planning, fundraising and opening new parks throughout the Chicago metropolitan region, spanning three states. White was also instrumental in the designation of Hackmatack, the only U.S. National Wildlife Refuge within 150 miles of Chicago and Milwaukee. 

Prior to her work at The Trust for Public Land, White served as Chicago Housing Authority managing director in charge of communication activities, resource development and intergovernmental relations. She also served as Chief of Staff for the Chicago Transit Board, directed the initial phases of Chicago's $100 million Empowerment Zone program, supervised the City of Chicago's award-winning CitySpace program, and, as the founding executive director of the non-profit Friends of the Chicago River, led the creation of the lauded Chicago River Urban Design Guidelines. She holds a M.A. from Loyola University and a B.A. from Northwestern University.


Dawniel Winningham  

CEO and Founder, Dawniel Patterson Winningham International 

Dawniel Patterson Winningham is America’s leading quit coach. She is a former JP Morgan Chase vice president, certified executive coach, master sales, master business, and master life coach who left corporate America to live her dream of helping others live their dreams. She is the best-selling author of multiple books. Her most recent book Passion, Purpose, and Profit debuted at number one in five categories on Amazon. She has been featured in over 100 magazines including Ladies Home Journal, Redbook, and Essence Magazine and online publications such as Huffington Post, Careerbuilder.com, and todayshow.com. Each day she empowers 1000’s of women via livestream to quit their job and live their dreams with practical tips and techniques and a mindset shift to match.


Aimee Woodall  

Owner and Founder, The Black Sheep Agency 

Aimee Woodall leads The Black Sheep Agency, a cause-driven brand strategy firm that works with companies and organizations to activate people around things that matter. A founding member of The Creative Alliance, her clients include the Obama White House Administration, the CW Network, NRG, Neighborhood Centers and grassroots causes across the nation. Named Mid-Size Agency of the Year by PRSA in 2015 and one of Houston Business Journal’s Top 10 Best Places to work for the past four consecutive years, Black Sheep aims to shift perspectives, inspire action and build communities that, once united, can create unstoppable social change.


Lynn S. Wyatt    


Lynn Wyatt is a fashion icon named to the International Best Dressed list, a legendary philanthropist, and hostess. Wyatt has chaired some of the most prestigious events benefitting the world's important causes. In 1981, Princess Grace of Monaco invited her to chair the prestigious annual Bal de la Rose in Monaco, to benefit the Red Cross and the American Hospital of Paris. 

She has received distinguished and esteemed honors including the Order of Arts and Letters, rank of Officer, by the Government of France, for her significant contributions to the enrichment of the French cultural inheritance. She was also appointed to the Board of the U.S. Naval Academy by President Reagan, and served as an advisor for the Academy when it first considered accepting women. 

She and her husband of over 50 years, Oscar S. Wyatt, Jr., are proud of their four sons Steve, Douglas, Trey and Brad, and two grandchildren Ford and Catherine Wyatt. Lynn's parents, Ann and Bernard Sakowitz, taught her the importance of giving back to the community by example. Wyatt serves in various roles for worthwhile organizations including a lifetime trustee of the Star of Hope Mission for the Homeless, the vice chair of the Houston Grand Opera, The Alley Theater executive committee, a founding trustee of the film department and lifetime trustee for the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, a member of the executive committee for the Houston Ballet, a founding trustee for The Princess Grace Foundation, USA, and an honorary director for the American Hospital in Paris.


Kelly Zúñiga   

CEO, Holocaust Museum Houston 

Dr.  Kelly J. Zúñiga serves as CEO at the Holocaust Museum Houston, which is dedicated to educating people about the Holocaust, remembering the 6 million Jews and other innocent victims and honoring the survivors' legacy. She is responsible for all museum operations and reports to a 30-member Board of Trustees and a 75-member Board of Advisors.  Her past work includes key fundraising positions with the Houston Community College Foundation, Houston Zoo, University of Houston System, Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Connecticut, Claremont Graduate University in Claremont, California, and Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.  She earned her Ed.D. from the University of Houston, an M.B.A. from the University of San Diego and a B.S. from San Diego State University. 

Dr. Zúñiga is an adjunct lecturer at Texas A&M University Bush School of Government & Public Service and an adjunct lecturer at the Rice University Center for Philanthropy & Nonprofit Leadership at the Susanne M. Glasscock School of Continuing Studies. She is also a member of the Greater Houston Partnership’s Executive Women’s Partnership, the Houston Museum District Executive Board, and is a Sr. Fellow, American Leadership Forum Class of XXXIV. She was named in 2013 by Houston Woman Magazine as Houston’s 50 Most Influential Women of 2012 and in 2016 was awarded by the Association of Fundraising Professionals Greater Houston Chapter the M. Anne Murphy Award for Professional Advancement.


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