2020 - University of Houston
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2020 Biographies

Jennifer Alleva
Managing Partner, Your Part-Time Controller
Founder, Women in Nonprofit Leadership Conference 

Jennifer Alleva is Managing Partner at Your Part-Time Controller, LLC, an organization dedicated to building stronger nonprofits through expert financial services and management. A Boston College graduate and CPA, Jennifer joined YPTC in 2003 after a career in public accounting in positions such as Director of Finance and CFO with Arthur Andersen. She was made Partner at YPTC in 2007 and Managing Partner in 2017. In addition to her role as Managing Partner at YPTC, Jennifer is the founder of the highly successful Women in Nonprofit Leadership (WINPL) Conference. The WINPL brings together 400+ Philadelphia- area executive directors, board members, founders, and other nonprofit leaders for a full day of learning, collaboration, and networking. Jennifer is so grateful to be able to offer this amazing opportunity to the nonprofit community and looks forward to the inevitable growth of the conference in years to come. 

Jennifer is a subject matter expert in nonprofit finance and leadership. Part of her personal mission and the mission of YPTC is to educate Executive Directors and Board members on nonprofit financial management issues and best practices. Jen has also served as an adjunct professor at the University of Pennsylvania Fels Institute. Jen also serves several nonprofits as a volunteer and Board members. She is a South Jersey Impact100 member, raises funds and awareness for Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy, and has been Treasurer of the Board for Catholic Partnership Schools in Camden since 2012 and recently joined the Board of the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance. 


Aida Araissi
Founder and CEO, Bilateral Chamber of Commerce and Teachers Educating Across Cultures in Harmony (TEACH) 

In 1997, Ms. Araissi founded the Bilateral US-Arab Chamber of Commerce to promote trade, investment, training, and educational exchanges between the US and the Arab World. Her extensive experience in foreign direct investment consulting includes developing roadshows for the Kingdom of Bahrain, the State of Qatar, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the Republic of Egypt, and US Agencies such as the Trade and Development Agency and the Department of State. 

Ms. Araissi received her BA in Journalism with a minor in Political Science from the University of Houston. She has been internationally recognized for business advocacy with the US Commercial Service Award for Excellence in Export Promotion, the United Arab Emirates Ministry of Foreign Trade & Commercial commendation (for her dedication and commitment to strengthening ties between UAE and the US), and the State of Georgia’s US Congress Commendation award as a Leading Women to Watch. 

Spanning over eighteen states in the US, Ms. Araissi’s work with TEACH has reached thousands of students. Its global awareness programming is aimed at inspiring teachers to empower the next generation to learn about the world and appreciate diversity.    


April Laurel Bailey
Executive Vice President in Commercial Banking and Marine Finance, Amegy Bank

As the Executive Vice President in Commercial Banking and Marine Finance, April focuses on the middle market banking for clients with revenues between $20 million to over $1 billion in various industries in the Houston and Gulf Coast area. Her responsibilities include originating, negotiating, and closing new commercial loans and deposits for existing and new clients; cross-selling other products and services within the bank; and managing a team of lenders and portfolio managers.

April received her BBA in Finance from the University of Houston and her MBA in Finance from the University of St. Thomas. She served as a board member and the Treasurer for the Executive Committee of the Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. April is currently a board member of the Greater Houston Women’s Chamber of Commerce and a member of the Greater Houston Partnership’s Executive Women’s Partnership. Additionally, April is a graduate of the International Women’s Forum Fellows Program (Class of 2018) and is a recipient of the 2011 Top 40 under 40 from the Houston’s Business Journal.

April was born and raised in the Houston area. She and her husband, Kevin, have two children: fourteen-year-old Isabella and eleven-year-old Jackson.   


Leah Barton
Vice President, Direct Energy 

Leah Barton has nearly 20 years of energy experience spanning downstream, retail energy, and renewables. She most recently served as Vice President, Connected Home at Direct Energy, leading development of a rapidly-growing smart home portfolio. As Vice President and General Manager, Home Protection at Direct Energy, she was responsible for the successful turnaround of their home warranty, protection plan, and appliance businesses. Leah has held leadership roles in IT, finance, marketing, and operations at Centrica plc, MXenergy, and Shell Chemical LP. Early in her career, Leah managed hydrogen power system engineering with Nuvera Fuel Cells and taught math and physics as a U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer in Tanzania.

Leah received the 2019 Houston Business Journal "Women Who Mean Business in Energy" award and was also recognized by the City of Jersey City, NJ for her Hurricane Sandy relief efforts. She is active in the Houston community, currently serving as a Board Member of Child Advocates, Director of the St. Paul's United Methodist Foundation, Advisory Board Member of ProUnitas, Advisory Board Member of the UH Institute for Research on Women, Gender, and Sexuality, and an American Leadership Forum Senior Fellow. Leah is Past President of EMERGE Fellowship, the UH Friends of Women's Studies, the Yale Club of Houston, and the Wharton Club of Houston. Leah holds a BS in Chemical Engineering from Yale, an MBA from the Wharton School, and an MA in International Relations from the University of Pennsylvania.


Allison O. Bashir
Director, HR Organizational Services – Harris Health System 

Allison O. Bashir, J.D., CDP, is the Director of Human Resources, Organizational Services, for Harris Health System. In this role, she oversees Harris Health System’s employee relations function and its diversity and inclusion initiatives. With approximately 9,000 employees, Harris Health is a fully integrated healthcare system that cares for all residents of Harris County, Texas. The system includes 18 community health centers, five same-day clinics, five school-based clinics, three multi-specialty clinic locations, a dental center and dialysis center, mobile health units and two full-service hospitals.

Allison started her career as an employment attorney with Gulf Coast regional law firm Adams & Reese LLP. From there, she transitioned into focusing on equal opportunity in higher education and employment in various roles with University of Houston, University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and now Harris Health System. Allison has also served as a Corporate Fellow with University of Houston Downtown’s School of Business and an Adjunct Professor with MD Anderson’s School of Health Professions.

Allison received her Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics from Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia and her Juris Doctorate from University of Houston Law Center. She is currently serving as a Board member for the Greater Houston Industry Liaison Group. Her favorite pastime is spending time outdoors with her daughters.


Annie Johnson Benifield, PhD
Vice President, Voter Services – League of Women Voters Houston
Chair, Social Sciences – Lone Star 

Dr. Annie Johnson Benifield is a Professor of Political Science and Chair of Social Sciences at Lone Star College - Tomball where she teaches government and politics to freshmen and sophomore students. Annie has taught at the college level for more than 25 plus years. She is currently a mentor in The Student Success Initiative (SSI) where she mentors an at-risk student at Lone Star College-Tomball. Degrees include a Ph.D in Political Science, from the University of New Orleans, 1997; a M.A. in Political Science from Clark Atlanta University, 1981; and a B.A. in History from Alabama A. & M. University, 1978.  Annie received the Lone Star College-Tomball 2019 Faculty Excellence Award and the Greater Tomball Area Chamber of Commerce Teacher of the Month (November 2019).  As an educator, Annie also served as an executive officer (Treasurer- Past President) for the Texas Community College Teachers Association (TCCTA) which is a professional development and advocacy organization from 2007-2013.  

In June 2019, Annie became the Vice -President of Voter Services League of Women Voters-Houston (LWV-H). Expertise: Works with LWV-H on voter registration projects (Naturalization Ceremonies) for 20 years.  In 2019, the LWV-H registered 31,000 new citizens at Naturalization Ceremonies. Annie served as Secretary, LWV-H 2015-2017, LWV-H Nominating Committee, 2015-2017; LWV-H Board Member 2012-2019. The League of Women Voters- Houston awarded Annie the Helen Hunter Award, June 2019 for advancing the mission of the LWV-H by bringing great credit to the to the League and benefits to the community. As part of her dedication to her alma mater, Alabama A. & M. University, a Historically Black College and University (HBCU) and to further its sphere of influence Annie is a member of Houston AAMU Alumni Chapter. She served as Secretary, Houston AAMU Alumni Chapter (2015-2019) and Chair, AAMU Houston Alumni Scholarship Committee (2005-present) which has awarded more than $5,000 dollars to worthy students who attend Alabama A & M. University from the Houston area. Annie is currently a member of Good Hope Missionary Baptist Church where she serves in the Usher Ministry.


Oni Blair
Executive Director, LINK Houston 

Oni serves as executive director of LINK Houston, a non-profit organization that advocates for equity in transportation. She was motivated to take on this inaugural position by her commitment to social justice, witnessing the importance of transportation in connecting people to opportunities through her human rights work, and her own experiences relying on public transit to reach education and employment. Oni engages community stakeholders, government officials, regional planning and transportation decision makers, national transportation and human rights organizations, and other entities to shape the transportation landscape in Houston.

Prior to leading LINK Houston, Oni was a career Foreign Service Officer with the U.S. Department of State, where she served as the Office Director for Human Rights in the Near East; special assistant to the U.S. Deputy Secretary of State; teaching fellow on humanitarian issues at Georgetown University; and in the U.S. Embassies in Jordan, Pakistan, and Iraq. Most recently, Oni served as a senior advisor to the Houston Mayor while on loan from the federal government. Oni earned a Bachelor of Arts from Texas A&M University and a master’s in public policy from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.

Outside of her formal work, Oni previously served as Chair of the Board of Directors for Atlas Corps, an international fellowship for non-profit professionals focused on social impact. She has participated in leadership programs, such as the International Career Advancement Program at the Aspen Institute and the American Council on Germany’s Young Leaders Conference. She has received numerous awards from the U.S. Department of State for her human rights work, as well as recognitions from the Houston UN Foundation and Texas A&M University for her service and mentorship.


Constance Bost
Executive Director, French American Chamber of Commerce, Houston 

Constance Bost is the Director of the French American Chamber of Commerce in Houston. Her mission is to strengthen the business relationships between France and Texas. Throughout her career, Ms. Bost lead the growth of different organizations in various countries. In Texas, she managed the development of a French retail luxury brand, before joining the Chamber of Commerce. Prior to 2015, Constance Bost launched a sustainable fashion brand in partnership with a non-profit organization empowering woman in Vietnam.

She is passionate about growing businesses that are meaningful and support the community. Constance served as a Board Member for the Alliance for Multicultural Community Services, a non-profit organization providing opportunities for refugees and underserved communities.

Constance lives in Houston with her husband Julien, and their five children. 


Shannon Buggs
Director, Complete Communities - City of Houston 

Shannon Buggs develops strong collaborative relationships with neighborhood residents, City of Houston departments, other government agencies and officials, private donors, and non-profit organizations to fulfill the Complete Communities Action Plans. Buggs previously worked as director of community and public relations at The Woman's Hospital of Texas, director of communication for the University of Houston’s College of Liberal Arts & Social Sciences, and business columnist and reporter for the Houston Chronicle.  She also served as the founding executive director of Culture Source, Inc. (formerly CultureWorks Greater Houston), a fiscal sponsorship and management consulting nonprofit.

A Houston native, Buggs is a longtime supporter of the city’s nonprofit sector and has held volunteer leadership positions with the Harvey Arts Recovery Fund, Houston Arts Alliance, Writers in the Schools and other arts and public service organizations. She is a senior fellow of the American Leadership Forum and an alumna and former trustee of Episcopal High School in Bellaire. Buggs earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and American Literature from Harvard University, a Master of Science degree in journalism from Northwestern University, and a certificate in financial planning from the University of Houston.


Elizabeth Chiao, MD
Professor, Baylor College of Medicine 

Dr. Chiao is a Professor in the Department of Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine. Boarded in both Infectious Diseases and Medical Oncology, Dr. Chiao’s clinical work and research focus on malignancies associated with both HIV and human papillomavirus (HPV). She is a nationally recognized authority who has contributed substantially to the understanding of how best to care for HIV-infected and other immunosuppressed patients at risk for malignancies, with an emphasis on screening these individuals for cancer. She has authored over 90 articles published in peer-reviewed journals, and several book chapters. In addition, she in on the Board of Scientific Advisors Ad hoc committee on AIDS and Malignancies for the National Cancer Institue (NCI). Dr. Chiao has been dedicated to educating the community about HPV-related cancers, as well as the community infected or affected by HIV infection, providing numerous lectures at activities hosted by the Center For AIDS, the Legacy Clinic, and the AIDS Education Training Center for Oklahoma/Texas, New York and Utah. Her opinions have been sought by local newspaper, and radio news media, including Houstonian Magazine and KTRH Houston.

Dr. Chiao received her undergraduate degree and M.D. degrees from Cornell University and has a Master’s in Public Health from Yale University. She completed her internship and residency in Internal Medicine at the University of Utah, subspecialty training in Oncology at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, followed by a fellowship in Infectious Diseases at Baylor College of Medicine. She has been on faculty at Baylor College of Medicine since 2006.


Dr. Lori Choi
Founder, I'll Have What She's Having

Lori Choi, M.D. founded I’ll Have What She’s Having (IHWSH) in 2017, connecting two of the most dynamic enterprises of the Bayou City: the restaurant and health care industries. To address an estimated 60-95% uninsured rate among hospitality workers and the public health consequences of a weakened safety net, IHWSH raises awareness and funds for women’s health and aims to create a supportive network of mentors and up-and-comers in food and beverage. The volunteer-run organization is more than 100 strong and has contributed over 250K to local healthcare, raised via popup events that team the next generation of Houston culinary stars with seasoned veterans of the kitchen and bar. IHWSH will fund preventive medical care for hundreds of uninsured workers this year, aspiring to promote a culture of physical and mental health in our vibrant restaurant community.

Dr. Choi grew up in rural NC as the child of immigrants and attended medical school in Brooklyn, NY. She trained in general and vascular surgery at Baylor College of Medicine and lectured nationally as an academic surgeon at UTMB-Galveston and the Cleveland Clinic before turning her attention to underserved communities across the United States. 


Hon. Ellen Cohen
Former Houston City Councilwoman and Table Talk Suffrage Centennial Honoree 

Ellen served her third and final term as Mayor Pro Tem for Houston. Before this role, Ellen was the Council Member representing District C, having been sworn into office in January 2012. During her tenure as a Council Member, Ellen championed the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, the elimination of sexual assault kit backlog, the creation of a dedicated Human Trafficking Unit in the Houston Police Department, and many other initiatives to improve the lives of her constituents.

Ellen has lived and worked in Houston for the past 42 years. For ten years, she served as the Executive Director of the American Jewish Committee. For eighteen years, she was the CEO of the Houston Area Women’s Center, working with survivors of sexual and domestic violence. In 2006, Ellen was elected as the Texas State Representative for District 134 and served two terms. 


Hon. Sarah Davis
Texas State Representative 

Sarah Davis is a civil defense attorney with the national law firm Wilson Elser and is serving her fifth term as State Representative for District 134 in Houston, Texas. She is the current Vice Chair of the Harris County Delegation, the Secretary of the Women’s Health Caucus, and The Speaker’s appointee to the Texas Access to Justice Commission. As an accomplished and successful attorney, Sarah has devoted her career to defending personal injury lawsuits.

In 1998, Sarah graduated Baylor University with an undergraduate degree in Economics and went on to earn her Law Degree from the University of Houston in 2001. She was first elected to the Texas House of Representatives in 2010 and has since served on the Appropriations, Calendars, Public Health, General Investigating, and Ethics Committees. Texas Monthly named Representative Davis one of the top legislators for her work in the 85th legislative session.

Sarah is a breast cancer survivor and lives with her husband, Kent Adams, and their yorkie, Barret, in Houston’s Museum District.


Christine Ehlig-Economides
Professor of Petroleum Engineering, University of Houston 

Christine is professor, and Hugh Roy and Lillie Cranz Cullen Distinguished University Chair at the University of Houston. Her research interests include production and reservoir engineering of conventional and unconventional reservoirs.

Before coming the University of Houston, Dr. Ehlig-Economides worked for Schlumberger for twenty years and was a professor at Texas A&M University for ten years. She holds a PhD in Petroleum Engineering from Stanford University, an MS in Chemical Engineering from the University of Kansas, and a BA in Math-Science from Rice University. She is an Honorary Member of the Society of Petroleum Engineers and a member of the National Academy of Engineering.  

Dr. Ehlig-Economides has authored and/or co-authored more than a hundred and twenty technical papers and has two patents.


Hon. Jessica Farrar
Former Democratic Member, Texas House of Representatives 

Jessica Christina Farrar is an American politician and a former Democratic member of the Texas House of Representatives. She was first elected to the legislature in 1994 at the age of twenty-seven and was the longest serving Hispanic member of the House from Harris County, Texas.

Farrar served as the vice-chairman of the House Committee on Judiciary & Civil Jurisprudence and was a member on the House Committee on State Affairs. In addition, Representative Farrar served as the chairwoman of the Texas House Women's Health Caucus. During the 82nd Legislative session, she served as the head of the Texas House Democratic Caucus.


Charlene Flash, MD
President and CEO, Avenue 360 

Dr. Charlene Flash is the current President and CEO of Avenue 360 Health & Wellness (Avenue 360) network of health and health equity locations across the Greater Houston area. Dr. Flash has passion and commitment for delivering high-quality, evidence-based healthcare and for ending health inequities. Most recently Associate Chief Medical Officer at Legacy Community Health, Dr. Charlene Flash also holds a clinical faculty position as an assistant professor of medicine at Baylor College of Medicine. Dr. Flash previously developed and led Harris Health’s HIV Prevention Program, touching many lives throughout Southeast Texas. She graduated from Yale University and earned her medical degree and Master of Public Health from Rutgers University.


Kanitra Fletcher
Associate Curator, Modern and Contemporary Art 

Kanitra Fletcher joined the staff of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston in 2017 and is assistant curator in the Modern and Contemporary Art department. A native Houstonian, she attended Rutgers University, where she received a B.A. in English Literature, and University of Texas at Austin, where she received an M.A. in Latin American Studies with a focus on Brazilian art and cultural history. In 2019, she completed her PhD on black aesthetics and the avant-garde at Cornell University. Ms. Fletcher also has published several articles on contemporary art of the black diaspora, and she serves as curator of video art projects for Landmarks, the public art program of the University of Texas at Austin.


Monica Foley
Chief of Staff- Johnson Space Center, NASA 

Monica Lee Foley is the Chief of Staff at NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston, TX. In this role, Monica leads the integration of technical issues across the Center and advises the Center Director on NASA Headquarters initiatives. She manages several JSC senior forums and serves as an advocate for change management, diversity, and inclusion contributing to the success of initiatives to inspire creativity and innovation among all JSC employees.  

Prior to this role, Monica led negotiations between NASA and the Russian Space Agency on behalf of the International Space Station Program. She was responsible for managing NASA’s largest international contract valued above $4 billion dollars. Monica began her NASA career in 1998 as an International Space Station Flight Controller, has spent over 1000 hours on console in the Mission Control Center and was the first to earn 3 certifications specializing in the Electrical Power Systems on the spacecraft. 

She has held key positions in Human Spaceflight for the past 22 years and began her career at the age of 21. Monica is an avid promoter for STEM and STEAM and leads efforts to educate and mentor youth and girls through various outreach affiliations. She is a board member of the Pangea Network, a non-profit organization that mentors TX high school girls and creates micro-lending networks which fund woman owned businesses in Kenya. 

Born in Baton Rouge, LA, Monica earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Physics from the Southern University A&M College. She earned her Master of Business Administration from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sloan School of Business. 

Monica is the recipient of NASA’s Exceptional Achievement Medal. 


Kam Franklin
Lead Singer-The Suffers 

Kam Franklin is a singer-songwriter, activist, writer, motivational speaker, and actress from Houston, TX. She is best known for her work with the Gulf Coast soul band, The Suffers, but Kam began performing in public at the age of five. A three-time recipient of the Houston Press Music Award for Best Female Vocalist, Kam has performed on five continents and has performed with the Suffers backed by The Houston Symphony in addition to being featured solo.  

Both Forbes and Vice have featured Kam for her activism and business ventures that seek to create an inclusive environment in the arts for female artists working in all mediums and from all backgrounds. Kam’s unique style and fashion-sense has also been covered by Buzzfeed, Refinery 29, and Nylon. Fronting The Suffers, Kam has performed nationally on The Late Show with David Letterman, The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, and Jimmy Kimmel Live in addition to speaking about The Suffers with Ari Shapiro on NPR’s All Things Considered.  

At home, Kam remains a very active participant in the Houston music scene, producing events that have featured up-and-coming acts from around the Houston area while leveraging her and The Suffers’ international platform to represent the City of Houston and champion her entrepreneurial approach to finding success in the arts for women. 


Regina Garcia
Owner, Events Gifts

Regina Garcia is the owner of Houston’s iconic Events Gifts in River Oaks. Her retail career spans over four decades and her philosophy has always been to build her business on the principles of philanthropy, community connections and superior customer service. She honed her retail expertise by working for Marshall Fields and at multiple Macy’s locations. Regina is dedicated to providing her customers with impeccable gifts such as glass art, sculptures, artwork, custom high-end stationary, an extensive bridal registry, collections of fine china and crystal and the new collection of crystal chandeliers. She has always been passionate about education, the arts and the environment, and much of her time is spent benefiting all three. She serves on the boards of The Downtown Redevelopment Authority (TIRZ3), the Houston Symphony League, and the United Way Women’s Alexis de Coquille Platinum Group, Houston. She is a past board member of The Women’s Fund and Houston Arts Alliance. She co-chaired Memorial Hermann Hospital’s “Razzle Dazzle” Breast Cancer Luncheon, making it one of the most successful events in the organization’s history. Regina has donated her store as an event destination for a multitude of charitable functions whereby the organization benefit from each item sold, such as the Houston Symphony Guild, the American Heart Association Christmas Party, Heart Card Easter Egg Hunt and the Houston Ballet Nutcracker Fashion Show. Regina donates auction items to numerous organizations.


Cyndy Garza-Roberts
Director of Community Impact, Comcast NBCUniversal-Houston Division 

As Director of Community Impact, Cyndy Garza-Roberts is responsible for the Houston Division of Comcast NBCUniversal’s public relations, community relations, and philanthropic giving. She also serves on the Board of Directors for Latin Women’s Initiative and under her leadership as its President, the organization contributed half a million dollars to non-profits serving the needs of underserved Hispanic women and children.

Cyndy is the eldest daughter of Ramon and Mary Louise Garza, and a native of San Antonio. After graduating the University of Texas at Austin, Cyndy started her career in broadcasting as a news reporter for KTBC-TV (CBS) and in 1979, became a television broadcaster in Houston at KTRK-TV, Channel 13. Ms. Garza is listed as one of the “Top 50 Most Influential Women in Houston” by Houston Woman Magazine and was awarded the Outstanding Woman of the Year- Media Category by the Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. A YMCA Hispanic Women’s Hall of Fame inductee, Cyndy is described as ranking among the best and strongest voices within the Houston Hispanic community.

Cyndy is married to retired Houston firefighter, Thomas Roberts, and is a Lifetime member of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. She and her husband enjoy spending time with their three horses.


Nina Godiwalla
US Director of Diversity and Inclusion, Norton Rose Fulbright 

Prior to Norton Rose Fulbright, Nina spent a decade working for Fortune 500 corporations including Morgan Stanley and Johnson & Johnson. She then become the President of MindWorks Leadership, a company that provides leadership and diversity training. The company’s clients include the White House, Harvard Business School, NASA, and British Petroleum. 

Nina holds an MBA from Wharton School of Business, an MA from Dartmouth College, and a BBA from the University of Texas. In 2012, she was inducted into the Texas Women’s Hall of Fame, joining other influential women such as Barbara Bush and Sandra Day O’Connor. 

Nina has been featured in major media including USA Today, Forbes, TIME magazine, NPR, MSNBC, and CNN. She is also a bestselling author and a nationally recognized leader in diversity.


Leslie Goldman
General Partner and Co-Founder, The Artemis Fund 

Leslie, along with her two partners Stephanie Campbell and Diana Murakhovskaya, established the Artemis Fund, a female-led and invests exclusively in female founded, female-led companies. Evidence shows that female-led (diverse) teams deliver higher value and returns, yet the gender funding disparity continues. With its focus on high growth, high impact, seed and Series A stage companies, the Artemis Fund seeks to increase access to capital for female founders. 

Leslie is a board member of the Houston Angel Network, a board member and advisory board member of early stage companies, a member of the Investment Committee of Blue Ivy Ventures (an AVG Fund), and an advisor to Rebel Fund in Silicon Valley (a YCombinator Fund). She is also a speaker on Venture Capital financing, diversity in the startup company, and angel investing.


Mia Gradney
Evening News Anchor, KHOU 11

Native Houstonian Mia Gradney is an Emmy Award-winning talent and the 5, 6 and 10 p.m. anchor at KHOU 11 News in Houston, Texas. For two decades, Mia has covered everything from historic hurricanes to major Hollywood red carpet events and national sports championships. She specializes in breaking news/continuous coverage and special events with interests in women empowerment/job readiness, health & wellness and sports entertainment.

One of her defining career moments came when she navigated Houstonians through one of our nation’s most catastrophic natural disasters, Hurricane Harvey, with almost 138 non-stop hours of airtime despite the flooding and evacuation of KHOU 11’s building. The breaking news coverage was later recognized with an Edward R. Murrow Award.

Mia is a proud alumna of Sam Houston State University with a degree in Radio/Television/Film and a specialty track in broadcast news. In 2016, the university honored and inducted her into its Distinguished Alumni Society. She is also a past inductee into the school’s Dan Rather Hall of Fame. Other professional awards and honors include: Lone Star Emmy Awards, Lone Star Emmy nominations, and M.D. Anderson Cancer Hospital’s Karen Harrison Service Award.

Mia’s passion for journalism is matched by her incredible generosity of spirit and commitment to community. She volunteers for a variety of organizations and special causes including female empowerment at all ages, pediatric cancer research & awareness and childhood literacy.


Carol Haddock, PE
Director, Houston Public Works, COH 

Carol Ellinger Haddock is Director of Houston Public Works, the largest American Public Works Association accredited agency in the nation.  The department is responsible for the City’s water and wastewater systems; street and storm drainage systems and regulation of both public and private development. To accomplish this, the department has a trained work force of nearly 4,000, an annual operating budget of $2.1 billion and an annual capital budget of three-quarters of a billion dollars.  

Carol has been at the City for fourteen years.  In her two years in leadership, the department has weathered Hurricane Harvey, set records for water treatment in a day, reduced environmental impacts in both the wastewater and stormwater systems, maintained a next business day pot-hole program 99% of the time and supported more than $6 billion in development – much of that related to Hurricane Harvey Recovery.  

Prior to joining Houston Public Works, Carol worked in private consulting, for the Harris County Flood Control District, and as a Congressional Fellow for the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. Carol is a licensed Professional Engineer in the State of Texas with a Civil Engineering Bachelor’s degree from Rice University and has a Master’s degree in Public Administration from the University of Houston.  She has been married to Will Haddock, a Houston attorney, for ten years. 


Helene Harding
Engineer and Executive - Retired, ConocoPhillips 

Helene Harding graduated Summa Cum Laude from Texas A&M University in 1982 with a BS Degree in Chemical Engineering. She recently retired from ConocoPhillips after 37 years of distinguished service with extensive leadership expertise in upstream operations, strategy and planning, unconventional reservoir development, international business development and delivering superior financial results. From 2018-2019 she was Vice President, Great Plains Business Unit, for ConocoPhillips and was responsible for the development of their Permian, Niobrara and Bakken fields. 

Previously Helene was Vice President Gulf Coast Business Unit and led the development of their Eagle Ford field from a few wells to over 1000 wells and over 200,000 BOEPD net production.  Helene was also the Vice President Alaska North Slope Operations and Development, General Manager Subsurface Technology, and General Manager Gulf of Mexico and South Texas assets.  Prior to joining Conoco in 2011, Helene was Asset Manager for BP’s Western Gulf of Mexico Shelf and prior to 2010 Helene held leadership assignments in ARCO International including Finance Director for the Former Soviet Union and Engineering Manager for Worldwide New Ventures.

Helene was Executive Sponsor of the ConocoPhillips Women’s Network and was selected as one of the “Women Worth Watching in 2013” by Profiles in Diversity Journal. In 2015 she was named one of the "Women in Energy" by Houston Business Journal.


Marian Harper
Vice President-Foundation Development, Player Engagement and Family Relations – Houston Astros 

Marian Harper joined the Astros in 1992. As Vice President of Foundation Development, she helps manage programs and fundraising for the Astros Foundation, the official team charity of the Astros. She was instrumental in the development of the Astros Urban Youth Academy, a cornerstone program of the Astros Foundation. Marian also assists with the team's community relations efforts, which includes organizing the Astros wives’ programs as well as utilizing her extensive knowledge of local non-profit organizations and her dedication to the Houston community. Marian also works to further develop the Astros Alumni Association. 

Marian serves on the board of directors for the Downtown Management District Board and the Ensemble Theatre. She is a graduate of Leadership Houston and was honored with the prestigious Jimmy Wynn Toy Cannon Award for exceptional community service at the Texas Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony in 2007. 

A native of Pittsburg, Texas, Marian started as a promotion’s coordinator for the Marketing and Sponsorship departments, then moved to Director of Community Relations working with players, alumni, fans, businesses and non-profit leaders. Over the past decade, Marian has been a key executive for all the team charities' fundraising and outreach initiatives.


Lisa Helfman
Director, Public Affairs – H-E-B
Founder, Brighter Bights 

Lisa Helfman is the Director of Public Affairs Houston for H-E-B Grocery Company and served previously as the Director of Real Estate for them.  Prior to joining H-E-B in 2014, Lisa served as Director of Real Estate Services at Texas Children’s Hospital where she created the Real Estate Services Department in order to centralize the hospital’s real estate operations. Lisa worked at Texas Children’s for seven years after leaving Vinson & Elkins where she represented many urban redevelopment clients, non-profits, and government entities in financings, real estate, and other legal matters. Lisa received her JD Magna Cum Laude from the University of Houston Law Center and her BA Cum Laude from Tulane University. 

When she isn’t pursuing dynamic sites for H-E-B, she is pushing kale smoothies to children all over underserved communities as the Founder and Board Chair of Brighter Bites. In the fall of 2011, Lisa and her family took part in a weekly fruit and vegetable co-op, and she watched her children’s eating habits transform—for the better. So much so that her little boy rejected a piece of cake at a birthday party, asking instead for the blueberries he’d grown fond of eating at home. Like most moms, Lisa realized this was a fairly significant decision for a six-year-old, and she wondered what kind of influence regular access to fresh produce might have on all children.

She was inspired to replicate this type of positive change in underserved communities identified as “food deserts,” or areas with limited access to grocery stores.  Because nutrition education in these communities is often equally lacking, Lisa’s vision was to bring a produce co-op to schools in these neighborhoods that included an educational component while also making it fun. She created a collaborative partnership with Dr. Shreela Sharma at the University of Texas School of Public Health, and launched the program now known as Brighter Bites in 2012.  Seven years later, Brighter Bites has delivered over 25,000,000 pounds of fresh produce and 100,000s of education materials to more than 300,000 individuals (including teachers!) across 125+ participating schools in Houston, Dallas, Austin, New York City, Washington D.C., and Southwest Florida.  In 2019, the Houston-Galveston chapter of the Albert Schweitzer Fellowship named Lisa its Humanitarian of the Year, Newcomb College at Tulane University also named Lisa its Community Service Alumni of the Year and Business Insider named her and Shreela to their list of top 100 Coolest People in Food and Drink. 


Jane Henry
Founder, SeeHerWork 

Jane Henry is the founder of SeeHerWork, a safety consultancy and product manufacturing company that designs, manufactures, and sells workwear, safety equipment, and other job-specific products. These products are sized to the unique body needs of both women and men. SeeHerWork was founded after the recovery from Hurricane Harvey revealed the dangers of women using ill-fitting personal protective work clothing and equipment in their work (PPE).

In 2002, Henry founded Xcution, a consultancy specializing in cultural transformations within the workforce. She was known as “The Fixer” of workforces that had gone off track, or were politically charged and need an unbiased third party to shape the path forward. Xcution’s portfolio of clients include MD Anderson Cancer Center, UT Health, BP, Chevron, Shell, and Disney Imagineering. 

Currently, Henry works with employers to set up PPE programs that support safe and inclusive work environments. 


Hon. Lisa Hidalgo
County Judge, Harris County, Texas 

Judge Lina Hidalgo was raised in an immigrant family. She knows first-hand the sacrifices hard-working Texans make every day to build a better life for their families. Judge Hidalgo was born in Colombia during the drug war. Her parents had two goals: to keep their children safe and to help them get a good education. Judge Hidalgo grew up in Peru and Mexico, before job opportunities brought her parents to the United States in 2005. She is a proud product of our public schools and, as her parents dreamed, she went on to a top university.  She graduated from Stanford University with a degree in political science the same year she became a U.S. citizen. Since arriving in Texas, Judge Hidalgo has been committed to giving back. 

She has dedicated hundreds of hours to our county’s most vulnerable communities — working at the Texas Civil Rights Project, to serving as a Spanish-English medical interpreter at the Texas Medical Center, and supporting immigrants in search of lost loved ones. While pursuing a joint degree in law and public policy at NYU and Harvard, Judge Hidalgo researched criminal justice policies and coordinated with advocacy groups and governments to push for reform. 

Wherever she has been, Judge Hidalgo has seized opportunities to serve the immigrant and incarcerated communities.  In Southeast Asia, she worked to promote transparency and accountability by supporting journalists, bloggers and artists. At Stanford, she helped create and fund a program to bring Stanford students to public policy positions. 

Judge Hidalgo was elected on November the 6, 2018 and sworn in as Harris County Judge on January 1, 2019.


Christine Holland
CEO, Rebuilding Together Houston 

Christine Holland leads Rebuilding Together Houston, a nonprofit organization that has helped over 13,000 families stay in their homes by mitigating health and safety hazards and improving the home’s overall stability. Christine was recently appointed to the City of Houston Age Friendly Livable Communities Subcommittee.  She serves on the Houston Housing Collaborative and is a partner in the Harvey Home Repair Collaborative, a coalition of five Houston nonprofits leading recovery from Hurricane Harvey and developing a strategy for future disasters. 

Prior to RTH, she was Senior Vice President at Foley’s and also worked in the commercial furniture industry. Christine has lived in Houston since 1990 with her husband Michael and multiple rescue Golden Retrievers. She has dedicated herself to serving the community through United Way and served on nonprofit boards including the Houston Area Women’s Center, Literacy Advance of Houston and the Houston Symphony.  Christine earned a BBA in Marketing at The University of Texas at Austin. 


Anita Jaisinghani
Chef & Co-owner, Pondicheri 

Anita Jaisinghani, the chef & co-owner of Pondicheri was born and raised in India and is of Sindhi descent. She developed a love for food early on in her life however trained and practiced as a microbiologist. Transitioning as a stay-at-home mother for her two children in Canada first and then Houston, she gradually developed her love of food into a career, beginning with an out-of-home catering business & selling chutneys through Whole Foods. 

Her first restaurant job was at the famous Café Annie, where she worked in the pastry department for 2 years.  Following her time at Café Annie, Anita opened Indika in 2001 serving deeply personal dishes that illustrated her desire to portray Indian food in a new light.  Pondicheri, followed in 2011, expanding with the opening of the Bake Lab + Shop in 2014 & it’s first out-of-state outpost in New York City in the summer of 2016. With all of her kaleidoscopic menus, Anita combines the complexities of Indian cuisine with leanings toward the ancient body of wisdom of Ayurveda, the magic of spices & the goodness of fresh, local ingredients.


Alba Huerta
Owner, Julep 

Born in Mexico and raised in Texas, Alba Huerta is a proud Mexican-American Houstonian. After her first job, which was working in a bar, it was not long before Alba was bartending and building her expertise as a service professional. After spending some time in Las Vegas to further hone her craft and experience high volume projects, Alba returned to Houston and in 2011 joined the Anvil Bar and Refuge team as general manager. Alba also took on the task of helping launch the Houston chapter of the United States Bartender’s Guild during this time and became involved in the Tequila Exchange Project.  

Alba later went on to partner with another local Houston bar, The Pastry War, which is a Mezcaleria that reflects her high-quality standards for agave production. In late 2014, Alba opened her own bar Julep in Houston. Julep opened to a warm reception from locals and media alike and was named one of the four finalists for Best American Cocktail Bar at Tales of the Cocktail’s 2015 Spirited Awards.  Julep has been featured in many national publications since opening, from Garden & Gun to The New York Times. Julep was also named one of the top five bars in the United States by bon appétit in 2015 and one of the twenty-four best bars in America by Esquire in 2017. 

Alba was inducted in the Tales of the Cocktail Dame Hall of Fame in 2012, and named one of Houston’s 50 Most Fascinating People by the Houston Chronicle. In 2015, Food & Wine selected her as one of ten rising-star female mixologists and was featured mixologist at the Southern Foodways Alliance’s 2013 Symposium and again in 2015, after which she was elected to serve as a board member. Alba has also been named one of the incomparable The Cherry Bombe 100 and released her first cocktail book named after her flagship bar ‘Julep’ in 2018. 

Above all, Alba is known for bringing her passion for quality wine, spirits and cocktails and her Southern hospitality to her bars and her profession. 


Maria Jibaja-Weiss
Director, Office of Outreach and Health Disparities 

Dr. Maria Jibaja-Weiss is the Director of the Office of Outreach and Health Disparities (OOHD) for the Dan L Duncan Comprehensive Cancer Center at Baylor College of Medicine. She is a nationally recognized cancer education scientist leading the development and implementation of innovative public and patient education interventions for medically underserved populations and the general public. She has more than 30 years of experience as health educator collaborator on a range of community-based chronic disease prevention and control research. She has directed the OOHD since it was established in 2007 to ensure that the diverse and medically underserved populations in the Houston area benefit from innovative outreach, education, screening, and primary prevention strategies.  In 2010, under her leadership, the OOHD established the Community Network for Cancer Prevention, a collaborative of several academic, clinical, and community-based institutions to reduce the burden of cancer in the Houston area, in particular among the medically underserved.


Rekha Lakshmanan
Director, Advocacy and Policy for The Immunization Partnership 

Rekha Lakshmanan, MHA is the Director of Advocacy and Policy for The Immunization Partnership. Lakshmanan develops and implements the organization’s public policy strategy at the Texas Legislature and oversees the statewide grassroots community engagement program. She has worked three state legislative cycles and successfully passed legislation to improve access to care and health outcomes. Additionally, she advises other states and organizations on how to build advocacy networks, teaches constituents how to advocate with lawmakers, and is a frequent speaker on state advocacy and policy initiatives. Previous to The Immunization Partnership, Lakshmanan spent over twelve years in the private sector helping health care organizations develop preventative and chronic care protocols to improve health outcomes.

Her interests include the intersection of politics and policy development and creating advocacy systems to move policy initiatives. She is a contributing expert to Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy and serves as a board member for The Houston Area Parkinson’s Society. Lakshmanan holds a master’s degree in healthcare administration from Texas Woman’s University- Houston Medical Center and a B.A. in government from The University of Texas in Austin.


Alison Leland
Director, Honors Pre-Law and Public Service, University of Houston 

Alison Leland teaches Political Science in the Honors College at the University of Houston, leads the 3+3 Law/Undergraduate Dual Degree Program and the Smithsonian Internship Program. 

A graduate of Spelman College and the Georgetown University Law Center, she spent the first part of her career with a Wall Street investment-banking firm prior to joining the University.

She is a trustee at the Menil Museum, a board member at the Texas Defenders Service, which provides representation to indigent death row inmates and the Mickey Leland Kibbutzim Internship Foundation which sends high students to Israel.


Grenita Lathan
Interim superintendent, Houston Independent School District 

Dr. Grenita Lathan was named interim superintendent of the Houston Independent School District in March 2018. Under her leadership as chief academic officer and interim superintendent, 92% of HISD’s campuses were rated Met Standard in 2019. In 1991, Dr. Lathan began her career in education as a teacher in Eden, NC. She served as assistant principal and principal at other campuses. Dr. Lathan was then named the superintendent of Peoria Public Schools in 2010. In 2015, Dr. Lathan was appointed as HISD’s chief school officer over elementary transformation schools. During this time, she led more than 20 schools out of an “improvement required” state rating to a “met standard” rating. From 2016-2018, she served as HISD’s chief academic officer. 

Dr. Lathan holds a bachelor’s degree in business education from North Carolina A&T State University, a master’s degree in business education from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and a doctoral degree from Southern Illinois University. She is a proud silver member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated and a member of the Links, Incorporated. Dr. Lathan’s passion for helping women shatter the glass ceiling motivates her to coach young women around personal and professional growth. She lives by the mantra “If I can help somebody, as I pass along. Then my living shall not be in vain.” 


Catherine Matusow
Editor in Chief, Houstonia magazine 

Catherine Matusow has been editor in chief of Houstonia magazine since 2017. She started with the magazine as executive editor, playing an integral role in launching the publication, which debuted in April 2013 and soon became the city’s largest local and only paid-circulation magazine. Over her career, Catherine has served as editor on many award-winning stories; in 2019 she was nominated for the City & Regional Magazine Association Herb Lipsum Award for Column Excellence. She’s an Advisory Council member for the University of Houston Valenti School of Communication and an Executive Advisory Board member for Clint Capela’s CC15 Foundation. A native Houstonian, Rice/Columbia J-School alum, and former managing editor of the Houston Press, she’s a fan of her husband, her dogs, a glass of wine and a good novel.


Ayanna Mccloud
Table Talk Artist 

Ayanna Jolivet Mccloud is an interdisciplinary artist based in Houston, Texas. A third-generation artist, she studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and has participated in exhibitions

and residencies throughout the U.S., Caribbean, and Latin America. Her creative practice takes on many forms including painting and drawing, land and site-specific installations, sound, and writing, and often interweaves these disciplines in one body of work. Recurring themes in her work includes mapping land and space, a search for meaning rooted in the African diaspora, minimalism, and sensation. 

Ayanna also leads program initiatives at nonprofit organizations, with a focus on community- building, sustainability, and creativity. She founded labotanica, an interdisciplinary studio, which was part of the Incubation Program at Project Row Houses. Projects she has conceived and led include "Hear Her Ear", a series devoted to women in sound art; "School of Latitudes", an artist residency, and workshops including "Writing in the Margins" presented at Project Row Houses and "How to Frame Pauses, Holism, and Magical Thinking in New Arts Infrastructures" at Art League Houston, among others. Currently, she is Director of Education and Public Programs at the Houston Botanic Garden, creating the organization's first-ever public programs which will link plants/nature, people and culture.


Amanda M. McMillian
Former Executive VP and General Counsel, Anadarko Petroleum Corporation 

Anadarko was one of the world’s largest independent oil and natural gas exploration and production companies with total assets of more than $42 billion. Until Anadarko was acquired by Occidental Petroleum Corporation in August 2019, Amanda was responsible for the company’s legal, human resources, and real estate and facilities functions in her role as Executive Vice President and General Counsel. Prior to joining Anadarko, Amanda practiced corporate and securities law at Akin Gump Straus Hauer & Feld LLP, representing a variety of clients in a wide range of transactional, corporate governance and securities matters. 

Amanda holds a BA from Southwestern University, and an MA and a JD from Duke University. She currently serves on the Board of Trustees of Southwestern University and the Board of Directors of the Houston Arboretum and Nature Center. In 2019, Amanda received the Association of Women Attorneys Foundation Premier Woman in Law Award. The National Diversity Council named her one of the Top 50 Most Powerful Women in Oil & Gas for the years 2018, 2017, and 2016, and listed her as among the Most Powerful Businesswomen in Texas in 2016.


MaryJane Mudd
President, League of Women Voters of Houston 

MaryJane is a longtime advocate for voter empowerment, women’s equality, and the rights of the disabled. In 1992, her one-year old baby was diagnosed with Tuberous Sclerosis Complex (TSC), inspiring her interest in advocacy. For 18 years, MaryJane has joined with other advocates on Capitol Hill to lobby for research funding impacting people with TSC, autism, epilepsy, and kidney disease. Due to the fierce advocacy of parents, physicians, and legislators, nearly $90 million has been appropriated to the research of these diseases and disorders.

MaryJane is also an award-winning professional communicator, whose work has positively impacted organizations such as Shell Oil, ConocoPhillips, and the American Red Cross. During Hurricane Harvey, MaryJane led local Red Cross Public Affairs activities, helping shape the narrative by participating in approximately sixty television, press, and radio interviews. Aside from the League of Women Voters, MaryJane has served in roles such as President of the American Marking Association, VP of Marketing and Class Chair for Leadership Houston, and Corporate Advisory Board member for the National Tuberous Sclerosis Alliance.

Mary Jane is frequently tapped as a motivational and keynote speaker on topics ranging from crisis communications and disaster response to special needs parenting. 


Lindsay Taylor Munoz
Director of Public Policy, Greater Houston Partnership 

As Director of Public Policy, Lindsay plays a key role in the Greater Houston Partnership’s advocacy efforts in Austin and at Houston city Hall. She also leads executive projects for the policy team while managing relationships with external stakeholders. Prior to joining the Partnership, she held the role of Director of External Affairs at AT&T, where she served as a liaison between local elected officials, non-profit community organizations, and AT&T in the Houston area. 

Lindsay grew up in Paris, TX before being accepted as a student in the McCombs School of Business at The University of Texas at Austin. After graduating in 2004 with a BBA, Lindsay began her career in Austin, serving as Communications Director for State Representative Mark Homer during the 79th, 80th, and 81st legislative sessions. Lindsay received the “40 Under 40” award from the Houston Business Journal in 2015 and she was awarded “50 Most Influential Women of 2016” from Houston Women’s Magazine. 

Lindsay and her husband, Aerospace Engineer Dr. Jean-Phillippe Munoz, have a son named Jack.


Dr. Laura G. Murillo, PhD
President & CEO, Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce 

In 2007, Dr. Laura Murillo was named President and CEO of the Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce with the support of the Chamber Board and Staff she has set unprecedented records in membership, revenue - and by becoming the largest Hispanic Chamber in the country. Two years after taking the helm, the Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce won the National and Regional Hispanic Chamber of the Year Award from U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and Marketer of the Year by the American Marketing Association twice during her tenure. She also serves as the Founding President & CEO of the Chamber’s Foundation, Founding Executive Producer/Host for the Chamber’s Radio and Television Programs on CBS and Univision with a cumulative audience reach of 3.3 million. She is also a Telemundo Political Commentator and has appeared on numerous national media outlets. 

She holds a B.A, a Master’s Degree, and a Doctorate from the University of Houston, where she served as an Executive for 15 years. The University of Houston bestowed its highest honor, the President’s Medallion, to the Chamber and Dr. Murillo. Prior to her current role, she served as an executive at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center for 7 years. She has received many state, national and international honors including being named among the “Most Powerful & Influential Women in Texas” and the “Top Latino Leader Award” by the National Diversity Council, “Woman of the Year” by Success Magazine and the “International Leadership Award” by Texas Women’s Empowerment Foundation. 

Dr. Murillo serves on many committees including the Houston BBVA Compass Board of Directors, the University of Houston Board of Advisors, the Mayor’s Hispanic Advisory Board, the Houston Super Bowl Committee, and the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition Advisory Committee. The youngest of nine children, she was born to immigrant parents and raised in Houston’s East End. She is the proud mother of Marisa and Mia.


Hon. Annise Parker
President & CEO, LGBTQ Victory Fund and Victory Institute

Annise Parker is the first former elected official to lead the LGBTQ Victory Fund and Victory Institute. She served six years as a Houston City Council member, six years as City Controller, and six years as Mayor of the city. Mayor Parker is one of only two women to have been elected mayor of Houston and she was the first openly LGBTQ mayor of a major American city.

Mayor Parker graduated from Rice University with a BA and spent twenty years working in the oil and gas industry. While serving as the Mayor of Houston, she 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, and served on the boards of the Texas Environmental Research Consortium and Houston Galveston Area Council.

Mayor Parker also co-owned Inklings, a lesbian/feminist bookstore for ten years.


Rebecca Rabinow
Director, Menil Collection 

Rebecca Rabinow is the fifth director of the Menil Collection, a critically acclaimed museum located in a residential Montrose neighborhood. Since joining the Menil, Dr. Rabinow oversaw the renovation and reinstallation of the Renzo-Piano designed main building, completed the Menil Drawing Institute, and worked with the Board to develop a new Strategic Plan. She deeply believes in the Menil’s mission to foster direct personal encounters with works of art, and is committed to ensuring that visitors are welcomed free of charge to the Menil’s art spaces and surrounding grounds. 

Dr. Rabinow holds a BA from Smith College and a PhD from the Institute of Fine Arts, NYU. She was a Fellow at the Center for Curatorial Leadership and studied at the Sorbonne. Dr. Rabinow was honored with the St. John’s School Maverick Award in 2017, the Smith College Medal in 2018, and by the New York Studio in 2019 for her contributions to Art History.


Alyssa Rieber
Center Medical Director of the MD Anderson Oncology Program, Lyndon B. Johnson General Hospital 

Since January 2008, Dr. Rieber has been on faculty at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in the Department of General Oncology. Her primary clinical appointment has been to the Lyndon B. Johnson General Hospital Medical Oncology Program. LBJ provides health care to the low income and medically underserved residents of Harris County.

In addition to LBJ, Dr. Rieber is the Department Chair for General Oncology, overseeing all clinical hematology and oncology practice outside of the MD Anderson TMC location. She is responsible for all research at LBJ, UTMB, and the Houston Area Locations.


Grace Rodriquez
CEO, Impact Hub Houston 

In 2018, Grace launched Impact Hub Houston, a locally rooted, globally connected organization dedicated to inspiring, connecting, and empowering Houston’s changemakers and social entrepreneurs. Recognized by the UN for accelerating entrepreneurial solutions towards measurable and scalable impact, Impact Hub Houston aims to make Houston a role model for how the world solves its most pressing issues. 

Over nine years, Grace has helped elevate perceptions of Houston by promoting the city at the annual SXSW conference. She worked with the then-Mayor Pro Tem and current Harris County Sherriff Ed Gonzalez to create the first Mayor’s Innovation and Technology Advisory Committee. She serves the region as an advisor, board member, and organizer, or volunteer for organizations such as Texas Medical Center (TMC) Innovation Institute, Houston Public Media, Women in Tech: Houston, and TEDxHouston. 

During Hurricane Harvey, Grace organized volunteers to help disseminate accurate and timely information to over a quarter million Houstonians, and connected Sketch City’s tech volunteers with over 26,000 city residents to help them stay informed, be rescued, find shelters, and get food and supplies. 


Kim Roxie
Founder and CEO, LAMIK Beauty 

At 21, Kim was inspired to create her own environmentally conscious cosmetics line that not only looked good on women of color, but was good for them as well. Working at a cosmetics counter part-time while a college student in Atlanta, she researched the ingredients in the brands available to her customers. Dismayed by the unhealthy ingredients she found, Kim founded LAMIK, meaning Love And Makeup in Kindness. 

Kim holds a BA in Public Relations from Clark Atlanta University and an Esthetics license from Houston Community College. In 2011, she graduated from the prestigious Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Business Program. That same year June 23rd was named “Kim Roxie Day” because of her promotion and positive impact on Houston’s economy. Kim was recognized as one of the “Top 30 Women in Houston” in 2016, won the Odyssey Media’s “Key to Business Success” Pitch Competition in 2017, and received the Lift Development Enterprise’s “Elevate My Business Challenge” Audience Choice Award in 2018. 

Kim designed a lip gloss, Status Red, to benefit HIV/AIDS programs for women and girls, and is the chair of the African American Initiative for The Rose Foundation in Houston. Kim lives in Houston with her husband, toddler daughter, and bonus son.


Mikaela Selley
Hispanic Collections and Oral History Collections Archivist, Houston Metropolitan Research Center (HMRC) 

Mikaela has held the position of Hispanic Collections Archivist for six years. During her time at HMRC, she has developed partnerships with local college campuses to introduce students to the archive, acquired new collections and oral histories, and curated several exhibits highlighting Houston’s Hispanic history.

Mikaela received a MA in Public History from the University of Houston and is a Houston native raised in the city’s East End. 


Nancy Sims
Political Consultant and UH Lecturer 

A native Texan, Nancy Sims is a straight-shooter, who calls it like she sees it. With relationships as deep and wide as the Lone Star State, it’s challenging to go anywhere and mention Nancy’s name without running into someone who knows her. I’s this blend of personal relationships, deep communications expertise and straightforward approach that makes Nancy a successful leader. 

Owner of Nancy Sims, LLC, Nancy capitalizes on her strategic instincts to guide clients from energy companies to top retailers on reputation management, crisis communications, civic engagement, government relations, stakeholder communications and more. Nancy spent 16 years with Pierpont Communications and 15 years running her own businesses. 

Nancy is recognized by the media for her critical insights and political analysis. She currently serves as one of the analysts for KUHF Radio and is a regular on their show, Houston Matters. 

Nancy earned her MLA from the University of St. Thomas and her BA in Government from Sam Houston State University.  She serves as a Lecturer at the University of Houston in Political Science. She serve son numerous non-profit boards and engages in community work throughout the Houston region. 


Laura Spanjian
Senior Public Policy Director - AirBNB 

Laura Spanjian is a senior public policy director for Airbnb. Doing business in 191 countries and 81,000 cities, with almost five million listings, Airbnb is quickly becoming one of the largest online travel platforms in the world. Spanjian has over twenty years of policy and legislative experience working with city, state and federal governments. For Airbnb, Spanjian works with cities and states to craft new policies that create smart regulations for the emerging short-term rental and online travel business.  

Spanjian joined Airbnb in 2015 from the City of Houston Mayor’s Office, where she was the chief sustainability officer for Mayor Annise Parker. During her six-year tenure, she created innovative programs and policies that have transformed and improved the quality of life in Houston. In addition to working for Mayor Annise Parker, her career includes roles as Assistant General Manager at the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, and Government Affairs Director at the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency. She has two BA degrees from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and a Masters degree from Stanford University. Spanjian and her wife, Susan Christian, have two young boys, Eli and Ethan.


Ashley Turner
Houston’s First Daughter & Exec Director, Community Relations, Lone Star College 

Ashley Paige Turner was born and raised in Houston, TX. She obtained her Master in Health Care Administration from the University of Texas, San Antonio. 

In 2015, she became Chief Operating Officer at Bee Busy Wellness Center where she made strides to give patients the best and most comprehensive health care experience. In May 2018, Ms. Turner accepted a position at Lone Star College as the Executive Director of Community Relations. Her role is to be the liaison between the community and the college to ensure that communications are succinct and the offerings from the college address the needs of the communities that are served. 

On January 4, 2016, Ms. Turner became the First Daughter of the City of Houston. In that capacity, she serves as the Honorary Chair for the Consular Ladies Club and Honorary Chair for Citizenship Month. She is currently an advisory board member for BARC which is the City of Houston’s animal shelter and adoption facility. 

Ms. Turner’s awards include the Texas Women Empowerment Foundation’s International Empowerment Award, the Sweet 16 Women Making a Difference Award, Beauty Mentoring Community Trailblazer Award, and Top 50 Black Health, Medical, and Wellness Professionals Community Hero Award. 

Ms. Turner makes it a point to give back to her community. For the past ten years she has volunteered for Turner Family Day in the Park, where she assists with the senior citizens and the youth. Ms. Turner is a frequent speaker at functions that promote literacy, healthy self-image and empowerment. 


Claudia Gee Vassar
President, Houston Botanic Garden 

Claudia Gee Vassar is a native Houstonian and Rice graduate who earned a law degree from the University of Virginia. Claudia began her legal career at Gardere Wynne Sewell LLP prior to growing a commercial real estate and general business practice and becoming a partner at Baker Williams Matthiesen LLP. After practicing law for nearly a decade, Claudia decided to make a career change and began working with Houston nonprofits to help guide them through periods of transition and growth. She served as Interim Executive Director for SIRE Inc., EMERGE Fellowship, and ArtBridge, and has completed major consulting projects for Houston-area organizations including the Kinder Institute for Urban Research at Rice University, Young Audiences of Houston, and Main Street Ministries. In September 2016, Claudia joined Houston Botanic Garden, where she currently serves as the President & General Counsel. She is honored to be a part of a project to bring a world-class botanic garden to Houston, creating an oasis in the city that will conserve biodiversity, connect people to plants and nature, and serve as a living museum for the community. Claudia currently serves on the board of the Association of Rice Alumni and DePelchin Children's Center. 


Tracy Vaught
Founder/Owner - H Town Restaurant Group 

In 1983, geologist-turned-restaurateur Tracy decided to forsake the plotting of America’s geothermal energy fields for a more people-oriented profession when she opened her first restaurant, Backstreet Cafe, with her uncle in an old house on the edge of Houston’s River Oaks. It was the turning point of her career and life. She met and married Hugo Ortega, and together they have opened Hugo’s (2002), Caracol (2013) and Xochi (2017), and published two cookbooks: “Hugo Ortega’s Street Food of Mexico” (2012) and “Backstreet Kitchen: Seasonal Recipes from Our Neighborhood Café” (2013). Tracy is also part owner of the Prego restaurant in Rice Village and the Origen in Oaxaca, Mexico. 

The Houston native is a four-time semi-finalist for Outstanding Restaurateur for the James Beard Foundation Awards; named Outstanding Restaurateur of the Year by the Texas Restaurant Association; and has been recognized by Houston Business Journal with a Most Admired CEO Award and Women Mean Business Award.  She was also named Restaurateur of the Year at the Houston Culinary Awards. Tracy is currently a board member of the Better Business Bureau.  

In 2017, Tracy and and Hugo were approached by celebrity chef Michael Mina to do a “pop-up” concept at his Mina Test Kitchen in San Francisco, and Mi Almita was born.  The concept is currently open in Honolulu and a San Francisco location is in consideration.


Carolyn Watson
Vice President- JP Morgan Chase; Member- Mayor’s Task Force for Women and Minority Owned Businesses 

Carolyn Watson is a Vice President of Corporate Responsibility at JPMorgan Chase.   She directs the JPMorgan Chase Foundation’s philanthropic investments for part of Texas.  The approach of each high-impact investment is to leverage the company’s strength to tackle pressing social and economic challenges. The foundation focuses on Financial Health, Small Business Growth, Jobs and Skills, and Neighborhood Revitalization. 

A native Houstonian, Tracy holds a BA from Louisiana State University and a Master of Public Affairs degree from the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at UT Austin. In 2010, she received a Master of Science in Management from Stanford’s Graduate School of Business.

 Carolyn has over twenty years of professional experience spanning the government, nonprofit and private sectors. Carolyn enjoys mentoring young adults, spending time with family and friends, ballroom dancing and traveling adventures across the globe.


Donna Sims Wilson
President, Smith Graham & Co. Investment Advisors, L.P. 

In her role as President, Mrs. Wilson is responsible for Business Development, Marketing, and Client Relations. She also works in conjunction with the Chairman and CEO on new product development, and short- and long-term strategies for the firm. She serves on the firm’s Executive Committee, Investment Policy Committee, and is a member of the Board of Directors.

Mrs. Wilson has thirty years of financial services experience, including serving as Executive Vice President of CastleOak Securities, L.P., a leading New York based boutique investment bank. She was also President of M.R. Beal & Company, and a Founder and Managing Director of Loop Capital Markets. Mrs. Wilson was a Vice President at Bear Stearns where she sold mortgage-backed securities. She started her career as an analyst in corporate finance at Lehman Brothers Kuhn Loeb.  


Karyl White
Founder, Women’s Energy Network 

After a career spanning more than 30 years of legal, executive, and governmental affairs experience, Karyl retired from Phillips & Reiter, PLLC, where she practiced mid-stream and downstream energy. Prior to private practice, she was General Counsel of Freeport LNG and CMS Marketing, Services and Trading Company, as well as Assistant General Counsel for MidCon Corp. While with MidCon, Karyl served as a Legislative Assistant for U.S. Senator Alan Dixon in Washington D.C. in the Congressional Assistant Program and was head of MidCon Corp.’s D.C. office. Karyl graduated from the University of Chicago Law School and Bradley University, summa cum laude. 

Karyl founded the Women’s Energy Network (WEN) in 1994 to connect professional women across the energy industry and to address their need for leadership, development, education, mentorship. and a functioning network for women. In the male-dominated energy industry, women lacked access to a forum where they could be exposed to successful female leaders and colleagues who shared their career values and everyday-life issues. In addition to empowering women, Karyl also included in WEN’s core values a charitable mission of giving back to underserved women and children. WEN now has 20 chapters across the United States and Mexico with over 6,500 members. Karyl was also President of the Houston Energy Bar Association and Chapelwood United Methodist Church Foundation and on the Board of Children at Risk, Law Advisory Center, Neighborhood Centers Inc., Leadership Texas Alumna Association and River Oaks Women’s Breakfast Club. 

Karyl is married to Charles White and has a son Eric, daughter-in-law Allison, three adorable grandsons and a darling dog Jethro.


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 benefiting 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.


Leandra Zarnow, PhD
Author - The Protest Politics of Bella Abzug

Assistant Professor of History, University of Houston

Leandra Zarnow is Assistant Professor in History and faculty affiliate in WGSS at UH. She teaches courses in US women’s history, legal and public policy, feminist theory and practice, biography, contemporary history, and transnational gender activism. She is active in national women’s history organizations, serving (past and present) on boards and committees in the Berkshire Conference on the History of Women, Coordinating Council for Women in History of the American Historical Association, and Western Association of Women Historians. She also had the recent honor of being a scholar consultant to the Congressional Commission on an American Women’s History Museum, working to establish a museum of women’s history on the national mall.

In her research, Zarnow considers foremost the gendered, sexualized, and racialized processes of law, public policy, media, and political culture in the United States and transnational contexts. She is particularly interested in exploring how social movement activists attempt to utilize state institutions to enact change as they reform these elite spaces. Her first book, ​Battling Bella: The Protest Politics of Bella Abzug, ​is out with Harvard University Press in November 2019. In time for the suffrage centennial, she has also co-edited, ​Suffrage at 100: Women's Uneven Road in American Politics Since 1920. ​In town, she co-organized the 40th Anniversary of the 1977 National Women's Conference and continues to work on a digital archive project to document the history of this dynamic event.

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