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Our Women Who Excel

The women of Western New England University do amazing things every day.

They are our deans and faculty, distinguished alumnae, upper-class mentors, star athletes, and outstanding students who inspire us all to do more, be more, and achieve more than we ever imagined.

Join us as we celebrate our Women Who Excel and read their stories to learn what makes them such a valued part of our learning community.

Juris Doctor

With career interests ranging from Entertainment Law to Child Advocacy, recent Western New England University School of Law graduate Rose Colon L'15 has a bright future ahead of her. Rose was president of the Multi Cultural Law Students Association (MCLSA), and a member of the Black Law Students Association (BLSA), George W. Crawford Black Bar Association, National Lawyers Guild Student Association, and Women Law Students Association (WLSA). Outside of class, she has applied her legal knowledge as a law clerk in the Law Office of Joe A. Smith, III. She holds a B.A. in Legal Studies from Bay Path University and earned her J.D. from Western New England University in spring 2015.

Q. You are a volunteer for Discovering Justice, a nonprofit with a program at Duggan Magnet School across the street from the School of Law. What is its mission?

A. Discovering Justice offers a new approach to students learning about the justice system and the role of attorneys within that system. The program originated in the Boston area. Retired Chief Justice Roderick Ireland, a native of Springfield, really pushed to have a program right here in western Mass.

Q. With Duggan now designated as a Social Justice Magnet School, how can this program impact its students and their community?

A. The law is a time-honored tool of social engineering. The students need to be empowered with this tool so that they can create a better future here in Springfield for themselves, their families, and the city-at-large. I want to be a part of that.

Q. As a Duggan alum why do you feel it was important for you to help current students bridge the knowledge gap when it comes to the legal system?

A. I attended Duggan. I walked those same halls. I grew up in the same neighborhoods and saw the same things these kids are seeing; poverty, crime, poor choices, and limited opportunities. All of these things relate to and impact the law as a whole and more specifically the criminal justice system.

I’ve seen how easy it is to crush a child’s spirit and dissuade them from pursuing their dreams when all these factors are working together against them. It almost happened to me and it happens too many times in this community. If some of these students can see some of themselves in me and if I can then convince them that if I did it they can do it, then it was worthwhile.

Q. As you approach graduation, where do you see your greatest interest and passion in the field of law?

A. I’m uncertain of where I’ll be or what I’ll be doing after graduation. The law is so grand that there isn’t just one field of interest or passion for me. However, I do know that whatever my post-graduation pursuits may be, one thing I am passionate about is giving back. I want to give back to my law school, to my community, and to my family for all they have done to help me get to this point in life.

Mathematical Sciences

Stress Testing Lead Analyst, GE Capital

Jordyn Peck is applying her degree in Mathematical Sciences in the field of Financial Services, yet she has also continued her commitment to serving others, which was a part of what made her a recipient of the Alumni Association Skookum Award for Excellence. During the North East Affiliate of College and University Residence Halls (NEACURH) Regional Conference hosted by Western New England, Jordyn was the community service chair. She was also president of the Math Club, a tutor at the Math Center and Glickman Elementary School, and worked for the Admissions Office. She also found time to study abroad in Italy, intern at MassMutual Financial Group, and play varsity soccer, being named to the Academic All Conference Team.

Q. What are your primary responsibilities as a stress testing lead analyst at GE Capital? Why would you recommend that career path to other young women?

A. I am responsible for reporting forward-looking financial statement proformas under various adverse macroeconomic and event-driven scenarios, which go to the Federal Reserve.

I began my career at GE Capital through the Financial Management Program (FMP), which is a two-year program that focuses on developing strong analytical and leadership skills through challenging rotations, high exposure, and coursework. For any young woman who is looking to explore career possibilities in finance as well as accelerate their career quickly, I would absolutely recommend this career path. In addition, GE has a strong Women’s Network affinity group as well as plenty of female leaders who are willing to promote and mentor young women.

Q. Statistics show that more young girls are showing an interest in STEM subjects. What made you want to be a Mathematical Sciences major at Western New England University?

A. I remember sitting in a Calculus III class with Professor Dave Mazur in Herman Hall and having that “Aha” moment. In that moment, I realized I loved the challenge that the mathematics discipline embodied as well as the clarity and satisfaction in getting to the right answer. Plus, after interning with MassMutual Financial Group and speaking with professors, I realized how valuable a mathematics degree would be, almost regardless of whichever industry I decided to pursue.

Q. You’re a person who enjoys volunteering. How did your experience and involvement on campus here help to nurture that interest for giving back?

A. Western New England hosted the NEACURH Regional Conference and I was given the chance to serve as the community service chair. The opportunity and support to run such a cross-functional initiative was an amazing experience. As a team, we raised money for over 7,000 books for Children’s Study Home of Springfield. The chance to make an impact on a community, right in our backyard, was beyond rewarding and cemented service work as an integral part of my life.

Q. What is the buildOn program and what has been the most rewarding part of your participation in it?

A. buildOn is an international nonprofit organization that runs youth service after school programs in the U.S. and builds schools in developing countries to “break the cycle of poverty, illiteracy and low expectations.” In August of 2012, along with 30 colleagues, I traveled to rural Nicaragua to construct one of the two primary schools that our Ambassador Trek fully funded.

The most rewarding part of the experience was seeing an entire community come together in order to provide the extraordinary gift of education. All men and women of the village must sign a covenant to pledge labor to aid in construction as well as send boys and girls to school in equal numbers. The host family I lived with had one small girl and it was evident how much the schoolhouse and covenant would change her life by securing her a chance at education.

Computer Science and Information Technology

Dr. Heidi Ellis is making a difference on campus and in her field. Dr. Ellis is proving that a career in technology can have a very strong humanitarian component. She was recently included on Business Insider’s 2016 list of the 26 most powerful women engineers leading important technologies at their companies or pioneering new initiatives. The list included women engineers from a variety of companies, including Intel, Google, Amazon, Apple, and Oracle. Dr. Ellis has been a contributor to many important open-source software projects for more than a decade. She is a founding member of the Humanitarian Free and Open Source Software (HFOSS), through which students write free, open-source software for projects that improve the human condition such as apps that help during natural disasters and track disease outbreaks. She’s also working with Red Hat to expand its Professors’ Open Source Software Experience.

Q. What misconceptions about the fields of Computer Science and Information Technology do you think deter more women from pursuing technology careers? 

One of the biggest misapprehensions that exists about technology is that some people are born with an innate talent for it. If women do not have experience with technology from a young age, many think that they can't be successful in technology-related fields because they don't have that "talent.” The brain is an amazingly elastic organ and practice improves any skill. I've seen many young women have success careers in technology even if they don't have any technology background when they start college.

Another misconception that can deter women is that a career in technology is solitary and doesn't involve people. There is a stereotype of a "geek" coder working alone late at night in a room without windows. In fact, modern software is sufficiently complex that it can only be developed by teams. And the teams need to have diverse members.

Q. As an educator and in your work through HFOSS, you exemplify how technology can be used in many ways to make a difference in the world. How can we get that word out to more young women?

I think that as a society, we need to emphasize that technology is for everyone, both the using and the building of it. We need to counter the geek or nerd stereotype by talking about technology using gender indeterminate names. We need to highlight the achievements of women and other underrepresented groups. We should also emphasize that computing jobs are flexible as they allow you to work in any location and within a team.

Research has also provided some insight into attracting women. We need to get the word out that studies have shown that women in computing careers are more satisfied with their jobs than women in other occupations. Salaries are high and there are many jobs available. Studies have also shown that encouragement is a significant motivator for women to explore a computing career. This encouragement doesn't need to come from a women or even someone in a computing discipline. Simply by talking to young women and affirming their ability to work in a computing career is effective in drawing more women into computing.
Q. Why is this an exciting time for women to play a greater role in the tech sector?
The tech sector is just exploding and new technologies like robotics, 3D printing, Bitcoin, and virtual reality are changing the landscape of life around the globe. How exciting to play a part in not just using new technology, but in actually creating it! Technology has advanced to a point where we can now create many things that we could only dream of a decade ago, as well as many things we have not yet dreamed. Women have unique dreams and we need to see those dreams implemented. Now, more than any time in history, women are able to design and live out their dreams which is incredibly exciting. We need women to be a part of shaping the future.

Management and Leadership

Considered one of the top student-athletes in school history, Grace Kucharski is a standout member of the volleyball team, a softball player, and Skookum Award recipient. She graduates this May with a B.S.B.A. in Management and Leadership and a minor in Enterprise Resource Planning with a Certificate in SAP. Grace has interned at Walt Disney World® and is active on campus from service as an admissions associate to a CHAMPS/Life Skills mentor. She has been recognized by the University, including the Board of Trustees, with awards for leadership and high academics while compiling a school volleyball record of 2,118 digs—ninth all-time in New England and first in her conference. She was a four-time All-CCC honoree and twice a First-Team pick her last two seasons. Grace is continuing her education at the University of Central Florida in the MS in Hospitality Management program.

Q. As a two-sport standout at Western New England, what has been the most memorable moment of your collegiate athletic career?
A. I didn't know it at the time, but being put into a different position my freshmen year for volleyball was a defining moment. Being challenged and forced to really work at it set me up for all the success I have had on the court. It is so rewarding to look back on all of the growing pains and struggles I had to overcome to get where I am today.

Q. You excel on the playing field/court and in the classroom, what drives you to be a high achiever?
A. Looking towards the next step has always driven me. My dad's favorite line to tell me every day is, "Think of your future!" While he says it to be funny, I truly do love to plan ahead and dream big. I know that putting in the hard work on the playing field and in the classroom is always worth it in the long run and keeping the end in mind serves as my motivation.

Q. What’s the best part of being a woman student-athlete at Western New England University?
A. The best part is being able to leave my mark on the athletics family just as my predecessors have. In my four years, I have been inspired by the other strong and successful female athletes around me. I can only hope that I've left a positive impact on the athletics community and served as a role model for other young athletes.

Q. How do you think your experiences as an athlete prepared you to be a leader as you enter the business world?
A. Being an athlete carries over into everything that I do, and it has shaped me into the person I am today. Leadership, hard work, and determination are skills that I have developed during my career that have prepared me for success after college. As an athlete you deal with failure on an everyday basis, but how you respond to failure on the court and in life will set you apart from the rest.