Nina Leigh Howard Krueger is a graduate of the SHA class of 1979. Nina Leigh attended college at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, and went on to earn her Masters of Business Administration from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. Since joining Purina (now Nestlé Purina) in 1993, Nina Leigh has served in a variety of marketing roles and shortly after being named the Chief Marketing Officer in 2015, she was promoted to President of Nestlé Purina U.S. in April of 2016. In addition to her professional career, Nina Leigh is the proud mother of two sons (Dean 21 and Brandt 19) as well as an exchange student (Beltran) who has become a member of the family. Dean is 21 and a Physics Major, Brandt is 19 and a Business Major, and Beltran 23 is attending Medical School.
Nina Leigh joined me for a chat from her office in St. Louis – where she lives with her husband Robert – to catch up on her years at Sacred Heart, to share what “leadership” means to her and to share a bit of advice with her fellow alumnae and current SHA students.
Your graduating class is celebrating its 40threunion this spring at Sacred Heart Academy. When you reflect back on the time that has passed since graduation, what memories of SHA come to mind?
The memories that come to mind for me include athletics, of course; I played tennis, field hockey and basketball in high school and so that’s where I created a lot of friendships and learned a lot about life and leadership.
Especially the team sports we played formed how I look at leadership today. I often talk about the fact that “We win as a team or we lose as a team.” This idea of being afierce individual competitor, but to still remember that business success is a long road that takes many hands laying many bricks building a strong road together as a team, is something I started to appreciate during my time playing team sports at SHA.
When I return home to Louisville, I walk the campus and love to take note of the way the campus has grown and how wonderful it is that there are tennis courts, and new fields, a new gym! It’s really amazing.
I also am reminded of my family when I think of my time at SHA. As one of four girls in my family who attended Sacred Heart Academy (some of us were there at the same time), I think of my sisters when I am on or near campus, and of course, I think of my mother too, who is also an alumna.
Of course, academics come to mind and in particular, the sciences. SHA provided me with a really solid foundation in science.
But, at the end of the day, it comes down to the friendships I made at SHA. There are a few women with whom I’m still very close, and I think it says a lot especially considering that I’ve been away from Louisville for so many years.
Which teachers or administrators had the greatest impact on you at SHA, and why?
There are three who stand out – Mrs. Herp (science), Sister Lorna Weiler (science) and Madame Danzig (languages). Sister Lorna and Mrs. Herp taught me a lot about science, but even more importantly, they taught me that as a female, I could truly do whatever I wanted in life.
Madame Danzig was a very strong woman; she had high expectations of us, but she was always willing to talk with you, to work with you and help you understand the subject matter. Considering the challenges that she and her family experienced before coming to the U.S., it is clear to me now looking back, how much she taught me about overcoming adversity and that I had what I needed to succeed.
In what ways did your SHA (Catholic) education prepare you for college, graduate school & life beyond your formal education years?
In general, Sacred Heart was probably the first place I felt safe enough in taking on a leadership role. For example, I was involved in leadership of the National Honor Society during my time at SHA; no matter how large or small the position, it made me start to realize the importance of taking on those roles so that you can be a part of the vision of where you want that club, organization, team to go. These experiences help you learn about your comfort zone; as a shy person in high school, I recognize that involvement in a variety of leadership positions (whether in a club or on the field), helped shape me and prepare me for the roles I have had in both my career and volunteer involvement over the years.
You have lived away from Louisville for many years now; how have you stayed to connected to your classmates and friends from SHA?
Two of my dearest friends – Beth Stegner Peabody and Kim Boland – are still my very great friends. Beth and I roomed together after college and have stayed close ever since. Our children have come to know each other too, and we see one another when I am back in Louisville. Kim is another great friend; she’s a pediatric intensive care physician in Louisville and we’ve been best friends since we were about 10 years old. We all have the foundation of a strong friendship and when I am home, we just pick right back up where left off and have chosen to make our friendships a priority. Lisa Melillo is also another SHA grad – and college roommate – who I have stayed in close contact with since our time at SHA, among others.
Can you share a bit about your role as President of Nestlé Purina U.S. and the responsibilities that come with being a female leader in corporate America? What elements of your role do you cherish most, and why?
First of all, I feel very humbled to be in the role that I am in today. People often ask me, “when did you know you wanted to be president (of Nestlé Purina U.S.)?” and I reply that I didn’t know I wanted to be president until just before it happened roles.
I am a firm believer that if you have a strong work ethic and accomplish the goals and tasks assigned to you and show your hunger to deliver those tasks an organization and individuals will see your potential and opportunities for future roles will appear, almost as logical next step. It is not about future roles but mastering and enjoying what you do.
That is very important. One of the things I love about my role is the ability to be present for the people who I work with here; it’s important for me to be approachable because I want those I work with to feel the freedom to talk with me. And, I feel it’s important for me to be agile in my position. The world is changing so fast and what may have worked in the past from a work/life perspective simply does not work today. Remain agile. Know what you need to do, but be open about how you need to do it. What got you to success in one situation won’t necessarily take you to success in another.
I have to look at things from that perspective in this role. As for being a leader, yes, I am a female but I put Purina first. I’m just the person – or conduit – that makes things happen, so I cannot put myself first. If people aren’t doing well, or the company isn’t doing well, that’s a sign that I’m not signaling correctly and I need to look into that and make a change.
As for being a female in this role, yes, I am a female and while my path to this role may have been challenging as a woman, that is simply the way the way the game has been played. In order to be successful, you have to understand it and know your audience to navigate your way through. I mentor both men and women; and the people who have been the biggest advocates throughout my career have been men. It’s important that I mentor both men andwomen, and you have to pay it forward. You also have to cherish the people who mentored you along the way; you count results in numbers and in relationships.
I do make it a point when I am mentoring people – especially those seeking leadership positions within our organization – to choose wisely when it comes to your partner in life. Having a career that requires frequent travel, late nights, etc. – requires a partnership where there is mutual respect, encouragement and support. I can only share with people what my experience has been, but I always say that I would not be where I am today, were it not for the husband and children that I have. Family and support is everything. You need to be on the same page, regardless of what your goals are – to be president, volunteer, mother or something else. As a mom, I had to find ways to be fully present when I had opportunities to be with my husband and children, for the times when I could not be present for them due to travel, meetings, etc.
What does the word “leadership” mean to you, and is there any advice you’d give to a SHA student or alumna today, to help her develop strong leadership characteristics to enhance her life and experiences?
Leadership to me, is all about the opportunity to shape the vision of where you want to go; whether me as president at Purina, as captain of a team, head of the band, whatever it is; leadership allows you to set the vision for that group/organization. It takes a strong work ethic to be a leader. It doesn’t just happen; it requires falling down, getting back up, making mistakes and learning from them. If you’re not failing, you aren’t pushing hard enough.
To be a good leader, you have to listen to all of the audiences/groups you are representing or working with. You have to be decisive. You have to listen to subject matter experts to help inform your decisions. A good leader doesn’t know everything, rather, they depend on a strong group that has the knowledge needed and in turn are empowered to make decisions with that input.
Over the years I have formed some guiding principles that both help me and those working with me to understand expectations. These go beyond being a leader, but simply lend themselves to helping one to be the best person you can possibly be. They are:
1.Bring your best self forward - every day. Only you will know what this looks like and it is not the same every day, I will guarantee that if you do this in the end you will be successful as you’ll have many friends, family and colleagues to surround you, and your goals will be accomplished.
2.Fail forward. A person who never makes a mistake never makes anything. Use mistakes to learn & grow.
3.Work hard and play hard. Working hard makes you more productive (physically too); playing hard makes you more creative. You need both to succeed in life.
4.Just because you can, does not mean you should. There will be many times in your life both personally and professionally, where you will absolutely be able to accomplish the task or tactics, but that doesn’t make them right. Have the courage to challenge respectfully, if it’s not clear to you what is being asked of you, and do the right thing always.
5.Results count. Count yours. At the end of the day you cannot be successful in life or professionally without successful results. But remember to count your results in numbers and personal relationships. You need both to be successful!
6.Life is a journey, not a destination. Have goals and a vision for where you would like to be – then be open for the unexpected. If you get too narrowly focused on some future destination, you may overlook the opportunities that stand before you. It is only then that you will truly grow and learn about yourself personally and professionally.
If you can keep these principles in mind, you can and will accomplish your goals.
How do you live out the Sacred Heart Schools Core Values of Community, Leadership, Reverence and Service in your life today?
I believe in giving back, and that the core values should be ingrained in all that we do. Community & service – giving back – have always been a big part of my life. Faith and reverence have always been a huge part of my life as well, and are just a daily element of my existence. Leadership of course is something I am passionate about, too. When you grow up with a foundation of faith, and have role models who have given back, it becomes a part of your DNA. You do it without even thinking about it.
As we rounded out our conversation, Nina Leigh shared some final thoughts about leadership…
I believe that teaching leadership skills and qualities is extremely important, and it is great that SHA has formalized a leadership learning program via the Jean Frazier Leadership Institute. It’s a great way to lay a foundation for young women during high school, as they move into the next stages of their lives. It’s all part of the journey!
If I have an expectation each day that I am going to learn something new, I will.
Fostering that love of learning throughout life is so important; that’s what Mrs. Herp, Madame Danzig and Sister Lorna did for me. They wanted me to learn more, to understand more. I would like to say “thank you!” to Sacred Heart Academy for that.
Laura Schwab has been in the news a lot lately! As only the second female in history to hold the title of President of a major car company, Laura is leading Aston Martin Americas into its second 100 years with the same grit and determination that helped her win two state singles tennis championships during her time at SHA. Laura returned home last week for a visit to Sacred Heart Academy to speak to the student body, and to represent Aston Martin for its debut as sponsor of the Breeder’s Cup World Championships at Churchill Downs.
For this month’s Alumna Spotlight, we invite you to learn more about Laura through video or print. You can view our full conversation with Laura (about 1 hour), a “rapid-fire” question & answer session with SHA senior, Kate Harty (about 3 minutes), the WAVE3 interview she gave on October 31 and you can read about Laura in a recent article for StyleBlueprint Louisville. All links can be found below!
We are grateful to Laura for her time and inspiring words to our future leaders at SHA last week. We are proud to call you a Valkyrie, Laura!
Rapid-Fire with Kate Harty
Laura Melillo Barnum is a graduate of the SHA class of 1983. After graduating from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, Laura moved to our nation’s capitol working in The White House for two Presidents as a Special Assistant to the President, Deputy Press Secretary and Assistant Press Secretary. From D.C., Laura moved to New York, New York, where she worked as VP of Public Relations for R.H. Macy & Co. before returning to Louisville in 1995 when she began working for PepsiCo/KFC as VP of Public Relations. Laura went on to spend over 20 years with the Yum! Brands, Inc. organization as VP of Public Affairs, serving in a multitude of leadership roles including: media relations, strategic communications, government advocacy, non-profit investment, public and community relations, employee engagement and corporate social responsibility. Currently, Laura is enjoying her new role as an independent consultant working with clients in state government, national non-profits and local universities to build strategic communications plans and to develop brand positioning campaigns.
You recently celebrated your class’ 35th SHA reunion; tell me about that experience!
For me, the beauty of SHA is the friendships I made there, and that they continue to this day. Reunion was much more about reconnecting with a broader base of friends who maybe have moved out of town or perhaps came back to Louisville for the reunion. I can honestly say my core group of very close friends are the same friends I held so dear while at SHA. We make an effort to stay involved in each other’s lives, we know each other’s families, and have been supportive of each other in the years following our experience at SHA. It has been so important to all of us to remain close and stay involved with one another. Reunion Weekend was more of a reconnection & ability to catch up with people I may not necessarily see or speak with frequently, but my core group of friends today are the same as they were during my time at SHA.
How did SHA prepare you for college & beyond?
The Ursuline mission of educating the whole person was critical to my time beyond SHA. In both professional and non-professional situations, you may often find yourself intellectually prepared but you have to have purpose in your life! I feel you have to have faith and allow that to guide your actions. I can honestly say undeniably, that my faith has carried me through many difficult situations both professionally and personally throughout my life, and that emphasis on educating the whole person is critical to giving you the skills and the ability to manage all aspects of your life once you leave the Sacred Heart Schools (Ursuline) campus. I always felt connected to the campus and all three of my children have gone there (Sacred Heart Model School). It is a true story that I drove over to SHMS on the day I was discharged from the hospital after giving birth to my first child, a boy, to put him on the waitlist for Kindergarten! The running joke in our family is that anything you ever needed to learn in life, you learned at Sacred Heart – whether SHMS or SHA. My oldest child is going to be a sophomore at the University of Virginia on a swimming scholarship and he felt like SHMS gave him the basis needed to adapt and achieve in college. Emotional, critical-thinking and leadership skills are all a focus of the education at Sacred Heart Schools. I also look at the example for me set forth by Sister Jean Ann Zappa…she lives out and has taught me this notion of putting others before self, of being “other-focused” and understanding empathy and how it can frame how you live your life. I do strive to make sure that my children understand that very important paradigm, to put others before self in life.
What was the motivator to provide an Ursuline education for your children?
There was never any doubt that if I were living in Louisville, I would send my children to Sacred Heart Schools because of the Ursuline core values and the other-focused concept. The way you should live your life were modeled by the lay-persons and faith-filled Sisters on campus.
The Ursulines also had a big impact on my perspective with regard to the importance of being able to integrate a higher purpose to the work that you do. In my career, I’ve worked in broadcast journalism, politics and the vast majority has been in corporate communications and philanthropy. Throughout my travels and exposure to different people and cultures, I have found that I connect the most – in business and in personal life – with people who have a real balance of purpose-driven work in their lives. It’s less about being home enough vs. at work, but more about feeling fulfilled by the work that you are doing, because you are having a positive impact on others. I have been fortunate enough to work in organizations where at least half of my time was filled with higher-purpose work. I feel like I created those opportunities for myself because of what I was doing in my personal life to give back. While running the Yum! Brands Foundation, I was able to work to create a program whereby we became the world’s largest provider of prepared foods for charity. We were also ultimately able to parlay that into a program that enabled our 1.2 million employees to embrace volunteerism and give back within their communities. All of this was in part made possible because I had experienced the gift of giving back through my work with Dare to Care here in Louisville. It was little kernel of “what could be possible” that blossomed into something bigger, making an impact for communities all over the world. I attribute so much of what I learned about the integration of higher-purpose work and making it meaningful and other-focused, to my time on the Sacred Heart Schools campus. My parents also modeled the importance of giving back in their lives. A favorite quote of mine from my Dad was “You never look up, you never look down; always look straight ahead” and treat others with equal dignity and grace.
You recently joined our Jean Frazier Leadership Institute’s (JFLI) Cabinet. As a parent with a student currently on campus (a future Valkyrie!), what is your hope for what the JFLI will bring to our students at Sacred Heart Schools?
When Dr. Crabtree called me to discuss the opportunity, one of the things that resonated with me was the formalization of a leadership program at Sacred Heart Schools that would help students understand that they are not bound by anything but their own imaginations. You can achieve whatever you want! There are countless examples of strong, thoughtful leaders who have walked the halls of Sacred Heart Schools and I love the fact that this program solidifies the understanding of who these students are, how they fit into the world and how they can leverage their knowledge and connections so that they can go forward and achieve. The second component of the JFLI that I love is that it formalizes programs that are already happening on campus whether it be volunteer programs or the “accountability ladder” conversation. It’s those types of leadership tenets that are now formalized in a way that makes practical sense. It’s codifying these valuable tenets for some students, but it may be the first exposure for some, about these skills. Either way, our students will learn that as you enter into the business world, these skills will assist them in becoming better leaders. It could be practical and esoteric. The JFLI will allow students to think beyond the 4 corners of their box. Whether by problem-solving, reinventing yourself after a change, if you can creatively assess opportunities through an elevated thought-process, these young women will be so much better prepared for the world that lies ahead of them.
Another favorite quote from my dad is…”Chance favors the prepared mind”, meaning that if you have the skills, you’ll be ready to leverage whatever opportunity presents itself to its fullest. He would always say, you might as well prepare yourself now, because if you’re in the right place at the right time with the right skills set, you’ll get the opportunity! I think this is lines up with the JFLI and the opportunities it will provide for these future leaders.
What does the word “leadership” mean to you?
Living your life in a way that allows you to be a positive role model and affect change for the good. To me, leadership really means taking the ball forward, but doing it in a way that is positive and meaningful.
The definition of leadership does evolve as you grow. True leadership should have a positive impact on others in some form or fashion. I’m not sure that would have been my definition when I graduated college, but as you grow and learn, you determine what attributes you do and do not want to model, to craft the definition that resonates with you and works for you.
Was there a teacher(s) at SHA whose impact stays with you to this day?
Yes! Two of them. Sister Jean Anne Zappa taught me religion. To this day, she is still a role model for me for being other-focused. I remember a time in her class when we were discussing signs and symbols. Signs point to something else and symbols stand for something else. She showed us a ring she wore daily that belonged to her late father, who was incredibly important to her. She said that she’d be willing to give up the ring because it was a possession, because she could still carry the memories of her father with her in her heart. A classmate of mine said she’d take the ring, and Sister Jean Anne gave it to her! The entire semester, Sister Jean Anne did not once askfor the ring back, and my classmate wore it every day. On the last day of class, without being prompted, the student gave the ring back to Sister Jean Anne, and even then, she said that she did not need the ring, and offered to the student to keep it. This unintended exchange led to some eye-opening discussions among our class about the meaning of material possessions compared with the meaning of people and experiences that can live on in your heart. I will never forget it.
The other teacher I recall is Madame Danzig; she taught me French for 4 years. I can say that she was the single toughest teacher I’ve ever had in my life. I can speak French almost fluently because of Madame Danzig and people are amazed I can speak as well as I do because of a high school French class. I remember when my grandmother – with whom I was very close – passed away and I came to school the following day and was devastated. Madame Danzig pulled me aside and shared the story of her life in with me and the life-forming experiences that she went through. She shared with me that people come into your life for a reason, and that she had met her husband in a “displaced persons camp” in Germany, and they came to the U.S. together. You just never know how life can all come together.
If it were not for Sacred Heart…I would not have the unconditional support system that surrounds me today.
Tell me how you live out our SHS core values of Community, Leadership, Reverence and Service in your life.
I try to model service and community through my volunteerism and through my activities in work and outside of work. I try to model the other-focused mission of the Ursuline core values not only in my professional work but in my family as well.
Madelynne Myers is a graduate of the SHA class of 2013, and in 2017 she earned the title of Miss Kentucky USA. During her reign as Miss Kentucky USA, Madelynne met and worked with Kentucky’s representatives in U.S. Congress, to advocate for the creation of initiatives to encourage young women to explore and enter the field of STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. She credits her Sacred Heart Academy teachers with nurturing her love of science and for providing her with the skills and tools not just for college, but for life. Madelynne attended Vanderbilt University and graduated with a degree in Molecular and Cellular Biology with minors in Chemistry and Spanish, in May of 2017. She continues her advocacy work for female equality in the STEM field, and will be working as a Clinical Translational Research Coordinator with Dr. Daniel Claassen at Vanderbilt, studying the brain disorder progressive supranuclear palsy, which is an advanced form of Parkinson’s Disease.
Tell me about your time at SHA, what you loved about it and how it prepared you for Vanderbilt University and where you are today.
Coming from Anchorage Middle School I appreciated being surrounded by women and I could be focused on my education. I felt free to ask questions without fear of being judged by my classmates. You really do create friendships that with women who become your sisters at Sacred Heart. You have small classes, and in the full IB (International Baccalaureate) program, the classes are even smaller. Teachers go above and beyond in their jobs. One of my teachers, Sister Amina, helped me understand the differences between Christianity and Catholicism since I was not raised Catholic, by visually explaining it with a Venn diagram!
What was the motivation for you to attend Sacred Heart?
My mother wanted to find a school for me that would further continue to support the successes that I had while at Anchorage. The IB program at Sacred Heart was a big reason why I came here; it’s one of the best educations available in Kentucky. Unlike other schools in Louisville, Sacred Heart was so much better at preparing me not just for college, but for life. It places an importance on integrating you with people who have different ideas than you, challenging you. My teacher for Theory of Knowledge, Mr. Heuser, spoke with us about never forgetting to question what you are taught, because you only know what you have been told to know.
Was there a teacher or teachers that influenced you most?
Mr. Heuser for Theory of Knowledge. I love philosophy and his class was a favorite. Also, Mrs. Zeller for Biology HL. She would clearly present complex subjects & systems of the entire body in a fun way, not in an intimidating way. Ms. Barnett was my Mathematics SL teacher. I loved the funny phrases she would use in class, and she would work with you on problems depending on what pieces and parts you were having challenges with. She helped you to know what questions you needed to ask to get to the answer. When we’d get a math problem correct, she’d say “Praise the Lord and pass the biscuits!”
How well prepared were you when you headed off to college at Vanderbilt?
Some of the classes that I had – especially in math and biology – required the same time commitments for studying, and because of that and the caliber of my classes at Sacred Heart, I felt well-prepared for college. Having men in my classes was an adjustment, but because of my time at SHA, I already had confidence walking into the classroom to command it and not be intimidated by my peers. I think SHA also made me ultra-competitive because of our rivalry with Assumption (I played lacrosse). I was a fun person to have on an intramural team at Vanderbilt! I played intramural lacrosse and I played flag football and was on the dance team for my sorority.
What have you been up to since graduating from Vanderbilt?
I won the title of Miss Kentucky USA in January 2017, and since then I have visited about 75 counties in Kentucky and participated in 85 charity events. I’ve done a lot of public speaking which was how I ended up speaking at the United Nations earlier this year, and I will be speaking at a summit later this year as well. We worked a lot with Best Buddies (https://www.bestbuddies.org/kentucky/); the Miss Kentucky USA team had the highest amount of money raised for the Best Buddies walk last year! I’ve also worked with the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and St. Mam’s (St. Matthews Area Ministries).
What have you been doing since your Miss Kentucky USA reign ended?
My term was for one year, during which I competed in the Miss USA competition. During my term, my main platform was advocating for gender equality in the STEM field. I have met and worked with our Kentucky representatives in Washington, D.C. all 6 of whom were great to work with.
My term ended in January, but I am still very much a part of the community of Miss USA, and am still in touch with my director and friends I made throughout the experience.
I plan to pursue a career in medicine, and I currently have a position at Vanderbilt studying PSP (progressive supranuclear palsy – an advanced form of Parkinson’s Disease). There is a large study underway at Vanderbilt to test a treatment to slow the progression of the disease. It’s very exciting to be working on a project that gives hope to so many suffering from this disease. The study of neurobiology is also near and dear to my heart, because my grandmother had Alzheimer’s and my grandfather had Parkinson’s. It has really helped me come to grips with what has happened in our family and what may be possible in the future for patients suffering from these same diseases.
What is the one thing from your time at SHA that is your most cherished memory or tradition?
The strength of my faith for sure. In that community at Sacred Heart, you don’t feel so alone. Flik cookies and lunchtime of course! And, when we beat KCD in the state tournament. Seeing the team pull out the win was so much fun. We decorated our cars, celebrated seeing ourselves on the news, and relished in seeing our hard work pay off in that moment of my senior year. It was the best way to go out!
How do you stay connected to your classmates?
Facebook for sure; we have a 2013 Class Facebook page that we use to keep in touch or discuss our upcoming 5-year reunion! I also stay in close touch with my best friend Caitlyn Barnes, who I was introduced to during my freshman year at Sacred Heart. We’re still friends nine years later!
If it were not for SHA, I…
Would not have had the confidence to pursue my wildest dreams. Sacred Heart was my safe-haven and it taught me that failure is not failure at SHA, it is just an opportunity to learn.
What does leadership mean to you and what advice would you give to a SHA student today about leadership?
A leader to me is not someone who is up on a podium…they are in the middle of the pack encouraging everyone to move forward as a group. They are invested in the care, love, health and education of everyone around them. You don’t have to be at the front of the group, you don’t have to stand out, it’s just the small things that you do to show that you care. The best advice I’d give to a girl at SHA today would be, when you speak you are not listening, and so be silent and listen to the voices of others around you. That’s when you will learn the most. You can hear the experiences of others and better understand different situations and perspectives that will enable you to help others in the future.
Angela Chamberlin Leet is Metro Louisville Councilwoman for District 7, and a graduate of the University of Louisville J.B. Speed School of Engineering’s undergraduate and master’s program. Angela graduated from Sacred Heart Academy in 1987.
How did your Sacred Heart Academy education prepare you for college & beyond?
Sacred Heart helped me to be very well-prepared for the challenges of college, and attending the J.B. Speed School of Engineering. SHA helped me develop the confidence needed to go into a male-dominated field of study (along with at least 3 others from the class of 1987!) and feel self-assured in my abilities. The Speed School is still a male-dominated program, but the numbers have continued to grow in terms of female students – from about 16% when I was on-campus, to nearly 22% today.
I like to remind the students when I come back for Career Day at SHA, to really consider a degree in math or science, as these fields are so valuable and translatable to a variety of careers – medicine, engineering, architecture, etc. Sacred Heart gives its students a great foundation in math & science!
Is there a teacher at Sacred Heart who influenced you the most?
Yes! Sister Lorna Weiler. She inspired me to move in the direction that I did. I give Sister Lorna all the credit for helping me make that decision, and I ended up being the first college student/graduate in my family.
What is one thing from your time at SHA that you still carry with you today?
A key experience that was monumental for my personal growth was my Senior Retreat. It allowed me the opportunity to learn about myself, as well as other classmates I’d not known as well during my time at SHA.
How do you stay connected to your Valkyrie classmates and Sacred Heart Academy, in general?
Part of the beauty of a Catholic school education is the tradition that comes along with it. I think that is something that is priceless in life. It provides young women with that a grounded sense of who they are, and SHA helps them establish roots at a time when they are in a discovery phase of life; growing up, figuring out who they are going to be, experimenting and questioning many things. I feel that I have always had SHA girls around me, as do many of us; whether we leave Louisville permanently, stay here, or go elsewhere and return, you always have that common ground with your Sacred Heart Academy classmates. You can always come back to one another.
Fill in the blank: “If it were not for SHA, I…”
I would not be where I am today. It may seem like a boring answer, but when I really stop and think about it, it provided the structure, the grounding and the focus, so that I didn’t get lost. One way I’d tell the story is that if you’ve never lived in a small town, what you learn is that it is easy to be a big fish in a small pond. But, because of being a big fish in a small pond, you can have a greater impact. I think the size of SHA allows young women to explore the possibilities of what you can be, and build up that confidence. I have worked throughout the years with women of all walks of life and personal situations and what I often find in those that are struggling, is that they absolutely do not have the self-esteem and confidence that so many young women are blessed to develop during their time at Sacred Heart. I see them working so hard to pull themselves out of a difficult situation because they haven’t been blessed with the same opportunity to develop their self-esteem. Of course, all of us will experience barriers or have setbacks in life, but rather than quitting you say “Ok, I have to find a different way”. If not for Sacred Heart, I would not know how to surmount some of those challenges and barriers in life. SHA provided a safe environment to try and fail, and with your teachers and classmates, you tried again and picked yourself back up. That’s how you build up that confidence…failing, and trying a new path!
How do you live out the Sacred Heart Schools core values of Community, Leadership, Reverence and Service?
I have a philosophical take on this. I receive my interactions with other humans based on the premise that we are all wired to need three things: a safe environment in which to develop self-esteem and confidence, respect (reverence) and connection (faith). Connection can come in many ways, including faith and leadership. The idea is that as you have success, you bring someone else along with to share that success or show them the way. They’ll have to achieve success within themselves, but so many people in our community don’t have the resources to grow so I ask myself, “As a leader, what can I do to help others make connections and have learning opportunities so that they can be successful and self-reliant themselves?” This overall, is my belief in how we create a better community. Providing people with safe places, respect (give it AND earn it from others), and creating connections for other people.
Service is another way of living out the core values, and I am reminded of the Habitat for Humanity project with the Ursuline Sisters, and Sister Judith Rice, to raise money to fund and build a home in Smoketown, as the Ursulines celebrated 150 years in Louisville. This was a great example of bringing people together toward a common goal that seemed insurmountable at the time, but was achieved!
What does the word leadership mean to you?
Leadership to me, embodies the ability to inspire people to be better than they imagine they can be, and to achieve more than they ever imagined possible. And, it’s important that leaders not talk about it, but show others how it can be done. We need to develop more leaders in this world, and often that means making tough decisions in life. We frequently get wrapped up in trying to please everyone and we don’t always provide the leadership necessary to get things done and improve lives.