Inspiring Women

INSPIRING WOMEN: Project Reflection

It has been an honor to celebrate all of the amazing women in my circle throughout March!  I decided I wanted to take on a creative project for Women’s History Month shortly after I started my blog. I couldn't wait till March came around so I could make it a reality. Now that the project is almost two weeks behind me, I'd like to share some reflections from Inspiring Women: Celebrating Women In My Circle.


1. The women in my life are so dang amazing! Each woman I highlighted send me a short bio along with her answers to the three prompts and, without fail, everyone included something in their bios or responses that I didn’t know about them. Further reminders of how awesome the ladies around me are! 

2. This project had me missing people, places, and hairstyles! While writing about folks that have been such a big part of my history, I couldn't help but get caught up in so many amazing memories! Travel. . .college. . .grad school. . .too many great times in my life. Also, it got me thinking about hairstyles. There are some hair changes on the horizon!

3. Writing a piece a day for the month was a lot of work.  I am so, so glad I did - but a blog post a day is quite an undertaking. . . especially with my current work/life load. If any of y'all were paying close attention you may have noticed how, at the beginning of the month, I had the daily post out by 9AM. And, by the end of the month, I was so behind that I put 4 out in one day. (Please note that any delay in people's posts was a direct result of my business/procrastination/etc. and not at all a reflection on them!) Related to time and making enough time for my passions, in particular, y'all will have to stay tuned because I have some very exciting information that I'll be sharing publicly soon.

4. I need to work on my blog format. Because I now have 30+ blog posts on a similar topic, I realize that I need to find a better way to let readers search through categories. Currently, there’s no proper way to search my blog posts.  So, if you look now, it’s all bios and it’s difficult to access my previous content. This is just giving me the push I need to do some work with my blog and, perhaps, change the Squarespace theme. (Changes to come!!) 


5. I couldn’t help but think about each person’s Top 5 Strengths! Through my work coaching and teaching, I engage quite a bit with StrengthsQuest. Essentially, SQ is a inventory, through Gallup, that identifies one's “Top 5” themes of talent or, strengths. I have done a wide variety of personality assessments and this is, by far, my favorite! The more I work with it, the more I feel its accuracy and impact.  

As I was writing each piece, I caught myself wondering the strengths of my friends. Some folks, especially those working in Student Affairs, have done this assessment so I know their strengths but I couldn't help wondering about others. As I take on Life Coaching in the upcoming months, I look forward to incorporating StengthsQuest into my sessions with women as they work to love themselves and achieve their goals. 

6. This list of 31 women isn't exhaustive. There are many other important and inspirational ladies in my life – both those I know personally and some that I do not. This project is a reminder of how women around me have shaped my personal history. It brings me joy to share them and their amazing passions and inspirations with the world. As I grow my business, I want to make sure I am highlighting the talent and expertise from women around me in the same way.

7. Women supporting women. . . is everything. I’ve been using the hashtag #WomenSupportingWomen on Instagram for a while.  This is a mantra and philosophy that has become something I believe in deeply and am constantly seeking to put into practice in my life. I have a lot to say about this. . .so much that I am going to save it for an upcoming blog post (or two).


Finally, THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU! Thank you to those who read along throughout the month! Thank you to the amazing folks who agreed to be part of this! Thanks oh-so-much to those of you who shared and helped pub this project! All of this means so much to me!  

I don’t know how long I’ll keep the calendar up for – but it will certainly be a while. The images and collages of the women in this project are also on my Instagram. You can see them all using the hashtag #CelebratingWomenInMyCircle. Again, thanks so much for reading!


I intentionally started and ended my calendar with my family and, with this post, I definitely “saved the best for last”. My mom, Becky Paroubek, is the original inspiring women in my life. My mom is smart, resourceful, thrifty, creative, kind, thoughtful, humble, supportive, and fun.

My mom describes herself as “a 50-something who is too young to retire, but old enough to get a Senior Discount at Goodwill :-)”.  (This is too accurate. When she visited me last summer, she joined me on a  thrifting adventure and I asked her to help me utilize the 15% off Senior Citizen Discount! She was an amazing sport about it!)

Mom has been a woman in a non-traditional occupation, computer programming, since 1985 and has experienced gender discrimination in the workplace and job market.  She is a strong woman who sticks up for what she believes in – in the work place and beyond. As a computer programmer, my mom is quite computer savvy. In fact, for most of my life, I have called to seek her assistance on many technology related issues. (Once, I even called her from Germany to help me out when I was an exchange student.) Lately, with the creation of my online store and blog, I think I’ve gotten a little better in that department. She is always still happy to help – for which I am very grateful!

My mom supports me unconditionally. She will always listen to me if I have a decision or tough choice to make, but never pushes her opinions on me. She has that great skill of simply asking questions to help me come to the right conclusion. And, literally, no matter what I do she is supportive of my choices and decisions.  

As I’ve grown up, it’s been hard for me to identify with friends who have had overbearing or overly involved parents. (You know the type. . .parents that are not-so-subtly living vicariously through their children. Or, those who are quick to be pushy or overly assertive with their wants and demands.) This is something I have literally never experienced from my mom.

I've always loved and connected with my mom. And, I like her more and more as I grow older. While I have furthered my education and deepened my understanding about social issues, my mom has always been interested and willing to learn, too. From conversation with my peers, this is not typical. Not just every parent will read the “Why are all the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria” book you give to them and talk with you about race and racial inequity in America. Unlike some parents who are concerned with keeping their parent and child power dynamics in tact, my mom often expresses how she benefits from learning from me. What an amazing, humble woman! Because, of course, I would never understand these things were it not for the education, care, and opportunities she supported or provided for me.

Like I mentioned when I highlighted her at the beginning of the month, my sister and I have a lot of very similar views about life and are two ultra-confident ladies. Although my mom doesn't have all of the same characteristics or views that we do, I am certain that the way she raised us – to love others and love ourselves—is to credit for our perspectives. My mom did so many critical things right in raising us. She talked with us, encouraged us to imagine and “play pretend”, was active with us, and was honest with us.

Nowadays, I usually catch up with my mom every few weeks over the phone. It’s fun to update her on all of my excitements and life developments because she always shares in my joy.  I am deeply fortunate to have the mom I do. I value you her so very much! She is the original inspiring woman in my life.

Read about my mom’s inspirations and advice below. . .

What do you care about deeply?

"Being a Child of God, my friends and family, social justice, the value of [life long] education and travel, continuously striving to live a balanced life, and incorporating fun into all avenues of my life whether at work, or at play."

Who are women in your life or throughout history that inspire you?

"Bernice Polivoda (Cat’s Grandmother):  Bernice was graceful and calm with a ton of class. Besides being an excellent homemaker, she was a stable, loving, and supportive influence to myself and all those around her. Bernice valued learning and placed reading and travel as high priorities in her life. She was a fantastic role model!"

"Pat Pallardy:  Pat created Set Free 2 Enjoy which is a women’s recreational group in the La Crosse, WI area.  Set Free 2 Enjoy fills a void in women’s lives by offering organized recreational activities (hiking, kayaking, biking, cross country skiing, playing cards, having dinner, seeing a play, etc.) to women who are in need of an activity partner.  The group is a community of women, young and old, who are now able to join with other women to explore and have fun!  Pat is passionate, energetic, enthusiastic, extremely knowledgeable and deeply spiritual - an awesome woman who provides incredible opportunities for women’s recreation and has created a community of love and laughter."

"Caitlin Polivoda and Lillia Polivoda (my daughters):  My two daughters are totally different yet remarkably the same when it comes to being confident young women who are smart, savvy, and exceptional.  More than that, they are each uniquely motivated by caring spirits and a true desire to help to make this world a better place - to make a difference in the world and in the lives they touch." [Thanks, Mom!]

"By watching how my daughters live their lives, learning from them, and by the power of osmosis (ha!) Cat and Lilly continuously inspire me to be the best I can be."

If you could give advice to your younger self, what would it be and why?

"You are worthy, and you are wonderful just the way you are:  don’t determine your self-worth from others’ opinions; rather find it in yourself.  Love yourself and embrace who you are – the way God made you!" 

"Be able to look at yourself in the mirror each morning and smile:  knowing you have stayed true to your soul."

"You cannot do it alone:  Well, you can but it probably won’t be as much fun, or as good. Self-determination and pride can be useful and also self-fulfilling.  But, it is also important to remember that there is great worth in seeking the opinion and support of trusted friends.  Asking for help can be one of the strongest things you ever do.  And, by working collaboratively, you will find that trusting others and working together will create a richer experience and produce a better outcome."

This March, I have been celebrating all the amazing women around me! Sharing women who have influenced me and make up my personal history. As the month goes on, you can see all my Inspiring Women posts here!

INSPIRING WOMEN: Marilyn Mcintyre

Marilyn Mcintyre is my boyfriend, Tony’s, mom. From seeing her role model self-confidence, to noticing the sweet way she interacts with her son, to the lovely things she has done for me throughout my time in New Orleans – she is an inspiring woman in my life. Marilyn is loyal, caring, honest, resourceful, confident and dynamic.

Marilyn was born and raised in Minnesota. She moved to New Orleans in 2010 to join Tony who has been down here since 2008. She is, without a doubt, her son’s number one fan. Something I find inspiring about Marilyn is her role as a mother. She wanted her son to have a different childhood and background than she did and worked hard to create it. She values education and worked to make sure this was a reality for Tony. She made sure her son could succeed. Marilyn is fiercely protective of him and very, very proud.  Now, and when he was growing up, Marilyn reminded Tony that he is a king and does not let him forget it.

Marilyn is currently a home health care provider.  When she was in Minnesota, Marilyn was an anesthesia support specialist in labor and delivery. I don’t get to see Marilyn with her patients but, I can tell you, if I was ill and needed someone to take care of me, I think she would be the best person. She is nurturing and warm. Plus, she has a realness and “tell it like it is” nature to her, which I love.

Marilyn is thoughtful and caring. She’s always sending Tony over to my place with snacks or delicious left-overs. She’s given me several pieces of furniture and things to spruce up my apartment. And, I never miss a holiday dinner in New Orleans!

Marilyn is a gal on the go! She is often traveling back to Minnesota and having her friends visit her here in NOLA. I love the value she places on travel and making time for those around her. (My haven’t-been-to-MN-in-a-year-and-a-half self could learn something from her!)

Marilyn is proud of the woman that she is today. Everything she’s gone through has brought her to where she is today. I love this perspective and try to ascribe to it, as well.

I am happy Marilyn is in my life - through Tony. It’s so nice to have a stable force down here. Especially when Tony is away on tour, it sets my mind at ease to know she’s there if I need her. Plus, it helps that we can both lament how much we miss him when I help them connect over skype sessions!

I am certain, at some point, Tony will be an exceptional father and I know this will be greatly influenced by his experiences growing up and his mom’s role in his life. And, when Tony tells me about the cute things he and his mom used to do, I can’t help but think of Marilyn as a grandma playing a special role in her grandkid’s lives . . . reminding each of them that they’re kings and queens.

Read about Marilyn’s inspirations and advice for her former self below. . .

What inspires you?

Strength and empowering women inspire Marilyn. As someone who has gone through a lot she wants to help other women. She sees many women down on themselves and caught in the trap of doing what other want them to do instead of being true to themselves.

Who are women in your life or throughout history who have inspired you?

Iyanla Vanzant! Marilyn said Iyanla can pinpoint her feelings like no one else can. In fact, sometimes she can bring up thoughts or feelings she didn’t know she had inside. And, Iyanla has a spiritual connection to her work and empowerment. When Marilyn mentioned her, I was not surprised. She shares a lot of her quotes and words over social media – which I enjoy!

What advice would you give your younger self?

Marilyn would say “I love you” because wished she would have heard that more. She’d reminded her that “you really are more than you thought you were”! And, she’d give her a hug!


This March, I am celebrating all the amazing women around me! Sharing women who have influenced me and make up my personal history. As the month goes on, you can see all my Inspiring Women posts here

INSPIRING WOMEN: Dr. Cecilia E. Suarez

Dr. Cecilia E. Suarez, better known as "CC", entered my circle in 2012 through my involvement in TPE. TPE (The Placement Exchange) is a Student Affairs employment and resource conference that takes place annually. I was fortunate to be selected as a TPE intern for the 2012 conference in Phoenix. CC was one of our fearless leaders and has been an inspiring woman in my life since.

CC is smart, passionate, social justice focused, supportive, determined, and kind.

As a graduate student completing my Masters of Science in Training & Development, I was, of course, on my professional development hustle. Signing up for this and that, applying for every opportunity that I could find, taking on more than I probably should of but enjoying the experiences and connections that they brought into my young professional life. I don’t remember how I became aware of the TPE Ambassador and Intern positions – but I am so thankful I did!

The opportunity to be a TPE Intern was one of the best professional development opportunities I have experienced. And, through my role as an intern, I was able to build relationships with some of the most amazing people! Not only was I able to get to know a fabulous group of interns – other grad students in Student Affairs – I connected with some real movers and shakers in Higher Ed. This, of course, includes CC who, this past year, was the Event Chair of TPE in New Orleans.

CC was born and raised in San Antonio, Texas.  She earned a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Miami and majored in biology and elementary education.  Upon completing her Bachelors degree, CC enrolled at Miami University of Ohio where she graduated with a Masters of Science in Education in 2007.

After graduation, CC worked at New York University as the Diversity Educator in the Department of Residential Life and Housing Services for 3 years.  In 2014, Cecilia became Dr. Suarez and graduated with her PhD from The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in Education Policy Studies. Her research focuses on access and equity for students of color in higher education, particularly first generation women of color. CC currently serves as a faculty member at the University of Illinois in the College of Agricultural, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences and teaches for the Leadership Studies Program. CC’s current research includes “Perceptions and Opportunities of Leadership Among Latino College Students” and “Intersectionalities of Identity among Women of Color in Academia”.

I admire so much about CC. She is the only women I have highlighted this month to have earned her PhD. I admire her brilliance and scholarship while staying true to herself and her identity. She has a funky personal style. (In fact, she was the inspiration for my undercut. I still am not brave enough to have designs shaved in it, though!) She also remains connected to her culture and identity and uses her position in academia to support underrepresented voices. And, CC is a genuine and engaging lady who is fun to be around.

After we met at TPE 2012, I’ve been able to reconnect with CC a few times.  I saw her the next year when I job searched at the conference and then several times here in New Orleans. In fact, last year CC and her crew (three other fab folks) all crammed into my tiny apartment for Mardi Gras. That was actually my first Mardi Gras in the city, so it was great to spend some of it with those old pros! ;) And, I’ve had the pleasure of seeing CC a few times this spring when she was down here for a conference and, just last week, at TPE 2015 (which she chaired! Woop woop!)!

Read about CC’s inspirations and words of advice below. . .

What inspires you?

“I am constantly inspired by people who believe that their lives are much more than just about them. Individuals who are focused on ensuring that every person in society has equal access to human rights inspire me. I am inspired by the strength of the human spirit to find the overall good in things. Although we face many challenges on a daily basis, people's LOVE inspires me.”

Who are women in your life or throughout history that inspire you?

“My mother and grandmother are 2 women who have inspired me to continue "The Good Fight". Raised by these 2 strong women, I learned to never settle, always focus on achieving my goals, no matter what others say, and live the fullest life possible. Although my mother and grandmother never went to college, they were the smartest women I know. They showed me how to be selfless and to always remember to reach my hand outward to help somebody along my journey. Although selfless, my mother is and my grandmother was FIESTY! Don't take their niceness for weakness. They were quick to tell you how it was if they felt like you weren't be fair or honest. Seeing them have a strong voice and strong values allowed me to grow into a SPIT FIRE womyn King who doesn't take "wooden nickels" from anyone!”

If you had one piece of advice for your younger self, what would it be and why?

“Don't allow others to tell you your worth! Your value is based off of your own perspective and does not need to be outwardly validated. Don't do things half-heartedly because you think someone will be mad at you and not think you are a good person. If you don't want to go to a party, DON'T GO! If you don't want to hang out with people because you don't really like them, but don't want to be seen as a "mean" person, DON'T HANG OUT WITH THEM! Your love and value comes from within! Remember not to lose yourself in relationships: friendship, family, or romantic. REMAIN yourself and do not adapt only to the needs of the other person. Reciprocity is key because, baby girl, you're amazing!”



This March, I am celebrating all the amazing women around me! Sharing women who have influenced me and make up my personal history. As the month goes on, you can see all my Inspiring Women posts here!


Kate Seewald is my one of my closest friends from my exchange year in Germany. While I was halfway through the school year studying in Frankfurt in 2005-2006, Kate had just arrived from Australia. We studied at the same high school for a semester and had lots of adventures together in Frankfurt. Almost ten years later, I stay in touch with Kate and impressed with her important work with women around the world.

Kate is driven, globally aware, smart, dedicated to women-centered causes, and lots of fun.  

As an exchange student, I lived with two host families in two different cities in the Frankfurt area - half of the year with each. Both were wonderful and everything I needed at the time. For the second half of my exchange year, I lived directly in the city and attended Heinrich von Gagern Gymnasium. Shortly after I arrived, Kate (also with Rotary International – my program) started at Gagern, too.

We were sort of two peas on a pod! Kate and Cat – both English speakers, both on exchange, both awkward and awesome ladies trying to speak German and make our way in Deutschland. We spent a great deal of time together exploring the Frankfurt area. We regularly attended the English movie theatre, sat in the sun on the banks of the Main River, visited each other at our host family’s houses, and discussed all of our linguistic and cultural differences. For instance, at the time, Kate legitimately thought that all US phone numbers included 555 – like in the movies! And, I had no idea about word differences like capsicums (peppers) and prawns (shrimp). (My world was altered when I realized that putting on a fake Australian accent and saying “Let’s put another shrimp on the barbie” was not at all accurate as Australians don’t even say “shrimp”!)

Kate was born in a small country town in Australia (hilariously called Wagga Wagga) and moved around a lot in remote New South Wales growing up as her dad was in the police force. When she was 17, she left home to live in Frankfurt as an exchange student – where our paths crossed. Kate says that this was probably the most pivotal, influential experience of her life. (For real! Like I mentioned in an earlier post, the beauty, challenge, and adventure of my exchange experience had a wildly positive impact of my life, as well.)

After earning a bachelor's degree in International Relations and Anthropology, Kate completed a Master's in Human Rights in the hopes of someday working on women's rights and global feminist issues. After two long years and five internships in four countries, including with the UN in Palestine and with Save the Children in Papua New Guinea, she finally landed a job with the INGO ActionAid International in London. She has worked with them on their Safe Cities for Women Campaign (which aims to eradicate sexual violence in city streets), within the organization’s International Secretariat for a couple of years, and now she’s working with ActionAid Cambodia for 2015 in order to support their national campaigning efforts.

While in Frankfurt, Kate and I became very close. I shared, what might have been, the best summer of my entire life with Kate. Summer 2006 was when Germany hosted the World Cup. Games were played all over the country – some in Frankfurt. We never went to the games at the stadium but took part in the large crowds and festivities in the city center and along the Main River. People from all over the world were visiting Frankfurt and Kate and I were happy to party with all of them! We were expert English speakers so had no trouble chatting with everyone and could always resort to secret talks in German in front of our new friends – if necessary.

That summer was everything. In addition to the fantastic World Cup festivities, the weather was finally getting warmer, it was my final months in Frankfurt – a city that, by then, I was able to easily navigate, (for better or worse, I had sort of entered the I.D.G.A.F. phase in terms of school and pleasing my host family), I had built strong ties with a few other exchange students and my amazing German girlfriends (miss you Caro, Laura, und Selma!) and I was just soaking it all in. Kate was at a different time in her exchange having come 6 months after me (as the school years are different in the southern hemisphere), but it was wonderful to be able to spend time with her toward the end of my year.

Even though we literally come from half a world away from each other, I have been able to see Kate twice since we studied together in 2006. In 2010 when I was studying again in Germany, Kate happened to be doing a Europe trip and she was able to visit me in Trier! And, last year, when Tony toured London and Paris, I was able to see Kate again as she was living in London at the time.

I greatly admire the work Kate is doing. Her feminist spirit is bold and is visible in her work with ActionAid (and, in her previous positions). She is also thoughtful and culturally aware so, therefore, is invested in working with women in various communities - not for them. Also, she’s probably the most globetrotting women in my circle! (See work and internship experiences above!) Kate is also just a really fun lady! When we catch up we share a perfect mix of laughs and deep conversations. I look forward to staying in touch with her forever and hope to see her face to face sooner rather than later!

Read about Kate’s inspirations and advice below. . .

What inspires you?

My lady friends and colleagues inspire me! I am constantly amazed by the tenacity and courage of the women in my life, and the women that I've had the opportunity to meet through my work. From young women in the Kibera slum in Nairobi, Kenya, patrolling the streets with flashlights at night in groups to 'light up the dark' and look out for their fellow women who might be in trouble, to young lesbian women and garment workers in Cambodia who are shouting out against the many injustices they face on a daily basis, to activist women in Palestine organising themselves in peaceful protest against the unlawful occupation of their land by Israel. Women are incredible! The sudden mainstreaming of feminism, even (or especially!) across the Global South over the past couple of years has been incredible to watch and I can only hope it continues - of course we as women are all different and our cultural and political contexts unique - but we are all stronger in our cause when we are united. That's what is exciting me at the moment.”

Who are women in your life of throughout history that inspire you?

It has to be Rachel Corrie. I'm getting goosebumps right now just thinking about her. She was 23 when she was killed by an Israeli soldier who crushed her with a bulldozer, as she stood unarmed in front of a Gazan home that was about to be illegally destroyed. There is now a Rachel Corrie street in Ramallah.”

“Other women I adore include Marie Colvin, an amazing journalist who proved to us that foreign correspondence isn't just a boy's game - she was tragically killed in Syria as she covered the conflict in 2012. And Sophie Scholl, a young activist who at 22 was killed by the Nazis for distributing anti-regime leaflets at her local university. A true campaigner.”

If you could give advice to your younger self, what would it be and why?

“You're okay! You're doing okay, and you'll be okay. None of it matters as much as you think it does right now. I had a really rough final year of school, (exactly 10 years ago now) and I thought that I would never leave those days behind me. Turns out, once you do leave a tiny country town in the middle of the Australian countryside, it's pretty easy to never go back! I wish I could tell myself that I was about to leave it all behind, and things were about to get a hell of a lot better :)”


This March, I am celebrating all the amazing women around me! Sharing women who have influenced me and make up my personal history. As the month goes on, you can see all my Inspiring Women posts here!


I know they’re not one person, but I have been working with a special group of students this semester that I want to recognize them as inspiring people in my life. The students in my Body Positive FIG have given me life this semester. Our group, made up mostly of women, has created a supportive and empowering space for learning, reflection, and conversation.  

Last semester, a few students at the University of New Orleans approached me about leading a FIG (First-year Interest Group) focused on body positivity. This was the first time students had requested a topic like this I was excited by their energy! As I am passionate about body positivity and sharing self-love, I was happy to be the staff member to lead the group. Big shoutouts to Miranda LeBeau, Toni Chauppetta, and Alyssa Moore for voicing their desires and pursuing the creating of this FIG.

Our group meets weekly and is made up of students mostly in their freshman through junior years. We’re a small group - about 5 students come together every week and about 5 more have joined us on and off. Each week we check in with each other. I usually share information or present an activity and then we discuss. We’ve covered topics like bullying and discrimination, pressure from family members, diet industry lies, the Health at Every Size movement, the media, working out because you love your body, the unrealistic standard of beauty, and positive self-talk.

As a group, the students put together a program for UNO’s Diversity Week and Eating Disorder Awareness Week in February. It was a beautiful event that centered on individuals sharing stories about themselves, their bodies, and their personal body image.  The group transformed a meeting room into a more intimate presentation space and filled the walls with positive quotes and messages. Many students within our group spoke and they invited others to speak, too. Topics included natural hair, bullying and body size discrimination, motherhood, eating disorders, being labeled “skinny”, personal style and expression, and more. Energy in the room was powerful, in fact, a few audience members hadn’t planned to speak but were compelled to share their stories.

I am really impressed by the students in our FIG. They are brilliant people who are learning to question what they’ve been taught and reframe their ideas of themselves and beauty. They’re considering intersectionality and thinking about body size, body image, and standards of beauty within the context of multiple identities. Plus, they are extremely supportive of each other. Thursdays at 2PM when we meet are one of my favorite parts of the week.  They’re even considering channeling the energy around this into a student group so they can continue these conversations and activities in years to come.

Read what some of the folks in our group share what inspires them, women who inspire them, and advice for their younger selves below. . .

What inspires you?

“I inspire myself. I want to create the best life for myself. Be the best person I can. So, I can be a role model for others. I never had role models growing up. So, I want to be one for others and myself.” – Toni Chauppetta

“My poetry inspires me. It helps me cleanse myself of any negative energy. Words are powerful and a short phrase can go a long way.” – Keydra Jones

“People living their lives exactly as they see fit: living for themselves and no one else.” – Dominque Vancourt

“What inspires me is kindness. Seeing people who are genuinely kind to others regardless of who they are, gives me hope. It reminds me that there is a reason for life.” – Miranda LeBeau


What women in your life or throughout history inspire you?

“My mom inspires me every day. She possesses the strength, courage, and grace I wish I had.” – Keydra Jones

“There are many women in my life who inspire me I honestly think that every woman I have met inspired me in one way or another. Instead of giving specific names I'll list off the qualities that they have that make some inspirational: kind, genuine, brave enough to stand up for themselves and also for others, not afraid to admit their mistakes, and not afraid to be themselves.” - Miranda LeBeau

“Maya Washington. She's a YouTube persona and always talks about how her life hasn't been really easy and I relate strongly to her. So she inspires me to not let the little shitty things bog me down.” - Dominque Vancourt


If you could give advice to your younger self, what would it be and why?

That it's okay to be different. We weren't made to please everyone. Learn how to love yourself and be happy. Someday someone will come along and love you too. I've always struggled with loving myself and if I could would've started younger, I would probably be more comfortable with my body.” – Keydra Jones

“If I could, I would tell myself ‘you do you’. I was always worried about being judged as a kid. I'd tell myself 'Hey! You will be judged no matter what. So, you know what? Might as well be yourself and have fun. It is what it is, boo. You are amazing as you are'.” – Toni Chauppetta

“I would like to tell myself that it's okay to be weird and that you're the only one who can tell you who you are.” - Dominque Vancourt

“I would tell my younger self to never give up I would tell her to always try things, no matter how scary they are, and always stick to what she's passionate about. And also that I love her, even when it doesn't seem like it.”  – Miranda LeBeau

The pictures below are from our event. About half of the folks pictured are regular FIG members and the other half were audience members.


This March, I am celebrating all the amazing women around me! Sharing women who have influenced me and make up my personal history. As the month goes on, you can see all my Inspiring Women posts here!

INSPIRING WOMEN: Alyssa Volkmann

Alyssa Volkmann is quickly become part of my circle. I met her last year when she was in New Orleans with one of Hamline’s Catalyst spring break service learning trips. More recently, she has been helping me with some blog research and editing. I’m still getting to know Alyssa– but everything I know about her I love! We have lots in common and share some similar passions.

Alyssa is smart, bold, invested in supporting women around her, and socially conscious and critical.

Alyssa grew up in Northern Wisconsin with her mom and sister. Her parents divorced when she was young, so she spent her childhood with her mom and her big sister as her main caregivers. She has always really loved education. Despite economic obstacles, her family always told her she would go to college. Not only did she love school, but she had access to an awesome, small school that prepared her extremely well for high school where she graduated in the top 20% of my class as an honor roll student. She was very involved (a woman after my own heart!), participating in organizations like Model United Nations, German Club, National Honor Society and Student Council.

Now, Alyssa is at Hamline where she has declared a double major in Social Justice and Sociology (my fav!) and is considering a Social Justice concentration in Public Health and Youth Advocacy. She’s also involved in a plethora of organizations at Hamline on including Pride Black Student Alliance, the Hmong Student Alliance, Asian Pacific American Coalition, and is on the executive board of Spectrum - Hamline’s under-graduate LGBTQIA organization. And, naturally, she also works for the McVay Youth Partnership.

Alyssa plans to study abroad and recently got accepted into a study abroad program next spring with HECUA’s (Higher Education Consortium for Urban Affairs) about Democracy and Social Change in Northern Ireland. She’s on track graduate in May ’17 and when she does, she will be the first person in her family to graduate from college. After graduation she plans to work for a non-profit organization that allows her to work with youth. Then she hopes to attend graduate school for sociology.

In her free time, Alyssa likes to spend time with friends, go out for pho in St. Paul (she says this is the best thing ever during long Minnesota winters), make mix CD’s, explore the Twin Cities and watch documentaries. She is a big lover of the outdoors, so she also jumps at any chance to go sightseeing and hiking.

Alyssa reminds me a bit of myself when I was in college! She seems to be involved in some similar activities and have several similar passions and inspirations. I knew I liked her when we met last year and I’ve been happy to stay in touch over social media since. Working together a bit recently has been great as she is incredibly patient with me and my overwhelming business.

I am admire Alyssa taking on a study abroad experience that aligns so well with her studies in sociology and social justice. When I learned she has studied German, I assumed she would go to Trier like I did in college but was pleased to hear about her decision to study in Northern Ireland as it will assuredly have more depth with themes of social justice and social change.  I also admire Alyssa’s bold voice. I love how she posts radical information and statuses over social media. I look forward to staying connected with Alyssa to see what exciting and world shaking things she’s working on.

I love what Alyssa shares related to her inspirations and advice below. . .

What inspires you? What do you care about deeply? 

“I care deeply about social justice and I am inspired by vulnerability, empathy and honesty. When working towards social justice, it’s extremely emotional and personal work. In order to be successful in in any capacity, it is necessary to work with people and build relationships and I admire people who are willing to be honest and vulnerable to establish interpersonal relationships with colleagues who share common goals. I believe that opening up and sharing your honest story and listening to others with empathy are necessary in working towards social justice and I am inspired by those who give so much of themselves in whatever work they do.”

Who are women in your life or throughout history that inspire you? 

“My mom is one of my biggest inspirations in my life. She is one of the hardest working people I’ve ever known. Growing up, I feel like most kids go through the stage where they say they will never become their mom, but the longer I am away from home, the more I feel myself becoming my mother (haha). I am so thankful that she raised me to believe in myself and the value my opinions, while also letting me form my own opinions that are different than hers. Although I am growing to be like her in many aspects (smart shopping, cleaning, sarcastic and thoughtful), we are also extremely different. Luckily, we embrace that difference. After coming to college, I came out as queer and though my mother is not apart of the community, she has worked hard to understand my identity and has been extremely supportive. She puts in a lot of effort to grow with me and understand my opinions on things and I couldn’t ask for anything more than that.”

“Another woman who has inspired me is Audre Lorde. I love how unapologetically authentic she is. Women like her are the trailblazers that have made it possible for women to celebrate the intersections of their identities and practice solidarity among women with identities different than our own. Her wisdom is something that I seek when I need guidance or feel burnt out because she has a magical way with words that inspires me to move forward. One of my favorite quotes of hers is, “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.” I truly believe that our work as women will never be done until every woman in the world is free from whatever is oppressing her. This is something I carry with me in the work I do on my campus, in the classroom and in my personal life.”

If you had one piece of advice to your former self (10+ years ago), what would it be and why? 

“Stop negative self-talk NOW! à I wish that someone would have stopped me from developing this habit before it became as ingrained in my psyche as it is now. I know that I have accomplished a lot and that I am someone of value; however, there are days where my self-talk becomes very negative and once it begins to go down that path, it is extremely hard to stop the process. This habit is not beneficial to me and it uses up so much of my important, much needed energy that I could be putting into productive things. While I know that this habit is problematic, it’s extremely difficult to change it when it’s so much apart of me. I feel like it takes away a lot of my light, and I wish that someone had taught me how important it is as a child to develop the habit of positive self-talk. I can feel the difference in the energy I give off when my self-talk is positive, and that’s one of my biggest inspirations to continue changing this habit. I would like to challenge you to instill the value of positive self-talk in every person you have the opportunity to work with, especially young people, because I truly believe it could change lives.”


This March, I am celebrating all the amazing women around me! Sharing women who have influenced me and make up my personal history. As the month goes on, you can see all my Inspiring Women posts here!


Jane Krentz runs the McVay Youth Partnership at Hamline University.  I worked for her all four years of college. McVay, an afterschool mentorship program, was one of the best jobs I’ve ever had. As you have likely seen in several other profiles in this project, working for McVay is a common theme in many of my college friendships. And, Jane is to credit for this beautiful opportunity in my life.

Jane is civically engaged, caring, socially conscious, and dedicated to her work, students, and community.

I was (still am) the type of person who fully reads campus announcement emails in case there is an opportunity or info that might apply to me. This is how I found out about the McVay Youth Partnership. In my first semester of school, I applied or contacted Jane over email and then completely forgot about it. She (THANKFULLY) reached back out to me over email and asked if I was still interested before summer break. I started that fall. . . and the rest is history.

 When school started, I attended my first training. This was fall 2007, so I likely showed up wearing a short jean skirt over leggings, a scarf, and sunglasses (my uniform) and a lip ring.  I bonded with a fellow coworker who couldn’t whistle (Matrika), was captivated by the good-looking boy who thought I smelled good (Tony), and started talking to the folks that I would be having giggle fits with at the same training next year (Kelly and Adam). This was truly the beginning of something beautiful.

I, honestly, cannot underestimate the power of McVay in my life! I built some of the closest relationships with other folks in McVay (including my significant other)! Really and truly, college would not have been what it was and I would not be who I am were it not for McVay. I worked with passionate people who “loved the kids” and so did I! And, my conversations with students and coworkers deepened my understanding and interest in social justice issues.

I remember when I was a member of Hamline’s Wesley scholars Jane came and talked to us about her political background and some of her experience. That was the first time I learned about Jane’s depth and expertise outside of her role with McVay. Jane uses her brilliance and talents to serve others and positively impact our community and country.  

Jane, of course, is the Director of the McVay Youth Partnership - mentoring over 50 amazing Hamline students yearly, who serve as Fellows and Interns working with urban middle and high school youth in partnership with area churches.  Jane graduated from Hamline University in 1974 with a degree in Psychology and Elementary Education, and completed her M.Ed. at the University of MN in Special Education. 

She taught elementary school in the Mounds View School District, was a stay-home mom for 9 years, and served as a Minnesota State Senator for a decade (1993-2002) where she served on the Education Committee for 10 years, and was selected Chair of the Environment and Agriculture Budget Division and subsequently the Chair of the Environment and Natural Resources Committee. 

Jane is a mover and shaker – a true woman on a mission. She has had previous and current involvement in multiple groups and boards. She has served as the Regional Coordinator for the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators and has been active in the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). Jane served as conference coordinator for “Turning the Tides”, an international conference on chemical policy and its impact on Women’s Health for the Women’s Cancer Resource Center in Minneapolis in 2003-2004.  She currently serves on the board of the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy and is a Strategic Advisor for Conservation Minnesota.

In addition to her work at Hamline, Jane worked for 20 years for the National Center on Educational Outcomes (NCEO), focusing on the inclusion of students with disabilities and English Language Learners in assessment and accountability.  And, she has worked at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis part-time for nearly 43 years.

Jane dearly loves her family (a son, two daughters, their spouses and a grand-daughter), as well as her McVay “family”.  She says McVay is the best job ever! (You and me both, Jane!) When she is not working, or spending time with family and friends, you can find her floating in her floating chair on Square Lake.

Jane has so many qualities I admire. She is dedicated to her student staff and the students served though McVay.  Jane is committed to hiring a diverse staff as she understands the importance of children seeing role models that look like them. She is also civically engaged and deeply committed to bettering our nation.  Additionally, I admire her extreme punctuality with letters of recommendation. Her quick turnaround time and willingness to write these is really an inspiration. (Seriously! It’s amazing and wonderful!)

Jane calls those of us who have worked for McVay her “McVay Family”. She travels around the country quite a bit and always makes every effort to see McVay alum when she’s in our cities. Unlike many folks, she does a superb job of keeping in touch with us.

Finally, Jane taught us something about programming with kids that I think is brilliant and applicable to all parts of life. When we were playing a game or doing an activity, she encouraged us to quit while it was still fun. Sometimes, you play a game till you’re sick of it and it’s not fun anymore. Her advice was to stop before you hit that point so the kids would leave on a high note and would look forward to playing it again. This is simple but really quite wise! And, I apply it to other parts of life, as well.

McVay was a major part of my growth into the woman I am today – lots of beautiful and hilarious moments sprinkled with a little heartbreak and challenge. I have Jane to thank for giving me the opportunity to be involved in this organization, supporting me while I worked for McVay, and staying in touch now that I’m an alum.

Read about Jane’s inspirations and advice below. .

What inspires you?

I am inspired by. . .
People who truly try to make a difference in this world
Positive, happy, caring people.
Generous, loving and thoughtful people.

I am particularly inspired by…
Children, youth and young adults
My own family and my “McVay” family
Persistent people who work to improve things, despite the odds.
Stewards of the land, air and water.

I am also inspired by…
The absolute beauty of a summer day, floating on my lake, listening to the loons call.
Snowy mornings sparkling with sunshine.
Art, music, and theater of many genres.

I am inspired by possibility.

Who are women in your life or throughout history who inspire you?

I am inspired by my daughters, Leah and Sarah, who are strong, smart, capable young women.  I’m incredibly proud of them and who they have grown to be.

I’m also inspired by many of my Hamline/McVay students, who have become like family to me. 

I’m particularly inspired by women in the Karen refugee community in Minnesota who have overcome so much, and remain caring, positive, generous and hard-working.

If you had one piece of advice to your younger self, what would it be and why?

Surround yourself with positive people.  Don’t try to assuage the haters and those engulfed in negative energy.  Say goodbye kindly to them and move on. Life’s too short to spend time with people who suck the energy out of you. 

Enjoy some time in nature every day, or at the very least, as often as you possibly can.  Even on a cold winter night, if I come home late after working a couple of jobs, and stopping to pick up groceries- I try to stop and look at the stars, listen to the quiet of the night, watch the moonlight reflecting on the snow.  And, in summer, I can’t get enough of being outdoors. =)

Don’t judge others.  Everyone is who they are for a reason.  Cut them some slack. Give them a chance.  If they repeatedly mess up, then wish them well and say goodbye.  Life’s too short. 

Don’t sweat the small stuff. 

Love your children and family and friends with all of your heart. 

And, as cliché as it sounds, live everyday as though it were your last- and look for the good in everyone and every situation.


This March, I am celebrating all the amazing women around me! Sharing women who have influenced me and make up my personal history. As the month goes on, you can see all my Inspiring Women posts here!


Kor Zoua Pa Xiong is part of my extended circle. She is close friends with my close friend Susun, a fellow Hamline alum, and another former employee of the McVay Youth Partnership! I wanted to feature her in this project because I admire her work, fashion, and spirit! 

Koko is passionate, hardworking, full of life, strong and oh-so-stylish.

Koko is almost 26 years old and hails from the east side of St. Paul, Minnesota. She’s a true city girl. Koko loves good food, enjoys happy hour on patios and likes sunbathing on the boat with a glass of wine. (She’s a woman after my own heart!) She is an active lady playing a lot of sports - flag-football, basketball, tennis, and snowboarding. She also like the work out.  And, she requires a “zen day” once a week.

Koko graduated from Hamline University in 2011. We were in school at the same time and were part of some similar circles – most notably we both worked for the McVay Youth Partnership. (Do y’all see a trend? So many of the people I love have connections to McVay!)  

After college, she received her Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) certification in 2012. Koko works in law enforcement. She says she is employed by the “Blue Bloods” ;). She is truly working from within! And, talk about a system that needs more voices working within it to create positive change – especially the voices of women of color. I admire her choice in profession and am grateful for her presence there. 

Koko says “fashion is [her] thang! It’s a way to feel free and have fun and feel confident”. Um, yes, fashion is her thing.  Koko’s style is always painfully on point! She has amazing fashion sense. She is bold in her style choices and seems to pull any and everything off perfectly!

She jokes that she is the Fashion Police! ;) Maybe that’s why her sisters and friends are always looking fabulous, too. (Honestly, I don’t really get excited about a lot of non-plus size fashionistas. But Koko’s style is too perfect to overlook!) I am also kind of surprised she is not an Instagram celebrity! Fab outfits, exotic travel destinations, silly boyfriend photos, family cuteness, and the best food pics – ha ha, this is what IG celebrities are made of! 

I admire how Koko keeps a healthy distance between her work and private life. I know her hours can be long and hard but she seems to manage to make time for herself and the people she loves.  Travel is also important to her. She says trips are her escapes. I think that ties into her separation of work and private life. And, I love it! She also is dedicated to her family – another trait I admire.

Last year, Koko and several other fab Hamline ladies came down to New Orleans. It was great to see them. It’s always a pleasure to catch up with beautiful, strong women who are making positive impacts on the world in their own ways. (Linda, Sheng, Susun, you’ve obviously included in that, too!) 

Read about Koko’s inspirations below. . .

What inspires you?

To make something out of yourself.  Be about it and stand behind it.  I truly care and believe finding ones happiness is a must, whatever that may be. There are so many spaces in this world to fit in if that's what you want and there's also so many spaces that you don't fit in and that's also ok.  I am inspired by challenges.  I believe to truly see your fullest potential, you have to take on challenges.  Try something you are not comfortable with, that's going to test you mentally and physically until you fall back to homeostasis.

What woman inspires you?

The only woman who has inspired me in my life, is my mother. I know people think it's cliche but it's the truth. My mother is the strongest and most loving and forgiving person I know. A young female who was married in adolescent years, bore 9 kids, and the 1st born did not survive. Immigrated to the country of Freedom (The land of the American Dream). She did not speak the English language and after 30-plus years living here, she still doesn't speak the language fluently nor knows how to read or write. She doesn't even know how to fluently read or write in her native tongue.  Why? - because she was never given that opportunity as a female growing up. But wait - she survived, raised all 8 children to become something of themselves. Her and my father made sure they did what they could quickly get us off from welfare assistance. She taught me to love, forgive and accept. Never did she shed a tear in front of us, never complained of being tired or hungry. She kept it a secret, we only saw the beautiful smile she wore everyday.

This sums just a little as to why she inspires me everyday. She is a warrior. I tell myself everyday, I do what I do is because she shaped me to be who I am today. She's a reminder to me, that nothing in this world can ever be too hard to accomplish or to be faced with. I can only be half as good as she is.


If you could give your younger self advice, what would it be?

Try/experience more! YOLO!!!

This March, I am celebrating all the amazing women around me! Sharing women who have influenced me and make up my personal history. As the month goes on, you can see all my Inspiring Women posts here!



LaToya Beck is part of my circle from our time working together in Hamline University’s Residential Life. As my supervisor during my last year at Hamline, our work was a big part of my college experience. I don’t think I realized it at the time, but that was an influential year for me. I was glad to have LaToya in my life at that time.

LaToya is caring, invested in our global community, strong, thoughtful and brilliant.

My final year at Hamline, I was an Assistant Area Coordinator (essentially, an assistant hall director for a two-building area).  LaToya was the Area Coordinator - my supervisor. Being an AAC was my first experience in a housing role - I was never an RA - and, my first actual semi-professional position in Student Affairs. It was a wonderful experience! LaToya, along with the other Residential Life staff including our great RAs, made it a really special year in my life.

I loved working for LaToya. We were an interesting duo! Her often no-nonsense attitude with my perkier, sometimes sugar & spice way of dealing with things seemed opposite but fit quite well together.  

Although she’s worked in higher education for seven years, LaToya wasn’t the typical Student Affairs-y type. Don’t get me wrong – I love my Student Affairs folks – but there was always so much more to LaToya. The idea that, yes, the work we are doing is valuable and important, but so are many other important things to consider.  Diversity and connection to culture was always a big part of our area - from the programs we pubbed to the multiple identities of our beautiful staff members. LaToya was also a strong advocate for international students and students with marginalized identities.

Beyond being my supervisor, I admire LaToya’s scholarly work. My undergraduate majors were German and Global Studies. Years previous, LaToya had graduated from Hamline with similar areas of concentration. She also studied at University of California Berkeley. While at Hamline, Latoya taught Anthropology courses. And, later at Carleton College, she taught Anthropology and African American Studies. As a guest speaker in some of my global studies classes, I was always impressed with how she talked about complex concepts in an approachable, conversational way.  She has my favorite combination of academic smarts and realness.

Recently, LaToya moved out of higher education and she assumed a position with the federal government working with asylum and refugee seekers. She says her work is full of challenges as she must weigh the needs of individuals seeking humanitarian assistance and protection against the interests of the country.

Every day, she listens to people tell her about the horrible things that have happened to them in their country of origins and conducts research on instances of human rights violations around the world. What she loves most about her work is being reminded of the resilience of the human spirit. People who have survived the most horrifying circumstances often come out of it okay the other side. Wow, what important work LaToya is doing!

I also love seeing LaToya’s travels and excitements through Facebook. She always does a great job of documenting her travels! Since we worked together, LaToya has been an inspiring woman in my life. Although we don’t keep in very close touch, I remember our year together at Hamline fondly.  That year was full of a lot of growth and change for me.  I certainly feel that LaToya has had an influence on who I have become– personally and professionally.

Read about LaToya’s inspirations and advice below. . .

What inspires you?

“I am inspired by art and the beauty of the human spirit that produces these great works. I am moved by music. It inspires my creative spirit and speaks to my consciousness. On a good day, music reinforces my feelings of greatness and gratitude. On a bad day, music reminds me that though there is ugliness in the world, light almost always overcomes darkness.”

Who are women in your life or throughout history that have inspired you?

“I am inspired by the strength and courage of the women in my family. They are at peace with their humanity. They are sisters of the dust who have overcoming major obstacles, but have remained resilient. These sisters embrace a thought process that allows them to bounce back from obstacles. They are from where my strength comes.”

If you could give advice to your younger self, what would it be and why?”

“Be fearless! During my younger days I spent so much time being afraid. As I grow wiser, I've made a promise to myself to not let fear hinder my pursuit of my aspirations. I accept and expect failure and use these misfortunes as opportunities to grow and come back better and stronger.”

This March, I am celebrating all the amazing women around me! Sharing women who have influenced me and make up my personal history. As the month goes on, you can see all my Inspiring Women posts here!


Ariana Brodsky is a close friend in my circle. We connected as exchange students in Germany in 2005-2006 and have stayed in touch since. We make great travel and discussion companions and I am so fortunate to have her in my life. Ariana is dedicated, thoughtful, intentional, smart, deep, compassionate, and fun.

In 2005, right after I graduated high school, I was an exchange student through Rotary International. Rotary youth exchange is a wonderful, well put together program. For almost a year, I lived in the Frankfurt area and remained close to the other exchange students, like Ariana, in my area of Hessen. I won’t take up space in Ariana’s piece to gush about the beauty, challenge, and adventure of my exchange experience. (Perhaps I’ll save this for another blog post.) It was one, if not the most, most influential years of my life.

Ariana and I spent time together while on exchange – visiting each other and catching up at the various Rotary functions. Our quirky personalities meshed really well - we had a lot of fun and good conversations.  Although I am still connected to many fellow students from my exchange year (mostly over social media), I have stayed in really close touch with Ariana.  

 Ariana is from Illinois. After her exchange year during high school, she went on to get a Bachelor's degree in Germanic Languages and Literatures. While in college, she spent a year in Latin America – Argentina and Mexico. While she was in Argentina, I had the opportunity to visit her! This was my first (and, well, only) time in South America. We stayed with her lovely adopted host mom, Alicia, who fed me like a queen. (Mostly because she was excited to have a fellow meat eater in her home. But, dang, those empanadas. .. . I am NOT complaining!) We celebrated Christmas in Argentina and then traveled to Chile’ for New Years.

That trip was full of so many wonderful and hilarious memories – like visiting the Argentine Ear, Nose, and Throat Doctor, only to discover I had not, in fact, lodged anything in my ear, getting my beautiful back tattoo (with Ariana doing all the translating/talking with the tattoo artist), almost passing out from said tattoo experience, experiencing lemon mint chocolate chip ice cream (holy yum!), making lots of guacamole, walking in mountains, buying and eating pounds of local, low-cost fruits, and playing with Alicia’s super cute dog, Camilo.

Ariana has a love for languages and learns them at (almost) every opportunity. Her recent focus has been on Dutch, which she absolutely loves. (Dutch is always fascinating to me because, when I hear it, it sounds like someone is speaking German but exclusively with words that are not in my vocabulary. Ha ha.)

Currently, Ariana works as a freelance translator and language tutor. She has been living with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/Systemic Exertion Intolerance Disease (SEID) for the last four years, which, she says, has been very hard but also very fruitful. She became a Christian somewhere between her sophomore and junior year of college, and being sick has forced her to grow in her faith like nothing else could. So, she says, she wouldn’t trade the experience. Eventually, Ariana wants to move to the Netherlands and do Christian ministry there - perhaps in the red light district.

I admire many of Ariana’s traits. I think partly because of her personality and partially due to her illness, Ariana is very slow, steady, and relaxed. Essentially – the opposite of me! She is mindful and careful in a beautiful way. Ariana is bright and has a fantastic mind. I admire her linguistic abilities. Ariana is also a strong individual. For the longest time (maybe years!), Ariana would visit the doctor and describe her symptoms, but they could not identify a diagnosis. They’d simply send her away and insinuated that she was making it up. In her own strong and steady way, she pushed back!

I align with many of Ariana’s views on life and the world. I love that, spiritually, our views may differ but we always find points where they connect. We have some great talks! Also – I love the dorky German things we do together (that most Germans would never do) – like watch the German Children’s News and listen to “Ich Kenne Nichts” on repeat!

I have visited Ariana in Champaign a few times and hope to visit again soon. I enjoy spending time with Ariana and love our catch-ups over the phone. Ariana is someone I will always have in my circle.

 Read about what and who inspire Ariana! Also, her words of advice below. . .

 What inspires you? And, what do you care about deeply?  

I care about people. People as individuals. I care that the people around me have their needs met. I care that the people around me feel safe enough to express their needs. I care that people feel at rest in their own identity and at peace with themselves and with God. I care about knowing people deeply and being in relationships marked by love, generosity, forgiveness, transparency and vulnerability. I'm inspired by the early church, where ‘all the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts...’

I'm not sure why, but one of the pictures that inspires me the most is the bishop in the beginning of the recent Les Misérables movie. Jean Valjean, the main character, has just been released from a brutal 19 years in prison in France in the early 1800s. He stumbles around trying to find someplace he can sleep and some way to get food. Just when it looks like he's done for, a bishop takes him in and offers him food and shelter. But during the night, Jean Valjean gets up, steals all the silver from the bishop's cabinet and runs. He's caught by the police, which is basically a death sentence, or at least imprisonment for life. The police bring him back to the bishop, dump out all the silver and say, "He had the nerve to tell us you gave him this." The bishop then says, "That is right. / But my friend you left so early / Surely something slipped your mind." He gives him the two silver candlesticks left on the table and continues, "You forgot I gave these also; / Would you leave the best behind?" Every time I think about that, I am greatly moved by that picture of the apex of generosity. Jesus said, "Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks." That is the kind of 'abundance of the heart’ I want to have. And I want to see more of that in the world.

What women in your life or throughout history inspire you?

Women who inspire me... a lot of different women inspire me. Mostly women I know personally. I think once you get to know someone well enough, everyone has something in them that you look at and think, "Wow, that's an incredible character trait/talent." I think I'm especially inspired by women who are wise. Women who pierce straight to the heart of matters; women who see things clearly from many different angles; women who can be simultaneously loving and impartial; women who are excellent at formulating practical solutions to problems; women who somehow always say exactly what you need to hear to be comforted or challenged or both; women who absorb wisdom from others and have a treasure trove of sage words to draw from; women who rarely get angry because they exercise such understanding towards others... there are a lot of ways that wisdom expresses itself, and they all profoundly impress and inspire me.

If you could give your younger self one piece of advice, what would it be and why?

One piece of advice for my former self. I think I would say, "Let it be." Like the Beatles song. I was always trying really hard to fix things, specifically in my relationships, and I think my life (and my friends' lives) would have been a lot easier if I had learned to step back and just let things be. Not that I do that perfectly now, but I'm learning. :)

This March, I am celebrating all the amazing women around me! Sharing women who have influenced me and make up my personal history. As the month goes on, you can see all my Inspiring Women posts here!


Caleigh Keith is part of my circle from our time working together at the University of New Orleans. She grew to be one of my absolute favorite coworkers as we shared lots of laughs and good talks throughout the last year. Caleigh is fun, spunky, inquisitive, expressive, supportive, and driven.

Caleigh and I started new positions at the same time – in July 2013. (She had been working at UNO previously doing her grad work.) She was a First Year Academic Advisor and I am a Student Success Counselor. Different jobs but similar area. Our friendship grew mostly through last summer’s retreat season. (Attending student retreats is a definite perk of our positions.) At one particular retreat, Caleigh and I spent an incredible amount of time journaling and discussing our dreams and plans with each other.  

Caleigh is from Roanoke, Virginia. She moved to New Orleans in 2010 to go to graduate school for acting. With an MFA in Theatrical Performance, she’s taught acting both at the University of New Orleans and at Tulane University. This past December, Caleigh moved back to Roanoke with her fiancé, P.J. - Caleigh and P.J. are getting married in October in Scotland! They are so excited. I think it’s beautiful that they’re doing an intimate, destination celebration.  

Although she isn’t currently acting, Caleigh is most certainly an actor. This is simply part of her essence and also her education and background. Right now, she is a Communications Coordinator at the Steidle Law Firm in Roanoke, Virginia.  She says she loves her new position because she is working in an urban community that rests in the middle of a heavily influenced Bible-Belt city. And, of course, Caleigh also working at a local arts venue, helping with house managing their music, dance and theatre shows.

Caleigh shares in a lot of my excitements. She sees the merit of a good side hustle (or two, or three. . . ) and is also invested in financial growth and literacy. She (and our amazing coworker friend, Nick) exposed me to podcasts and Serial was a major part of our fall! (On the day the last episode came out, Caleigh brought head phones to work to make sure I could listen over lunch because she was desperate to debrief about it!)

Caleigh is incredibly supportive of my entrepreneurial endeavors and gives me lots of positive energy and feedback – even now from Virginia. While working together, she was always happy to listen to me gush about my small victories and upcoming plans. She’s also helped me brainstorm and shared lots of helpful ideas with me. Plus, she is a major social media supporter of my Cat Inspired ventures – which I truly, truly appreciate!

This past fall was full of fun, and sometimes serious, work talks with Caleigh and Nick – two of my favorite colleagues. Caleigh and I had late nights together during her last semester at UNO (we both were staying late to make up time that we were away adjuncting during the day) and this lead to even more great chats and check-in. Now, it’s odd for me at work because both of my work bffs have moved on to bigger and better things. (Though, I will be, too, at some point ;).)

It’s only March and I can’t wait till I get to see Caleigh this June for her bachelorette beach weekend. Like, seriously, I think about it daily and simply cannot wait! Although I don’t believe it’s likely that we’ll be living or working close to each other again, I look forward to staying in close touch with Caleigh so we can see our dreams and plans unfold and provide support to each other along the way.

Read about what and who inspires Caleigh as well as her thoughts and advice below. . .

What inspires you?

“Truth and honesty! I love seeing people be themselves. I lived for about 6 years in a situation that stifled my true self.  I have found in the last four or five years that I am allowed to explore who I am, what I believe, what I love and I am allowed to display those things proudly!  I love watching other people (especially women!) enjoy themselves and their passions.  It's so inspiring!”

Who are women that inspired you?

“I've always felt a connection with Frida Kahlo.  I love that she's an artist who saw herself honestly and saw beauty differently than most.  She's unapologetically herself.  I think an artist painting a self-portrait is the epitome of self-awareness, especially if it's accurate.  Kahlo is known for her self-portraits and they are brutally honest! I love that about her.  I also connect with Kate Middleton. I know, how very basic of me.  But she's totally shaking up the British Royalty and she seems to give zero fucks what anyone thinks about her decisions.  She's a normal woman who happens now to be royalty.  That shouldn't change who she is, and she doesn't let it. That's badass.”

If you could give advice to your younger self, what would it be and why?

“Question EVERYTHING.  We don't have to follow the rules!  We don't have to listen to our authorities if it doesn't seem right. (Obviously follow the law, tho right?) Right now, my fundamental beliefs are very different from how I was raised. And they might change again as I get older and mature more.  It's important to being open to change and to question everything to ensure that you're living by your beliefs!  I also love conversations that allow for thought exchange. It's hard listening to thoughts that are different than your own, but I've grown so much from allowing myself to shift perspective and question things.”

Caleigh also adds:  “Culture is so important. Connecting to your own culture and exploring other cultures.  How cool is it that somehow on earth, people naturally think completely different thoughts than others? It's a cool reality to know that we were meant to be individual and unique.”

This March, I am celebrating all the amazing women around me! Sharing women who have influenced me and make up my personal history. As the month goes on, you can see all my Inspiring Women posts here!


Margot color.jpg

Margot Howard is a close friend in my circle from our time at Hamline University. We’ve shared so many experiences – moments filled with excitement, annoyance, hilarity, growth, joy, dismay – and everything in between. Margot is dedicated, thoughtful, fun, reflective, and social justice focused.

In college, Margot and I were involved in lots of campus organizations and initiatives that made our hearts sing. Especially working in higher education, as simple as an orientation leader position might seem to those looking in, I see the incredible merit of this type of involvement as a starting point and training ground for us to make positive change and become our truest selves. Margot was very invested, like I was, in these involvements and everything that came with it.  From dorky to deep, we loved it all!

Although not in all of the same organization, we were both wildly involved across campus. The two biggest involvements we had in common were our roles as Orientation Leaders and as dedicated attendees of the annual Women’s Leadership Retreats. Oh, plus, we both worked at the Student Center Front desk. We share a love for thought provoking journal prompts, inspiring India.Arie lyrics, and “Touch Someone Who” (which, I’ve learned, in other places is called “the tap game” or “tap affirmation” and does not have the same “rules” – like a limited number of taps per tapper?? what?)

Margot is a young professional focused on social justice work in higher education. She is passionate about promoting equity and social change. She is currently is in her fourth year at our alma mater as the Social Justice Initiatives Coordinator in the Wesley Center for Spirituality, Service, and Social Justice.

Margot is a valued member of my circle in many ways but especially for her dedication to social justice. She is someone who shares in deep critiques of our society and systems. I love having conversations with folks who just “get it” – and she is one of those people in my life. We also have some shared experiences and insights from both working in higher education. This summer, Margot attended The Social Justice Training Institute - which is on my bucket list. So, so amazing!

Margot is getting married in June to the wonderful Karyn Cave. I love that two of my closest friends have become partners. They are role models of a healthy and happy relationship – and I couldn’t be happier for them. I am so excited for their beautiful, joyous occasion this summer.

They recently bought a house in Minneapolis where Margot enjoys gardening, cooking, and being outdoors. Like I mentioned in Karyn’s piece, Margot and Karyn are always on my list when I’m home and are so welcoming and wonderful. I haven’t seen their new place yet and cannot wait to see it! I am sure it is homey and functional while being cute and funky! (After Karyn’s post they let me know that they got rid of their exceptionally comfy futon. . . but I am sure I will somehow still manage to feel cozy in their new home ;).)

I hope to always remain connected to Margot – to learn with and from her and see the moves she is making in her life and work for social change.

Read about what Margot cares about deeply, women in her life who inspire her, and her words of wisdom below. . .

What inspires you? And, what do you care about deeply?  

“I am inspired by young people, by people working to make social change in the world. I deeply care about food justice and making non-toxic/healthy foods affordable and reliable for all. I am passionate about being in community with others. I am passionate about working for equity and social justice.”

Who are women in your life or throughout history that inspire you?

“My partner, Karyn Cave, inspires me every day. I am extremely grateful to get to share my life with her. In our broader culture I admire women such as Laverne Cox, Mary Lambert, Kathy Obear, Rachel Maddow, and Melissa Harris-Perry.”

If you had one piece of advice to your younger self, what would it be and why? 

“Embrace your curly hair. Love your body for how it is today. Learn to forgive. Not for others, but for yourself. You are beautiful, you are smart, you are powerful.”

This March, I am celebrating all the amazing women around me! Sharing women who have influenced me and make up my personal history. As the month goes on, you can see all my Inspiring Women posts here!






Pamela Walker is part of my circle through our work at the University of New Orleans. I value Pam as a colleague and friend. I also admire her exciting and important academic work.  Pam is thoughtful, caring, supportive, chic and a dedicated scholar.

Pam is a graduate student studying history and is the Graduate Assistant for the Privateer Bound Bridge Program. Privateer Bound is the best part of my job. It’s a bridge program that allows students who are not admitted to UNO the ability to take community college classes on UNO’s campus in order to fulfill their developmental needs and transfer requirements within on academic year.  (Privateers are UNO’s mascot – which might be helpful in understanding the program’s name!) I started helping with the program at the perfect time and, quickly, coordinating Privateer Bound became one of my main job functions. In our second academic year, Pam and I have been wonderfully busy supporting our 75 students through orientations, meetings, programs, study hours, and lots and lots of email reminders. 

Literally, from the moment I read her resume, I knew Pam was the perfect choice for our program! Pam is clearly committed to our students succeeding and has the necessary skill set and attitude to relate them. I value my working relationship with Pam because she shares in my passion for supporting and empowering students while encouraging them to advocate for themselves.

Pam is 26 and lives in New Orleans with her puppy - a long hair Dachshund named Yoshi! She lives to: love God, love all people, pursue knowledge, and expose the voices of the voiceless from the past and present through her work as a historian. She’s currently a graduate student at the University of New Orleans and will soon be moving on to a PhD program to advance her study and scholarship in history. 

Her passion for history is just beautiful. We need more passionate and conscious scholars like Pam in our universities, libraries, and academic spaces. I’ve read some of Pam’s work and adore her focus on civil rights, social justice, and women’s forms of activism.  I cannot wait to see her work as she advances to a PhD program and then to world domination ;).  

Pam also enjoys dark chocolate, eating well, hula hooping, sunlight, and pretty journals.  She has an effortlessly funky and chic style. And, a beautiful spirit.

Throughout our year and a half together, our working relationship has evolved into friendship. Beyond discussing our students’ struggles and successes, we’re often chatting about recipes, fashion, dreams and plans. She has also seen my small business grow and is always excited for my updates – which I appreciate so much! Pam is one of my favorite people to work with and I already know it will feel odd when she graduates and moves on from UNO.  I look forward to staying connected with her as her exciting future unfolds.

Read about what and who inspires Pam, her advice and lovely quotes below. . .

What inspires you? 

“(I can be a pretty sappy person so some of these things may seem a bit gooey.) I am inspired by witnessing unexpected acts of love and kindness.  I am inspired by young people and women discovering the beauty and strength in who they have been created to be.  I love it when people who work hard get what they deserve and then some! (if that makes sense!)” [Yes!!]

Who are women that inspire you? 

“Other than my mother who is the strongest, bravest, smartest woman I know and my sister who is the funniest person on the planet, I am often inspired by women throughout history who fought (and continue to fight) tirelessly for equality, justice, and education in their communities but have been forgotten or overlooked by time.  A few women that come to mind: Fannie Lou Hamer, Clarie Collins Harvey, Victoria Gray –awesome, activist women from Mississippi!”

“I am also inspired by phenomenal black women scholars who pursue truth, knowledge, and excellence and encourage me, though their work, to continue my journey as a budding historian! A few women that come to mind: Deborah Gray White, Tera Hunter, the late Stephanie Camp.”

If you had one piece of advice for your younger self, what would it be and why?

"Do all things with kindness! – it goes a long way!"


Pam also shared some quotes that she loves: 

She turned her can’ts into cans and her dreams into plans!
Strength and dignity are her clothing. And she smiles without fear of the future.
— Proverbs 31:25
If you are silent about your pain, they will kill you and say you enjoyed it.
— Zora Neal Hurston

 This March, I am celebrating all the amazing women around me! Sharing women who have influenced me and make up my personal history. As the month goes on, you can see all my Inspiring Women posts here!

INSPIRING WOMEN: Rachel Phoenix Johnson

Rachel Phoenix Johnson is a strong woman in my circle from Hamline University. Our paths connected in a variety of ways throughout college and I was always impressed by Rachel’s work, passion, and strong voice. Rachel is radical, unapologetic, vibrant, kind and creative. 

Throughout college, we had a lot of connected friends as well as involvement and employment in common. Rachel was also a dedicated member of the McVay Youth Partnership staff and worked for Residential Life. (I know I’ve mentioned McVay before – it was the most amazing program to be part of. I’ll go more into detail in an upcoming post.) Our mutual friends are countless and include another inspiring woman in my life, Kelly Dahlman.

Rachel truly practices what she preaches in through her work. She has been active in the field of gender empowerment, sexual assault and domestic violence advocacy in professional and grassroots environments for six years.  While studying at Hamline University in St. Paul she earned degrees in Public Service, Spanish and Sociology. Her sociology pilot research focused on heterosexist bias towards sexual abuse history disclosures of LGBTQAI survivors.

Rachel also shares a passion for travel and an investment in world and global affairs. In 2011, Rachel studied abroad in Quito, Ecuador. While she was there she also worked at a women’s shelter where she provided supportive, Spanish language services to domestic violence victims and their families.

Most recently, Rachel worked at North Shore Horizons in Two Harbors, MN serving as the facilitator of the Coordinated Community Response Team while also providing advocacy and crisis intervention services to sexual and domestic assault victims. Rachel is currently the Multidisciplinary and Outreach Coordinator at First Witness Child Advocacy Center, where she serves a child abuse forensic interviewer, provides youth education and coordinates the child abuse response multidisciplinary team for Saint Louis County.

As you can glean from her work history, Rachel is passionate about the integration of advocacy into systems response to foster community accountability, inclusivity and cross-cultural competencies. The work she is doing is so, very important for Minnesota communities. We need more women-centered advocates like Rachel in our world. Rachel is also a musician performing with two bands, The Social Disaster and Black Diary.

Rachel radical and unapologetic!  These are qualities that exude from within her. I sensed this from her at Hamline and have seen in grow since our time away from school. As I have paid attention to Rachel through social media in the years following college I love Rachel’s unique portraits, pointed status updates, artistic expressions, and rocking band photos.

Although Rachel and I do not remain very tightly connected, I have always been impressed by her and admired her work and spirit. Her dedication to social justice issues and women’s issues is always apparent --as you can clearly see from her biographical info and responses below. I love the strong voice she brings to important and necessary conversations. I look forward to staying in touch with Rachel as she continues to make a positive impact on our community and world.

What inspires you? And, what do you care about deeply?

“I care deeply about human relationship dynamics and the dismantling of oppression. I care about women’s relationships to their bodies and their right to self-determination. I care about art and art as a conduit of social change, especially fringe media and self-publishing or self-led production.  I am inspired by unapologetic selfhood; the women (but also men) in my lives that pursue their dreams, goals and aspirations without hesitation. I am inspired by creators; women that translate ideas into visionary futures. Because women are excluded or devalued from so many social and political forums and discourses I am passionate about women building platforms and infrastructure to further their passions and pursuits.”

Who are women in your life or throughout history that inspire you

“I am lucky to have so many women in my life that inspire me. The women in my family are all vibrant, unique, passionate people that have worked exceptionally hard for all they have. I am inspired by their perseverance and drive. In my current community, I am surrounded by a lot of working women artists of which I am inspired to work with in a lot of different contexts. I am inspired by women that actively engage and critique pop culture and address social norms, Roxane Gay, bell hooks and the women at Bitch Media just to name a few.  I am also a critical theory nerd so I also love women like Hannah Arendt and Susan Griffin.”

If you had one piece of advice to your former younger self, what would it be and why? 

“Do less. Self-reflect more on what really motivates you and focus energy on these things that really sustain you and pay less attention to the rest.”

Additional wisdom from Rachel:

“Horizontal hostility sucks! It is a destructive tool used to dismantle women’s power as a collective, political entity. I implore women to be aware address their horizontal hostility they have towards other women.”

 This March, I am celebrating all the amazing women around me! Sharing women who have influenced me and make up my personal history. As the month goes on, you can see all my Inspiring Women posts here!


INSPIRING WOMEN: Tina VanSteenbergen

Tina VanSteenbergen is one of my absolute favorite people. She is an inspiring woman in my life from our time together at Hamline University. I have always been drawn to her bold spirit. Tina is driven, outspoken, positive, confident and dynamic.

Tina and I were both attendees at Hamline’s 2007 Women’s Leadership Retreat. This retreat was a pivotal moment in my college life. I stated college as a first-time freshman in the spring – which was tough. My first semester, I had an odd kind of existence but, at the end of the spring, I attended my first Women’s Leadership Retreat and things changed! I was introduced to strong female leaders on campus, like Tina, and felt immense opportunities before me in terms of friendship and leadership.

Then, college life took off for me. In the semester that followed, I became a part of student government, started working for the McVay Youth partnership, made amazing friends, met the love of my life, attended Hamline’s conference/student retreat on race and ethnicity, and the moving and shaking began.

Tina was closely tied to many of these experiences and played a large part in my growth through college.

I spent the most time with Tina through our leadership roles in student government, orientation, and our gig at the Student Center Front Desk. Looking back, I think I got involved in these areas because she was active within them. Tina occupying these leadership positions showed me that I could do the same. I loved being around her and wanted to absorb her energy and wisdom.  

Tina is a proud Minnesotan and has lived all around the Midwest and and traveled North America. Professionally, she serves as an Education & Training Director with two sister companies, Phired Up Productions and The Social Excellence Project. She’s a professional speaker and trainer, teaching college students to put down their phones, and connect with other human beings face-to-face. She absolutely loves her job! (And, knowing her, I am sure she is an amazing speaker and trainer!!) She has two degrees in education, one from Hamline University in Saint Paul, MN, and a masters from Illinois State University in Normal, IL.

Tina spends lots of time with her dog Sherri and her great roommates and friends – while in the sunshine as much as possible. She loves to travel, read, write, journal, watch baseball, yell about football, teach, sing (although, “not well” she says), and listen to great music that speaks to her soul.

I admire Tina and always have. I’ve been watching the moves she’s been making since college with joy and admiration.  She is so perfectly suited for her role as a speaker and trainer. The women she works with are lucky to have her inspiring and guiding them in their reflection and interactions. Tina has been and always will be an inspiration to me.  I am fortunate to have her in my circle.

Tina had soooo much to say in her responses. And, when she wrote me back I let her know that I would probably cut them down. But, I don’t want to! I love what she has to say and I want y’all to experience it, too. So, please read about Tina’s passions, inspirations, and advice below. . . 

What inspires you?

 “I think the capacity to create change, to help people, is what inspires me most. Not just my own, but in general, peoples’ capacity, ability and willingness to do good is what gets me most excited—what gets me out of bed in the morning. When I’m feeling lazy, defeated, unmotivated, or discouraged, that thought, that I have a capacity to create positive change, that there are people to help, is the one that gets me up and moving again. I like to think that I, we, have a responsibility to help people. We all do it in our own ways, but we all have a capacity to help. Some serve, some bake, some bank, some create, file, run, deliver, educate, while others heal, build, edit, count—doesn’t much matter how we do it, as long as we’re all doing what we can to help others. It feels human to me, like it’s our job. In whatever way we can, we should at least try. It inspires me to think that in some way, I’m helping. To me, that often looks like speaking—sharing my messages with people. By teaching students to connect, to join, to believe, to help, I feel like I’m helping. Seeing others help others, being kind and sharing their gifts with the world in meaningful ways, makes my soul sing. Helping inspires me. Our capacity to help, and the choices we make to do it.”

“On a lighter note…Music. Poetry. Spoken word. Sunshine. Snow. Stories. Thunderstorms. Powerful people. Action. Kindness. A beautiful sunrise. A gorgeous sunset. Love. The perfect cup of coffee. Smiles. Pictures. Hugs. ….also inspire me. :)”

 What do you care deeply about?

 “I care deeply about my work. I’m blessed to love my work, and to believe powerfully in the messages I share and the impact they can have. Doing my job feeds my soul, and makes my heart sing. I often have a moment during a program I’m delivering where I look around and literally think to myself, “I can’t believe this is my job!” It’s magic. But there’s a part of my job that means something special to me that I don’t often talk about… I’m an educator, so for me, being on stage is more about what they’re learning than it is about me and how I’m feeling. That being said, I’m often on stage in front of hundreds of women at one time—and I think, more times than not, I’m the first person they’ve seen on a stage that is NOT a size 2, and yet, is still confident, comfortable and authentic. I can see it on the faces of the women who approach me after a program, women who are inspired not just by the words I said, but by my comfort in my own skin. In a strange way, it feels like I get to give them permission to love themselves, to feel good, to be confident, exactly as they are. I don’t say those words (although maybe I should…), and that’s not necessarily my purpose or goal, but it gives me my own, personal, secret joy—each time I get to give permission to women to be proud of who they are, to know they’re beautiful and good enough, to be confident, I’m reminded how deeply I care about that, and them. “

“I care deeply about people. Sure, yes, of course I mean the people in my life that I love—family, friends, colleagues, etc. But when I say “people,” I mean it in the larger sense. We need people in our lives. Deep social connection, honesty, trust, real conversations and relationships—these things bring our lives meaning. Being social with one another is essential to who we are as humans, and we’re forgetting how to do it. We need one another, and we need to remember how to need one another. This is one of the topics I share with our audiences, and it’s truly my life’s work. Helping college students remember not only what skills they need to connect with people, but its importance and its benefits is one of my favorite things to do. Social Excellence is something I care deeply about.”

“I care deeply about sorority. Sorority changed my life. I never used to ‘get’ women, or to be friends with them. I was afraid and intimidated. My mom had always said, “Boys are dumb, and girls are mean.” Dumb seemed easier, so I was always friends with boys instead. I decided that women didn’t like me, so I didn’t like them. I didn’t like myself. Then, when I was in graduate school, I took a job as a house director for a sorority on campus. I was terrified, sure I was going to hate this experience. But moving into that house, taking that job, changed my life. Those women were warm, kind, welcoming, honest, vulnerable, and loving. They taught me about the power of female relationships—that women, when kind to one another, when choosing to be sisters, are powerful. Beautiful. Amazing. Game changers. The richest relationships in my life are those I have with other women, women who love, support, challenge, and move me. Without sorority, I don’t know if I’d be able to say that today. I care deeply about sorority, and about helping sorority women do it right. Sorority was created in an act of justice, of equity. When we’re doing it right, when we’re living our values and deepening our relationships with other women as we strive to better ourselves and the world, sororities can change the world for the better. I believe that. And I care deeply about helping that happen.”

“And my dog. I care deeply for my dog :)”

Who are women in your life and/or throughout history that have inspired you?

  • My little sister is brave—braver than she believes. She inspires me to have courage, to be bold and brave.
  • My big sister has always had more confidence than anyone I know. She is who she is, with no apology. People have always been drawn to her for that reason, and when I think about where I find my confidence in my life, and especially on stage, I think she’s been a huge part of that piece of me.
  • My 4th grade teacher, Ms. Palmquist, inspires me. When I remember her now as an adult, I liken her to Ms. Honey from Matilda—seriously! She was smart, kind, nurturing, but funny. She believed in me, and taught me to believe in myself when I was 10.
  • Wendy Burns, my advisor and mentor from college, inspires me. She has always been the definition of authentic to me. She never pretended to be something she wasn’t. Honest, transparent, real, and truly Wendy. She inspired all of us female leaders at Hamline to be unapologetically ourselves—6 years later, her voice is still in my brain, teaching me that same lesson. [Cat’s note – ditto to ALL of that about the amazing Wendy Burns!]
  • Cat, you inspire me. You always have, actually. You’ve always had an intensity about you that motivates me. You have passion, sure—lots of us do. But you, more than most women I know, can channel that passion into real action. You don’t just talk, you do. [Thank you, Tina!]
  • My boss inspires me. She's smart, bold, daring, unafraid, compassionate and captivating. She’s so naturally talented, and yet still works harder than most people I know. She teaches me strength and leadership in new ways on a regular basis.
  • Mostly, my mom inspires me. She’s literally the best person I know. After all she’s been through, she is still the one that reminds me to be kind, patient, resilient, loving, giving. She’s my heart.
  • And Beyoncé. Obviously. #flawless

If you had one piece of advice for your younger self, what would it be and why?

“Young Tina,
If I could give you one piece of advice based on what I’ve learned in the last 10 years of my life, it’s this: trust women. Open up to them, and build healthy relationships with women. They will bring so much more to your life than you’ll ever know. The women in your life will teach you power, goodness, empathy, intuition, acceptance, self-worth, connectedness, understanding, kindness, patience, strength, love, growth, authenticity, and vulnerability. “

“That’s the other thing, Young Tina. Vulnerability scares you right now, and will for most of your young-adult life. You think that choosing to be vulnerable makes you weak. That’s not true. Choosing not be vulnerable just makes you lonely. You’re still feeling all of your feelings, you’re just feeling them alone. Let down a bit of your wall from time to time—choose vulnerability. It will make you a better human, a better leader, a better friend, sister, and woman. Let people in—you don’t have to do this alone. You need people more than you think you do. We all do!

This March, I am celebrating all the amazing women around me! Sharing women who have influenced me and make up my personal history. As the month goes on, you can see all my Inspiring Women posts here!

INSPIRING WOMEN: Latasha Kinnard

Latasha Kinnard is my financial coach. She’s a recent addition to my circle and has provided a great deal of education and support to me – especially with my finances and growing small business. Tasha is a really special person and I am happy to have her in my circle. She is driven, smart, positive, realistic, and committed to empowering others. 

Tasha is the CEO and Financial Freedom Fighter at Start Young Financial Group and the Amazon best-selling author of 20-Something & Rich. She currently works as a financial coach and revenue strategist to Millennials and women entrepreneurs.

I initially connected with Tasha over social media. (She and I have a mutual friend – my sister!) I was drawn to her financial insight and advice as well as her commitment to social justice and racial justice. In getting to know her and her business more, it is clear that she is deeply invested in dissolving wealth disparities through education and empowerment. Her programs at Start Young Financial are very “meet you where you’re at” in their nature. She is so smart but able to explain sometimes complex issues in an easy-to-understand and interesting way. (This is a gift!)

 I am making significant strides toward achieving my financial goals since I’ve been working with Tasha. It really is helpful to work with a coach. It’s odd – I am a success coach for students in my current full-time job and am planning to start providing life coaching soon, myself, but I sometimes forget the huge impact a coach can have. Because of her support I am more focused, positive, and optimistic. Plus, I am working harder to pay off debt and grow my savings than I ever have before.

 I’ve been recommending her to lots of folks who are looking for support in achieving their financial goals. (Related – if you’re reading this and that is something you’re looking for, seriously get in touch with Tasha!)

 Tasha has also been very helpful as I pursue my entrepreneurial passions and plans. She’s both realistic and optimistic! As I begin to make some more major moves in this area, she is definitely someone I want in my corner. Before I even launched my blog, Tasha featured me on her Start Young Financial blog. (You can read the piece about looking fab on a budget here.)

 In addition to being a great financial coach and amazing resource, Tasha is clearly committed to improving her community and the lives of others. One way I have seen this is through her engagement with others around race-related injustices. She has a strong voice and doesn’t hold back as she asks questions, challenges others, and engages in conversation. 

 I am so fortunate to have Tasha in my circle. I admire her in many ways and look forward continuing my work with her as my financial health and wealth continue to grow. Read about what and who inspires Tasha, as well as her advice, below. . .

What inspired you? And, what do you care about deeply?

“This question was much harder for me to answer than I imagined it would be. But I suppose that I am inspired by pain and suffering. I hate to see people struggle and it inspires me to find ways to alleviate wealth disparities.”

 “Honestly, the thing I care most deeply about is family. I enjoy working on my business, I love helping people achieve financial freedom, but it is family that I care most deeply about.”


Who are women in your life or throughout history that inspire you? 

“I don’t know what women inspire me the most but I know that my mother has influenced me tremendously. When I was younger she would tell me that I should never wait on a man to do anything and that whatever needed to be done, I could do for myself. And while her words were powerful, it was her actions that made a huge impact on me. While I don’t mind accepting chivalry from men, I can thank my mom for empowering me to believe that I can do anything.”


If you had one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be and why? 

“I would tell my former self that the sun always comes out tomorrow. Things might get bad, times get dark, and sometimes you will feel burdened and alone but the sun always comes out eventually.”


This March, I am celebrating all the amazing women around me! Sharing women who have influenced me and make up my personal history. As the month goes on, you can see all my Inspiring Women posts here!


Rachel Summers is one of the powerful women in my circle from Hamline University. Our paths crossed in a variety of ways throughout college and Rachel has been sharing art, beauty, and inspiration with me since we connected.  She is creative, talented, supportive, deep, and a social justice hustler.   

In Rachel’s words, she’s “a 90’s baby, a poet, an avid Daria watcher, a one-time skydiver, black grrrl, who hails from the land of 10,000 lakes”.  We spent several years at Hamline together. My favorite college memories with Rachel include our NCORE team moments, photoshoots and lots of talks about things that matter.  

NCORE is the National Conference on Race and Ethnicity in Higher Education. Both Rachel and I, along with a few other dedicated students, staff, and faculty, were part of the 2009 team that attended the conference and then put on racial justice focused programming for the academic year to follow. (I still remain close to many of the folks in that crew – especially Susun, Michael, and Jozie!) Our work with NCORE, along with the discussion and conversations that followed the conference, stayed with us throughout our time at Hamline and continue to be part of my life and work today.

Rachel is a skilled photographer and indulged me in several photo shoots throughout our time together in school. Her photos still are some of my favorite images of myself.  (I show them off for #ThrowBackThursday sometimes on Instagram. You’ll have to look out for them!) Rachel’s artistic nature and eye extend far beyond photography. She is talented in a variety of art forms including writing, music, theatre, and film. Not to mention her personal style – which is always eclectic perfection.

Committed to social justice, Rachel’s work has led her to pursue her MFA at the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts in the Film and Television Production program.  As a black woman filmmaker, Rachel seeks to re-center the narratives of people who are too often overlooked, and transform the culture of consumption and distribution. She aims to curate celluloid & digital experiences bound in worlds featuring dynamic, complex, and diverse narratives while spotlighting characters with multifaceted identities. This is powerful work and exactly what we need to alter the monolithic stories that fill our TV screens.

This woman is going places! I really feel like in years to come I’m going to be reposting articles about Rachel like “I know this woman!! Look at her gooooooo!” She is brilliant, passionate, capable, and talented – a fierce combination. And, Rachel has a spirit I admire.

Another reason I value Rachel is that she has been so supportive of my hustles and Cat Inspired projects! You’d be surprised how many folks and friends simply aren’t really interested in your personal projects - or don’t let on that they are. (Y’all, I am probably just as guilty of overlooking the awesome moves of my peers as the next woman. This is something I’m working on.) It is really flattering and wonderful when friends look up to notice your hustle and support your mission. I am thankful to Rachel and others who have done this for me.  I was able to see Rachel this past fall in LA and hope that our paths cross again soon.

Below, read about Rachel’s inspiration, advice, and wisdom. . .

What inspired you? And, what do you care about deeply?

“I find myself seeking inspiration constantly. Whether it's the new Drake mixtape or Broods album, escaping everyday chatter to explore new sonic landscapes is essential. Singing is the most therapeutic thing I can do within a day, so I sing in the car, and the shower, and in my apartment. I'm attracted to people who are spontaneous and creative and have a deep knowledge of history. Poetry in the middle of night is a ritual. I live for style: bold colors, artfully mix-matched patterns, simplicity, and chaos. People that are crazy enough to do the thing they love, and smart enough to know when it's time to move on.”

“I care deeply about connectedness. I care about equality, inclusivity, and empowerment. It is more lucrative to me to begin demolishing oppressive systems and paradigms by enabling people with marginalized identities to use their voices to begin delivering alternative and innovative narratives. My family's livelihood is something that always weighs heavily on my heart and mind and whether they are simply just surviving or thriving in doing what they want to be doing.”


Who are women that inspire you?

“The homegrrrlz that are in my life are ride or die. I am lucky to have so many women in my life that lead, teach, create, love, collaborate, and challenge and support me that I'm forever spilling with gratitude for them. bell hooks is my cultural studies mama, Maya Angelou is the matriarch of the written word, Angela Davis' radical activism inspires me, and Ava DuVernay’s groundbreaking films and distribution company, AFFRM, really instill an ideology of no excuses, and a practice of making the things you want to see on screen and unapologetically carving out the spaces for them to be seen.”

If you could give your younger self advice, what would it be and why?

“In between being an emo screamo, free movie kid, and basketball player at the age of 15, I would remind myself that although the general teeny boppers won't necessarily understand you, ultimately it's still okay to like and be all kinds of things at the same time. Your worldview can be extensive; you can listen to Dashboard Confessional and Ja Rule and Ashanti on the same playlist and give no fucks. I would remind myself that although suburban whiteness tells you aren't beautiful or worthy, you have more inside of you than you'll ever know and you'll go places they'll never go. I would tell myself to stand up for what I believe in even if it doesn't fit with normative hegemonic bullshit.”

More wisdom from Rachel:

“Women should love themselves, love their bodies, support each other, don't expect others to participate in self-hating practices, they should be loud, and be listeners, and be unapologetic, and be thoughtful, and do whatever the fuck they want to do if it makes them feel good and doesn't hurt anyone else. Women should visualize, create testimony, and manifest anything and everything that helps them grow.” [Yes, yes, yes!]


This March, I am celebrating all the amazing women around me! Sharing women who have influenced me and make up my personal history. As the month goes on, you can see all my Inspiring Women posts here!

INSPIRING WOMEN: Jennifer Buckingham

Jennifer Buckingham is new to my circle. I have been following her on social media for some time and recently got to know her in person.  I’m fortunate to have this beautiful, body positive woman in my circle!

Jennifer is vibrant, bold, supportive and body-positive.

Jennifer is an actress, body positive personal style blogger, and plus size model.  She believes that great style knows no size and started her blog in hopes of inspiring a radical new way of looking at the role models in our lives. And, to spread the message that everyone is beautiful and enough – just the way they are.

Jennifer is on an ever progressive journey to love and accept her body. Her goal is to inspire other women to bravely embrace their bodies and if they so choose, to have amazing clothing options in the process. 

I’ve been following Jennifer on social media for some time. On a trip to Los Angeles last year, I was able to connect with her in person because of our mutual friend, Rachel Summers. (Rachel will be featured in an upcoming post!) Jennifer and I met for lunch and it was as if we had known each other for years. We immediately connected.

We have a lot in common and share many passions including plus-size fashion, body positivity, self-love, and women’s empowerment. Jennifer also ascribes to the “women supporting women” philosophy that’s so important to me! She says “it is vital that we raise each other up and if we stand by one another there is enough success for all of us”. Yes! I could not agree more!

Jennifer has great style and an excellent eye. Her photos on Model Radical professional, artistic, and fun. Her looks are fab and her Instagram game is so strong! (@Model.Radical) Love this girl’s fashion!

As I grow my Cat Inspired brand, I am appreciative of women who are willing to add me to their networks and circles! I am so fortunate to be connected with Jennifer – both in terms of our fashion and self-acceptance endeavors but also as a like-minded, positive and supportive woman in my circle! I look forward to staying connected to Jennifer so we can support each other in our respective projects and goals.

Read about what and who inspire Jennifer, as well as advice to her younger self, below. . . 

What inspires you? And, what do you care about deeply?

“I am constantly inspired by a variety of different outlets.  Professionally I am very inspired by my acting studio Anthony Meindl Actor's Workshop which not only is incredible for practicing my craft but as well as life growth and work.  I feel compelled and inspired by seeing people live in a genuine open way and operating through love.”  

“What do you care deeply about?  I care deeply about all the people who love and support me. It keeps me motivated, humbled, and grateful to know that my message is embraced.  I also care deeply about spreading positivity and equality in our world.  We need more kindness and compassion. I greatly admire people who put that in the forefront of their lives.”

Who are the women in your life and throughout history who inspire you? 

“Directly in my life my Great- Grandmother and Grandmother are both huge inspirations to me.  My Great- Grandmother was the first prima ballerina to dance Swan Lake in the US so I greatly admire her drive and artistic endeavors. My Grandmother is the most caring woman I know and whatever differences we have I will always appreciate her willingness to be there for me.”

If you could give your younger self advice, what would it be and why?           

“Wow, it is truly crazy to think back to that time [10+ years ago]. At 15 I really was going through a lot of complex issues including a parent being extremely sick to bullying and self-harm.  I would tell myself that I am beautiful, enough, worthy, and strong.  That self-love and care is the basis of everything healthy and that there is nothing wrong with you.” 


 This March, I am celebrating all the amazing women around me! Sharing women who have influenced me and make up my personal history. As the month goes on, you can see all my Inspiring Women posts here!

INSPIRING WOMEN: Megan Dingfelder

Megan Susanne Dingfelder is my long time best friend from high school. We both made the absolute most of our high school experience and became very close along the way.  She is a positive presence in my life and a reminder of where I come from!  (Also, I refer to her exclusively as “Megan Susanne” or “Ding”, so it’s odd to be writing Megan throughout this piece!)

Megan is dedicated, smart, hard-working, positive, and joyful.

Megan is from an itty-bitty town in south east Minnesota - even smaller than my home town, LaCrescent.  We were young women on a mission, even then, holding almost every possible student leadership or elected position at LaCrescent High School. Student Council all four years, almost every homecoming and prom court, class officers – junior year I was President and she was VP while senior year it was vice versa.  

(I was so weird in high school- Ding can attest - but, somehow, people kept voting me in for things. I still don’t quite know how that happened. “But how weird were you?”. . .well, my style was so eccentric that, during dress up weeks, mismatch day was also referred to as “dress like Cat day”. Mmm hmmm.)

Although we were always friendly, we got very close toward the end of high school and have done a good job keeping connected to each other since then. Megan is always on my list to visit when I’m in Minnesota. Our relationship has truly withstood the test of time and I am sure she will be in my life always.

Megan is the only daughter of three children. She loves her encouraging and supportive family so much! Megan attended the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities and then the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry. She’s a Registered Dental Hygienist and, oh, does she love teeth. Smiles and teeth! On her wall she has a large quote that reads “You’re never fully dressed without a smile.” – too perfect for her!

Megan is engaged to a great guy named Corey and I am thrilled to be a bridesmaid in their wedding this upcoming May. (I’ll be honest, as a close friend, I was obviously skeptical of Corey before I met him. I mean, that’s a bff’s job, right? Well, he is wonderful and I couldn't imagine anyone more perfect for Megan. I think they complement each other beautifully.) I am really looking forward to their wedding as it is my first experience being a bridesmaid. I’m truly honored to be part of their celebration.

Megan loves Minnesota so much! Like, every part of MN. Exploring the state, attending and/or watching all MN sports teams, wearing jewelry, clothing, and accessories that rep MN – anything and everything MN! She loves shopping and has a taste for dark chocolate, sushi and visiting neighborhood restaurants that support locally gown food and drinks. She’s also deep into wedding planning so is frequently on Etsy, Pinterest, and looking at wedding magazines!

I admire Megan’s spirit and positive nature. Y’all think I’m a positive person? You need to meet this girl! (She talks about this in her thoughts at the bottom!) I mean, there’s a reason this woman has attended or been in like 10 weddings each of the last few summers – she is a joy to be around and, therefore, keeps a large friend group. Her energy and joy is contagious and people want her in their lives! I certainly do!

Read what and who inspire Megan and her words of wisdom below. . .

What inspires you?  

"Making other people smile.  I enjoy being a "day maker."  My career allows for me to visit with people and crack jokes as often as possible and I really love to see other people happy/smiling.  Life is too short to not be happy."

Who are women in your life that inspire you?  

"It's so cliché, but MY MOM!  She's so STRONG-WILLED and works so hard to make sure that my family is happy, healthy, and cared for and I love her so much for it."

If you had one piece of advice to your younger self, what would it be and why?

"Be true to yourself.  Don't be a "people pleaser" and bend over backwards and compromise your VALUES and BELIEFS to make others happy.  I have learned over the years that stronger individuals recognize that and capitalize on your weakness. I demand to be considered an equal and tell people what I want now rather than do whatever I can to convenience those around me. "

This March, I am celebrating all the amazing women around me! Sharing women who have influenced me and make up my personal history. As the month goes on, you can see all my Inspiring Women posts here!