Celebrating Women’s History Month With Our Explore Program Partners

March 4, 2024
Leadership LessonsNews and Announcements

This Women’s History Month, we are excited to highlight some inspiring female leaders across Arizona! Through our Explore Program, we’ve had the privilege of connecting with these exceptional women who are trailblazers in their communities and champions of sustainable impact throughout Arizona. We recognize the invaluable role these women play in shaping communities and driving positive change, and we are thrilled to collaborate with them!

JOANNA WILLIAMS
Executive Director, Kino Border Initiative

Can you share a little bit about yourself and the path that led to your current role in the community? What purpose or mission guides your work? I started my journey by getting to know people who had migration experiences in Denver, Colorado and later on in northern Virginia. The more I heard of their experiences, the more that I wanted to learn and work towards a more welcoming society. That led me to KBI first as a volunteer (2011) and then back as a staff person in 2015 and for the last three years as Executive Director. I believe in a world of community and hospitality and think that each of us have a crucial role in constructing that world.

What does it mean to you to be a woman in leadership in your community? As a woman in leadership I try to create a little more space for other women to grow in their own leadership abilities as well as be attentive within the team dynamic to how our gendered experiences are affecting our communication or perception of realities. I started as Executive Director when my daughter was six months old and it has been a joy to not fully separate my family and work realities but instead exist in this space as a mom and leader all at once, hopefully in the process sparking the imagination of others who are considering how to pursue work and family goals.

Is there a specific project or initiative that you’ve been involved in that you’re especially proud of? When I stepped into the leadership role at KBI we were in a moment of transition, just starting to operate out of a larger shelter and outreach center space and entering into new realities of migration as the pandemic receded and a new presidential term began. I’m proud of leading a collaborative process to clarify our strategy both for the new space and the new historical moment. Especially in the migration and border world it is easy to constantly react to the crisis of the moment and I’m grateful that as a team and community we have been able to define what we are working towards in the longer term.

How do you engage with and support other women in your community to foster collaboration and mentorship? Primarily through informal conversations and creating the space to exchange and validate experiences of being a woman growing in leadership. I have been especially grateful for spaces of exchange with other mothers, since the experience of being a mom of a young child adds another layer to the reality of being a woman in leadership.

How can others support and amplify the voices of women in your community? We need a community open to believing women who give voice to the different experiences and challenges they have experienced because of their gender, and most of all learning how we can be more supportive of each other.

What advice would you give to other women aspiring to make a difference? Assume that it is possible and that you are capable. Be open to the fact that your way of leading or working towards social change might look different from other models that you have seen. 

Lastly, as we celebrate Women’s History Month, is there a specific woman from history or present-day that has inspired and influenced you? A number of women religious (Catholic Sisters) have been great inspirations to me, either because of the depth of their reflection, their courage in their voice, the sharpness of their analysis, or the sense of community of care that they create. It is too hard to narrow it down to one!


REETIKA DHAWAN
Chief Executive Officer of Entrepreneurial College & Vice President of Workforce & Healthcare, Arizona Western College

Can you share a little bit about yourself and the path that led to your current role in the community? What purpose or mission guides your work? My path began with a deep-rooted belief in the transformative power of education. After obtaining advanced degrees in both education and Sciences, I embarked on a career in academia, initially serving as a professor before transitioning into administrative roles within higher education institutions. Along the way, I became increasingly interested in the intersection of education and entrepreneurship, recognizing the need for innovative approaches to preparing students for the dynamic demands of the modern workforce. Driven by a desire to bridge the gap between academia and industry, I pursued opportunities to collaborate with local businesses and community organizations, fostering partnerships aimed at creating experiential learning opportunities for students and addressing workforce needs. This led me to assume leadership roles where I could influence curriculum development, career readiness initiatives, and industry partnerships, ultimately shaping the direction of education to better align with the needs of both students and employers.

What does it mean to you to be a woman in leadership in your community? As a woman in leadership in my community, it means embracing the responsibility to champion diversity, equity, and inclusion, while also serving as a role model and advocate for other women aspiring to leadership roles. Being a woman in leadership carries with it a unique perspective and set of experiences that enrich decision-making processes and organizational culture. It’s about recognizing the value of diverse voices and perspectives, and actively working to create environments where all individuals, regardless of gender, feel empowered to contribute their talents and ideas. Moreover, being a woman in leadership means confronting and overcoming barriers and biases that may exist within the community or the broader society. It involves advocating for equal opportunities, challenging stereotypes, and breaking down systemic barriers that hinder the advancement of women in various fields, including education, healthcare, and entrepreneurship.

Is there a specific project or initiative that you’ve been involved in that you’re especially proud of? One project that I am particularly proud of is the collaboration between Entrepreneurial College and Yuma Regional Medical Center (YRMC) to establish a cutting-edge healthcare building aimed at advancing medical education, research, and community health initiatives.The initiative stemmed from a shared vision between Entrepreneurial College and YRMC to address the growing healthcare needs of our community while also providing innovative educational opportunities for students pursuing careers in healthcare.

How do you engage with and support other women in your community to foster collaboration and mentorship? I organize and participate in networking events, workshops, and seminars specifically tailored to women in various fields. These events provide opportunities for women to connect, share experiences, and build supportive relationships with one another. I actively participate in mentorship programs, both formal and informal, where I serve as a mentor to women who are seeking guidance and support in their professional and personal development. I also encourage other women leaders in the community to become mentors, fostering a culture of mentorship and mutual support. I strive to provide women in my community with access to resources, information, and support networks that can help them succeed in their endeavors.

How can others support and amplify the voices of women in your community? Actively amplify the voices of women by sharing their ideas, accomplishments, and initiatives with others. Whether it’s through social media, professional networks, or community events, use your platform to highlight the voices and achievements of women in our community.

What advice would you give to other women aspiring to make a difference? Have confidence in your abilities and believe that your voice and contributions matter. Trust your instincts and don’t be afraid to take risks or pursue your passions. Recognize that making a difference often involves facing obstacles and setbacks along the way. Embrace challenges as opportunities for growth and learning, and persevere in the face of adversity.

Lastly, as we celebrate Women’s History Month, is there a specific woman from history or present-day that has inspired and influenced you? There are countless women from both history and present-day who have inspired and influenced me. However, if I were to highlight one individual, it would be Ruth Bader Ginsburg. One of the aspects of RBG’s legacy that particularly resonates with me is her unwavering commitment to justice and equality, even in the face of adversity. Despite facing numerous obstacles and barriers throughout her career, she never wavered in her dedication to fighting for the rights of marginalized communities, including women, LGBTQ+ individuals, and people of color.


MANDY TRIPOLI
Deputy Director, City of Mesa – Mesa Arts Center

Can you share a little bit about yourself and the path that led to your current role in the community? What purpose or mission guides your work? My true north has always centered around the arts and arts engagement. I’ve had the distinct pleasure of working my entire professional career in government arts strategy, through grants, programs, services, and more. My guiding principle is art that inspires. Inspires you to think differently, inspires you to act, inspires you to cry, inspires you to pick up a paintbrush, microphone, or guitar and make something that inspires you.

What does it mean to you to be a woman in leadership in your community? Mesa is where my roots laid their foundation. I was born here; I grew up here and now I serve the citizens of my hometown through arts leadership. It means everything that I can give back and grow the community that raised me

Is there a specific project or initiative that you’ve been involved in that you’re especially proud of? Many, but any project that puts the decision-making, the art-making, and the transformation of something in the hands of the community.

How do you engage with and support other women in your community to foster collaboration and mentorship? By making sure they are in the room.

How can others support and amplify the voices of women in your community? Actively seek ways to be inclusive in listening and engaging women where they are.

What advice would you give to other women aspiring to make a difference? Embrace your voice.

Lastly, as we celebrate Women’s History Month, is there a specific woman from history or present-day that has inspired and influenced you? Shelley Cohn

Learn more about the Explore program and the places our cohort will visit as part of Explore Class 3.

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