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Changemakers: The Women of Mercersburg

Shining the Spotlight on 24 Alumnae in 2024

Since Mercersburg Academy opened its doors to women in 1969, our female students have left their marks on the campus, on each other, and on the world beyond Mercersburg’s sycamores. We are judges, doctors, artists, teachers, CEOs, and veterans, and the list goes on. We are changemakers, and our strength is amplified when we come together. As we look toward April, we will celebrate and strengthen these connections at the school’s first symposium, Women in Focus, and we invite you to join us. In the meantime, we are pleased to shine the spotlight on 24 of our amazing alumnae. As you will read in the following pages, we are making an impact, building on 50+ years of sending strong women out into the world, and in many ways, we have only just begun.

Deborah Simon ’74, Denise Dupré ’76, Stacie Rice Lissette ’85, P ’14, ’14, ’17, ’23
Co-chairs, Women in Focus

Donna Fisher ’72
Foster Unique Camaraderie

Donna Fisher ’72, a seasoned freelance photojournalist with more than four decades of experience, has crafted a legacy out of her passion. After graduating from Mercersburg, her journey unfolded into an illustrious career capturing the heartbeat of communities across the East Coast. Fisher’s photography, once a hobby, blossomed into a profound narrative, impacting society and earning her two Pulitzer Prize nominations.

Retiring from news staff work in 2015 didn’t quell Fisher’s passion. She established an LLC and continues to weave visual tales, photographing for newspapers and engaging in corporate freelance work. Being behind the lens remains her joy, as she documents life in the Lehigh Valley region of Allentown, Bethlehem, and Easton, PA, with a firm dedication.

Over the years, Fisher transitioned from manual to auto-focus lenses while she honed her instinct to swiftly discern the accurate essence of a story. With a lifetime of expertise, her ability to read the room has sharpened, enriching her storytelling.

Reflecting on her journey, Fisher’s advice to her younger self is concise and explicit: Listen to what family and mentors are telling you; enjoy what you’re doing and be good at it, and you will be fine!

Fisher explains that meticulous planning and unwavering actions are her tactics to remedy adversity. Drawing inspiration from mentors at the Associated Press and The Washington Post, she also has sincere gratitude for her parents and teachers who encouraged her to constantly improve since she initially showed interest in becoming a photographer.

The bond among women in the news industry is close to Fisher’s heart. Working shoulder to shoulder with fellow women newsies, she has found that they offer mutual support both in the field and in the newsroom, fostering a unique camaraderie.

For Fisher, legacy lies in the impactful imagery that helps to shape the well-being of her community. She aspires for her work to transcend, informing those unable to witness events firsthand with responsible and pleasing imagery. She wants to be remembered as the one who epitomized the proverb that “doing what you love for a living means never working a day in your life.”

“Practice ahead of time, and prepare all you can. Swallow hard, and go, do.”

Diane Wynter ’74
Want to Belong? Serve, Remain Active

Although Diane Wynter ’74 is enjoying a well-deserved retirement now, she remains an active trailblazer in every sense of the word. When she earned her diploma in the 1970s, she was Mercersburg’s first Black female graduate. In the years since that milestone, Wynter earned her college degrees while working full time, and she became a Distinguished Toastmaster and a licensed Religious Science practitioner with the Center for Spiritual Living (CSL). “Toastmasters allowed me to find my voice, and being a member of CSL allowed me to change the course of my life through studying spiritual laws and prayer,” Wynter said.

Wynter stays active as a volunteer in her church community, supporting CSL and helping individuals with their personal requests for prayer. “I believe that being of service in our communities allows us to belong to a greater degree and truly feel a part of the whole,” Wynter said.

As she thinks about how women help each other, Wynter feels grateful for all of the women who made it possible for her to advance in every area of her life, starting with her mother. “My mom paved the way for me by being the presence of love in my life,” Wynter said. “She led a simple life and always demonstrated ‘love in action’ by being her beautiful, authentic self.”

Women also were instrumental in bringing Wynter back to Mercersburg after being away for 45 years. She specifically credits Tonya Rutherford ’90, who invited her to campus in 2019 to receive an award from the Black Student Union in celebration of the BSU’s 30th anniversary, and Jenn Flanagan Bradley ’99, who connected her with several opportunities at the Academy. Today, Wynter is an active member of the Alumni Council.

“It is so important to have internal peace in order to live your best life,” Wynter said. “I would like to think that the way in which I live my life is my legacy, and specifically, I want to be known for being the presence of love, like my mom. I also love Rev. Michael Beckwith’s term: my greater yet-to-be. It leaves my life open to continuing to unfold my legacy as I move forward.”

Women are very powerful, and the feminine principle is so nurturing.

Judy Rakowsky ’76
Receive Criticism? Learn From It

Judy Rakowsky ’76 had the opportunity in a three-decade journalism career to tell true stories on platforms with significant reach, including as a reporter and editor for The Boston Globe and as a correspondent for People magazine, working in the heyday of print journalism.

“Opening readers’ eyes to experiences of people whose lives differ greatly from their own, and telling important stories with devotion to facts and fairness in compelling ways has been a noble pursuit,” said Rakowsky, who transitioned from daily journalism to crisis communications. “I realized that I had something to offer after years as a journalist watching folks make matters worse for themselves because they did not know how to react in the moment.”

Rakowsky was inspired by numerous editors as she grew to trust her own judgment.

“I had one editor from my internship at The Plain Dealer in Cleveland, OH, who insisted on checking every fact three ways, and her advice always stayed with me.”

As part of a national professional networking group, Rakowsky leads a group of senior women advisers.

“We build camaraderie and commerce among these business leaders from a range of practice areas, bringing more women to important tables,” Rakowsky said. “Ample solid research shows that organizations are stronger with better policies, healthier operations, and growth when there is gender diversity in leadership.

“My focus is on building trusting relationships within this wide-ranging group and making it fun. It’s a landscape that I did not grow up with, and I delight in the fact that successive generations of women have greater expectations and feel supported in pursuing leadership.”

Rakowsky has risen to management and teaching roles, focusing on the development of young colleagues, and also learning from them.

If she could provide advice to her younger self, she’d take more constructive lessons from criticism. She’d also recommend not allowing adversity to hinder progress, but to use it as motivation to move on.

Rakowsky wrote Jews in the Garden, a narrative nonfiction book emphasizing the importance of learning from history. It chronicles her quest with her cousin, a Holocaust survivor, to find a relative in Poland who disappeared after her family was massacred during the war.

“The biggest challenge for us all is to stay open and keep adapting to change.”

Deirdre Marshall ’79
Become Inspired by Your Circle

A willingness to change and a commitment to stay active have been driving factors in the success of Deirdre Marshall ’79—both in her independent practice as a plastic surgeon and in her life as a mother of six.

Working in the subspecialties of plastic and reconstructive surgery—adult, pediatric, cancer reconstruction, microsurgery, trauma, hand surgery, and cosmetic surgery—has never been boring, Marshall said. Initially, she did microsurgery, hand surgery, and pediatric surgery.

“After that, my focus changed to breast cancer reconstruction surgery and cosmetic surgery,” she said. “Now my focus is directed more toward elective aesthetic surgery.”

Reaching the position she holds in her field was hard, and it took a lot of support and inspiration from those around her.

“My parents inspired me. They always supported me, and they never complained,” she said, noting that her parents were her top supporters, along with her Stanford professors and advisers. “All of those people showed me that I was capable of doing anything I set my mind to, including being a woman in a highly male-dominated profession.”

Outside of her career, Marshall stays active physically and within her community. She completed an Ironman Florida competition when she turned 50, as well as the Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon three times.

Marshall brings a love of activity combined with a love for her career to her community. She is involved with breast cancer support groups and fundraising, and also in promoting cycling, especially for women.

Throughout her struggles and successes, her children have always been her focus. As a mother of six, she has definitely kept busy.

“In life, my focus evolved from changing diapers to putting my six children through college and graduate school,” she said. One child is even pursuing a career in the same industry. “I am waiting for my eldest daughter to join me in my plastic surgery practice so that I can retire!”

“Stay calm. Work hard. Ask for others’ advice and support. Remain self-confident. Sleep on matters before making important decisions.”

Peg Hacskaylo ’85
Create Your Vision, Then Execute It

Peg Hacskaylo ’85 has initiated and launched several programs and organizations providing services so survivors of domestic and sexual violence can have safe and stable housing.

“For me, the pinnacle of that work was when I created the District Alliance for Safe Housing (DASH) in Washington, D.C., in 2006,” Hacskaylo said.

DASH set a national standard for providing safe housing for survivors and eventually established “safe housing” in the lexicon of practitioners, researchers, and stakeholders as the preferred term to describe housing that specifically focuses on the needs of survivors in its design and approach.

As the founder/CEO of Safe Neighbor, Hacskaylo is now working to develop a tech platform that optimizes the dissemination of financial assistance to victims by facilitating the tracking, distribution, and administration of funding to help victims quickly re-establish themselves in their communities.

Many survivors Hacskaylo has worked with have sought to start their own programs to help other survivors, offer their stories for the public to learn more, or otherwise change policies or laws so other women don’t have to experience what they went through.

“In the many years I have worked to help women survive violence, I have found that women always seek to make the world a better place when they have the opportunity and capacity to do so,” Hacskaylo said. “Women have such inherent strength, wisdom, and compassion, and I believe they use those assets to improve and rebuild their lives, families, communities, and worlds when they can.”

Hacskaylo hopes her legacy will be one of creating new approaches that are creatively conceived, universally accessible, flexible in meeting needs, and enriching for everyone involved, from the individual survivors to the staff who serve them to the administrators, communities, and other stakeholders who govern, invest in, and oversee them.

From her father’s example, she learned how to create a vision and execute it, including how to gain support, partners, and resources for that vision. He taught her the value of education, integrity, discipline, and how to form family wherever and however you can.

Hacskaylo overcomes adversity through leaning on friends and family, seeking other help as needed, and giving herself grace and space when she needs time to heal.

“You matter. Every single person on the planet matters. Don’t ever doubt that what you do, what you think, and what you care about matters.”

Hannah B. Barrett ’84
Give Up? No, Restart

Collaboration is key for painter and educator Hannah B. Barrett ’84, executive director of Bard MFA in New York.

“Both my current role as executive director and my volunteer work as a director at an artist-run gallery are community oriented,” said Barrett. “These are ways for me to promote and advocate for a more diverse group of artists and artwork than the commercial art market and limited cultural resources support.”

For years, Barrett was an adjunct art professor and often wondered if it would lead anywhere.

“I also had to restart my painting career several times due to moves, gallery closures, and job changes,” Barrett said, noting that the ups and downs and the reinvention are part of the process, not reasons to give up.

Barrett’s four steps to overcome adversity include:

  • Strategize.
  • Ask for help.
  • Chip away at the problem.
  • Find a way to laugh in the process.

Barrett paints directly from imagination, having started out using collage as a way to picture things that were invisible. When in the right frame of mind, Barrett views this as work and play.

“As a painter, I hope to encourage artists to tap into the transformative power of the imagination,” Barrett said. “As someone on a gender spectrum, I’ve embodied a type of androgyny in my artwork and in daily life. In my current role as an arts administrator, I hope to be able to make graduate study in the arts more financially accessible.”

Barrett is inspired by artists such as Carrie Moyer, Sheila Pepe, Katherine Bradford, Brenda Goodman, and Laurel Sparks, Barrett’s partner of 24 years.

“My family has always been supportive of me artistically. In fact, my mother drove me all over Berks County (PA) for art lessons as a child. I also attended Wellesley College where for four years, I was surrounded by very smart and ambitious young women. My sister, Anne Barrett ’86, and I both attended Mercersburg and Wellesley, and as a professional architect/designer, Anne faces many of the same biases and challenges.”

“In the arts, there is still a significant gender gap when it comes to the market and visibility, and women are constantly trying to improve this.”

Julie Curtis ’89
Challenges = Opportunities for Growth

Julie Curtis ’89, founder and CEO of Connected Alliances LLC, embodies the essence of perseverance and purpose. Her decade-old venture began with an audacious vision: merging military and industrial efforts to tackle intricate challenges swiftly.

Her focus has been on creating opportunities for greater fuel efficiency in developing new aircraft, modernizing Air Force education and training by providing more access to digital content from multiple industry sources, and solving weapon systems supply chain issues.

“Business success for me is measured by our ability to bring people together to do meaningful work they are passionate about while delivering a positive impact on our community,” Curtis said.

Her journey exemplifies the transformative power of women supporting women. Grateful for the support she received from a fellow female CEO during her venture’s infancy, she now aspires to extend mentorship and aid to female entrepreneurs as they launch their businesses.

Adversity, Curtis believes, is life’s classroom. She approaches challenges as opportunities for growth, shifting perspectives to glean invaluable lessons for the future. Her inspiration is a mosaic of influential figures—parents, grandmother, sister, and great-uncle—each instilling vital values that now form the bedrock of her company’s culture.

Actively engaged with various community organizations, Curtis endeavors to understand and uplift communities, leveraging her expertise for a greater purpose. Curtis aspires to establish a nonprofit, extending her company’s knowledge to remedy educational, environmental, and domestic abuse challenges. To do this, she aims to implement technology-transfer capabilities from the Department of Defense within these communities.

Ultimately, Curtis aims to leave a dual legacy: professionally, as a catalyst for societal change, fostering opportunities and solutions, and personally, inspiring others to have the courage to follow their passion and to embody gentleness and kindness.

Reflecting on her past, she advises others to heed their innate inclinations, acknowledging the extracurricular activities, early jobs, and interests they gravitated to naturally in high school and college. She traces her entrepreneurial spirit back to her formative years at Mercersburg.

“I was a bit older when I connected the dots back to Mercersburg and the roles I had. Had I known to pay more attention and apply them, I may not have waited so long to launch my business.”

Amy Sheridan Fazackerley ’89
Do What You Love

A life of poise and purpose has paved the way for Amy Sheridan Fazackerley ’89, founder and CEO of Lay-n-Go, an easy organizational solution for life, play, and travel.

“Change is inevitable. How do I handle adversity? I don’t worry about making the meal perfect. I simply buy the pasta and turn on the stove,” said Fazackerley. “Grit, grace, and gratitude have all served me well. I wake up every morning not knowing what obstacles or opportunities the day will hold.”

As a business founder, she has learned how to bring poise and purpose to other women looking to do the same. She has been doing a lot of mentoring within the female business community.

“I have focused on creating opportunities for women that support their lives, advance their personal career goals, and offer them the balance they need for both work and home,” Fazackerley said. “I have also been actively involved in many women’s business groups over the past several years.”

Through founding her company, she has been able to accomplish major feats in the business world.

“My greatest accomplishments in my work life are six U.S. patents, making the Inc 5000 list in 2022, and landing on the shelves of Target, Costco, and Sephora,” Fazackerley said.

Outside of her dedication to her business and passion for women in business, she is a devoted mother of three boys: “My greatest accomplishments in my personal life are my three amazing sons.”

Her commitment has been noticeable throughout her career as a CEO, her commitment to community, and her desire to help women succeed.

“Life is short, so do what you love, and the money will follow,” Fazackerley said. “Don’t be afraid to take those shots, find and keep a balance, be kind, and spend as much quality time with your family and friends as humanly possible!”

“Women strive to create a supportive work environment for one another. They love to lift each other, and their superpower is being able to help connect those around them.”

Tonya Rutherford ’90
Create Safe Spaces

Tonya Rutherford ’90—attorney, leadership coach, and entrepreneur—aims to create safe spaces for people to authentically be themselves. To that end, she is the founding president of both the Black Student Union (created in 1989) and the Black Alumni Association (conceived of in 2019) at Mercersburg Academy. She is also a three-time member of the Mercersburg Alumni Council.

“My work over the last 34 years at Mercersburg has been to create safe spaces for, and to recognize and amplify the voices of, current and former Black students,” Rutherford said. She sees this as a significant part of her legacy.

As she considers how her focus has changed or evolved over the years, she feels she is no longer hyperfocused on the future. “After losing loved ones, I realized that the future is now, and tomorrow isn’t guaranteed,” Rutherford said. “Now I live in the present and strive to make the most of every day and every experience. As an example, when I was at Mercersburg, I barely noticed the change in seasons because I was so focused on planning for my future. Now during my walks, I stop to notice the leaves falling, to smell the scent of a lavender plant, and to admire the beauty of the clouds. I actually get lost in the moment of ‘now.’”

Her relationship with adversity has also changed. “I used to dwell on and hold on to losses instead of grieving them and letting them go,” Rutherford said. “Now I focus on the good that comes from the challenges. First, I acknowledge my authentic, raw feelings about the situation.” Those feelings give her direction and guidance to move forward. “Second, I intentionally draw on prior experiences when I successfully went through something similar as a reminder that I am equipped to conquer what is before me. Finally, my ancestors and my support circle help remind me that trouble doesn’t last always, and I got this!”

Rutherford’s support circle includes the relationships she has with other Black women—an incredible source of strength in her life: “From my mother, grandmother, and aunts to girlfriends I’ve known for 30 years—the support we extend one another is a powerful form of healing, and I can’t imagine life without them.”

“Live boldly! Take up space so the world can have the joy of experiencing the authentic ‘you.’ Be the person you are on vacation.”

Amy McGovern ’92
Be Stubborn, Keep Your Focus

Amy McGovern ’92 believes her greatest professional accomplishment is helping to start the field of artificial intelligence for weather and climate applications. McGovern, professor in the School of Meteorology and School of Computer Science at the University of Oklahoma and director of the National Science Foundation AI Institute for Research on Trustworthy AI in Weather, Climate, and Coastal Oceanography, has always had a love for and interest in artificial intelligence.

“Even at Mercersburg, I wanted to be involved in computers and artificial intelligence,” McGovern said. “I just didn’t really know how to do that as a student. I thought it involved making smarter games because that was my experience in interacting with AI in the ’90s. I have always wanted to help make the world a better place, and working on AI for weather and climate helps combine those interests.”

Seeing women ahead of her who achieved their goals helped her realize potential and possibilities. Her mom has a Ph.D. and has been an inspiration.

McGovern depends on the love and support of her family to help her overcome adversity, and she says becoming a mom helped her focus on how her generation can help the next.

“I have been involved in helping improve representation of women in science, technology, engineering, and medical careers. For example, I have helped to organize large-scale events that help young women see the wide range of careers they can choose in STEM. I have also coached robotics teams and worked with young Scouts.”

Her work with the Boy Scouts of America started when her son was young. Both her husband and son are now Eagle Scouts. McGovern is also active in her church, and she runs dog agility competitively and has participated in national championships.

To her younger self, she would say, “Keep being stubborn and focusing on what you want to do, even if the rest of the world tries to tell you that it is impossible or will not work. Keep doing the thing you know you can and want to do, and you will succeed.”

“We can really help to lift each other up and show what is possible in a cooperative world!”

Nancy Abudu ’92
Plant Seeds of Confidence

Dr. Paul Abudu wanted his daughter to have options, so he enrolled her in Mercersburg Academy. “He could not afford to send me there, but he worked hard to make up his portion of the tuition, and he always reminded me that I already possessed things that were priceless—intelligence, aspirations, and his love,” said Nancy Abudu ’92. Following her high school graduation, she went to Columbia University and then to Tulane Law School. Today, she is a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.

“This lifetime appointment means that I can play a significant role in the interpretation and application of legal principles that directly impact the lives of so many people,” Abudu said.

Over the last several years, her focus has been on raising her kids, making sure they have the resources necessary to be successful once they are living independently. With one now in college and another in high school, Abudu imagines that her focus “will transition to being even more engaged in my community and taking advantage of the amazing network that Mercersburg and my other alma maters have to offer.”

Abudu is active in her local and state bar associations in Georgia, focusing on mentoring young people interested in legal careers, and she supports college and law students around the country. She also participates in Mercersburg’s Black Alumni Association.

“I try my best to plant the seeds of confidence
coupled with hard work in the young women I meet and to make sure that whatever doors I might crack open are even wider for future generations. My hope is that there will be no more ‘first woman to…’ in my lifetime.”

Abudu recognizes the trailblazers who came before her, including Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. “While she and I might not have shared the same judicial philosophy on all issues (I argued and lost a case before her), there is no debate that she paved the way for me and so many women on the bench,” Abudu said. “I hope that even if people do not always agree with my legal opinions or views, they will respect that I engaged in this work with humility and a true love for the law; that although our legal system is far from perfect, I was part of a group that never gave up on our legal system’s promise of equal justice under the law for all.”

“You make better decisions when you have options, and sometimes you must create options for yourself.”

Karen Pak Oppenheimer ’93
Lead with Empathy

Karen Pak Oppenheimer ’93 works in global health and climate and sustainable development as a strategy and operations adviser and most recently co-founded the Oppenheimer Project. When asked what her greatest accomplishments are in work, home, or play, she said, “That I managed to do all three and kept some semblance of balance!”

Pak Oppenheimer is proud to do work that she feels makes an impact. “In my global health community, I serve on a few boards that focus on giving girls and women choices in low-income countries, in family planning, and in health care and education,” she said. During the COVID-19 pandemic, she assisted with safely reopening the Mercersburg Academy campus.

“I think I have gone from being very career-oriented to more life experiences-oriented. I’ve taken time off to travel, spend time with family, volunteer my time as a board member for organizations I believe in, and said ‘yes’ to different opportunities that didn’t necessarily follow the career path.”

In terms of travel on the home front, Pak Oppenheimer is pleased that she was able to take her children out for a year of “world schooling,” and coincidentally, she wrapped this up before the pandemic made it more difficult to travel.

Pak Oppenheimer finds inspiration from “many women in my family, especially my mother who provided a great role model as a working mom. I was also fortunate to have worked with a few great women early in my career, and women I met through my travels, who showed me how to lead with empathy.”

Mindset is key to success, and for Pak Oppenheimer, that means “acknowledging all the emotions and staying positive. I am also a problem-solver by nature and am of the mindset that all problems can be solved with some patience and a healthy dose of optimism.”

“Figuring out what you want to do with your life is a continuous process. There are no bad decisions as you learn and grow from every job, every relationship, and every experience.”

Missy Ryan ’93
Focus on What Makes You Feel Fulfilled

Missy Ryan ’93 aims to provide a global voice for those who don’t otherwise have one.

As a journalist for The Washington Post, Ryan has witnessed and chronicled significant world events in the United States and overseas. She worked for Reuters prior to working for the Post, was based in Iraq from 2008-2010, and has reported from Sudan, Libya, Egypt, Lebanon, Yemen, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

“For many years, I focused to a large extent on events in the broader Middle East/Central Asia as I covered America’s counter-insurgent campaigns in those regions,” said Ryan, who since 2022 has focused on writing about the Ukraine-Russia conflict and security events in Europe.

She has been inspired by trailblazing female journalists, including Christiane Amanpour, Andrea Mitchell, and Barbara Starr, who focused on foreign policy and national security.

To overcome adversity, Ryan usually asks for help from trusted friends or family and tackles a big problem or project a small bite at a time.

As she advances in her career, she is open to engaging with aspiring or early-career journalists when they approach her for advice.

“People were so generous with me when I was starting out,” Ryan said. “And when women help younger women coming up in the same field, it provides a model of how women who are established can help lift up the next generation and help them navigate challenges.”

Ryan’s greatest personal satisfaction has been raising her daughter and being involved in the activities at her daughter’s school, which provides opportunities to learn more about their community and participate in local events.

If she could have a conversation with her younger self, Ryan would suggest that she should believe in herself and her abilities, and shake off any doubts: “Focus on what makes you feel fulfilled.”

“When women help women, it has far-reaching impacts, because it shows how we can be allies rather than competitors.”

Reema Datta ’94
Provide Tools to Calm the Mind

Growing up, Reema Datta ’94 recalls her grandparents demonstrating that people can cultivate a strong, stable, resilient, wise, and compassionate mind no matter their life circumstances. She witnessed her family create meaningful and joyful lives while overcoming adversity.

Today, Datta is a yoga and wellness entrepreneur residing in Taos, NM. Yoga is the bedrock of her family and, after 9/11, she was inspired to dedicate her life to the study, practice, and teaching of yoga.

Most mainstream yoga methods originated from men (Iyengar, Ashtanga, Isha), and while Datta views them as brilliant, she recognizes that they don’t address issues women face, such as monthly cycles, pregnancy, postpartum care, changing hormones, and menopause.

Datta hopes to add a woman’s voice to yoga and offer a holistic experience of the practice, including teachings on how to cultivate a lasting peace of mind. She sees the potential for women’s perspectives in yoga to be powerful and healing.

Datta’s focus has become offering yoga practices for emotional well-being. She offers 200- and 300-hour Yoga Teacher Training Programs. She received a grant to teach yoga in her daughter’s school to children in grades kindergarten through eighth, and she teaches tween and teen yoga classes near her home.

She feels that during a time when rates of mental health issues are soaring across all demographics, most alarmingly among youth, it is important to provide tools to calm the mind and emotions.

Datta uses yoga to face and overcome difficult emotions, such as anxiety, shame, anger, and sorrow. She wrote a book that includes a series of yoga practices to help those struggling with such emotions, which in the Sanskrit language are called kleshas: “mind poisons” or “destructive emotions,” as they have the potential to damage physical health. The book will be published and released in the fall of 2024.

“When women help women, magic unfolds.”

Angie Pomella-Garnsey ’97
Get Comfortable with What Is Uncomfortable

For more than two decades, Angie Pomella-Garnsey ’97 provided compassionate law enforcement services as a Delaware State Police trooper.

“Police work is challenging—it always has been and always will be,” Pomella-Garnsey said. “Even so, I always took pride in my interactions with the public.”

Pomella-Garnsey transitioned to a contract position with the All Clear Foundation, providing mental health, wellness, and resiliency training and resources to first responders.

An accomplished swimmer—she once swam across the Chesapeake Bay—Pomella-Garnsey said the sport has played a key role in her life. Swimming brought her to Mercersburg, where she made lifelong friends and set records, and then she continued swimming as a student athlete at Arizona State University. Having now been a coach for many years, she recently qualified for the U.S. Masters Nationals.

From her experience as a student athlete and a law enforcement professional, she advises others to get comfortable with the uncomfortable.

“Learn the skills to navigate situations and understand the value of connections and building relationships,” Pomella-Garnsey said. “Asking for help and identifying people in your life who make you the best version of yourself is how you grow.”

Pomella-Garnsey feels strongly about the importance of giving back and helps her daughters run the Buckets of Love Foundation, which the girls co-founded in 2018 when they were 11 and 6. They have filled more than 10,800 buckets containing age-appropriate items for children who are receiving medical care.

As president of the Mid-Atlantic Association of Women in Law Enforcement, Pomella-Garnsey spoke at the organization’s September 11 conference last year. Earlier in the week, her 12-year-old daughter had shared a quote: “The comeback is always stronger than the setback.”

Pomella-Garnsey used the quote in her opening remarks. “This quote applies to everything: the tragic events of 9/11, the journey of women in law enforcement, and the highs and lows of our personal lives. Maybe it was the quote, or my vulnerability, but for the first time in my life, I received a standing ovation. Whether it is my daughters or my colleagues, I am committed to pouring into others. And, at a time when I needed it most, the encouragement and support was returned to me.”

“Learn how to forgive and know that some things are worth fighting for and some are not.”

Robyn Gdula Lalime ’98
Spread the Load, Recognize Others

Robyn Gdula Lalime ’98 has learned that finishing a task is more fulfilling when she becomes actively engaged in the work.

“As a young professional, my focus was solely on the final product: test results, completed analysis, or a completed report,” said Lalime, a military operations analyst. “I have since learned to focus more on the process and the people that help and support me along the way.”

Lalime has been inspired by the endurance of ultrarunners, including faculty emeritus Sue Malone P ’01, ’03.

“I remember listening in awe as Malone recounted her first 50-mile race during a community gathering,” Lalime said. “That was the first time I had ever considered the possibility of discipline and focus actually propelling us past what we thought were our mental and physical limits. Her talk helped me realize that many of our greatest challenges are as much a fight against our psyche as against our competitors.”

When asked about her greatest work achievement, Lalime proudly noted that one of her briefings made it to the desk of the president of the United States.

At home, her greatest accomplishment has been forming a strong team with her husband as they raise three children.

Her desire for change has prompted her to become active in her community.

“Many community improvement initiatives just need somebody to take the first step,” Lalime said. “I recognize that I am not always the best person for a job, and that I may not be around to see the final product, but I know I can at least break the ice!”

If she had an opportunity to speak to her younger self, she would offer this advice:

  • Exude kindness. It’s not always easy, but it changes lives.
  • There is always a lesson to be learned. Find it.
  • Don’t suppress your femininity to excel in a male-dominated career. Many times our differences end up being our most important assets!

“Spreading the load reduces stress, allows everybody to contribute, and results in a stronger final product in the end.”

Amy Clippinger ’99
Listen to Different Perspectives

Amy Clippinger ’99 faces adversity with patience and persistence as she revolutionizes chemical testing, relying on modern non-animal tests that protect human health and the environment as she directs the PETA Science Consortium International e.V.

Clippinger leads a team of 25 passionate and innovative scientists who are making significant contributions in non-animal approaches to toxicology testing.

In the past 12 years since the consortium was established, her team has built a reputation as a powerhouse of scientists whose expertise is widely sought by industry experts and regulatory agencies.

Since she joined the consortium, Clippinger’s focus has changed from being an individual contributor to supporting others and providing strategic guidance on how to maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of their work. She says she tries to “invest as much time as possible developing early-career scientists—and I’m inspired by their passion for doing better science that creates a safer world for all.”

She suggests overcoming adversity with patience and persistence. She has learned to stay focused on her ultimate goal and not take things personally.

“Resistance to change is natural,” Clippinger said. “My job involves convincing people to shift long-established ways of doing things. I listen to different perspectives and offer creative solutions. That can take a long time, but it works in bringing about change.”

She offers this advice to her younger self:

  • Think for yourself and make your own decisions.
  • Know it is also OK to change your mind.
  • Surround yourself with smart and kind people who challenge you to be your best.

Whether she is enjoying a beach vacation or doing a puzzle at home, Clippinger also makes family time a priority. She loves spending time with her partner, Dominic, and her daughter, Kayla.

She would like to leave a legacy of having made the world a better place for humans and animals, and hopes she inspires others to do the same.

“My dad taught me to do my best no matter how big or small the task, and my mom taught me to speak up, even–and especially–when you’re afraid. By their daily example, they remind me to work hard and practice gratitude.”

Rebecca Lowe ’99
Let Adversity Inspire You

NBC Sports television anchor Rebecca Lowe ’99 started her career when few females were in sports broadcasting.

“Thank goodness they were brave enough to break into an entirely male industry in the 1990s so that when I entered the fray in 2002, there was at least a precedent of a female face talking about soccer on TV,” said Lowe, who began her career as a production assistant at TalkSPORT Radio in London. She has worked for the BBC, Setanta Sports, and ESPN’s UK sports channel.

In 2013, NBC Sports hired Lowe to serve as the lead studio host for its coverage of the Premier League in the United States. The same year, Sports Illustrated named her Newcomer of the Year.

If she could provide advice to her younger self, she would share that there will be downward career turns and people who don’t believe in you, but keep going, maintain your faith, and you can get where you want to go. She has found that the best way to deal with adversity is to let it be inspiring.

“I am very driven to achieve, reach my potential, and always do my best, but I think becoming a mom has definitely altered the way I see my life,” Lowe said. “I make more career sacrifices now so that I can be as present as possible for my son.”

Lowe is involved at her son’s school and soccer club, and with Street Soccer USA, a charity in Sacramento that helps young people find their path by using soccer to stay focused.

She wants to be remembered as someone who worked hard, had respect for all the people she worked with, never let her standards slip, and inspired girls to do whatever it is they want to do.

“There are still not enough jobs for women; there is still not the equality we need,” Lowe said. “It’s hard for women to support each other because they are always in competition with each other. If we can continue to produce brilliant female sports broadcasters who do things the right way, then we will eventually get to a place where more women can support each other, more women can raise each other up, rather than worry about them as competition.”

“Women helping women is crucial to achieving equality.”

Nancy Digby Franke ’02
Encourage Others to Stay Curious

Nancy Digby Franke ’02 believes that a meandering path forward is interesting and will lead to where you should be.

“In college, I didn’t know what social work was, though I was circling the profession for a long time,” Franke said. “I was a religion major and philosophy minor, then took five years before returning to school for my master’s in social work. In between, I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Paraguay. I thought I might want to live and work in Latin America long term, but graduate school cemented my interest in working alongside people entangled in criminal legal systems.”

Her dissertation was a national study of people who were given life or long prison sentences as children, ages 12-17, and then released. It is a mixed-methods study focusing on the role of relationships on well-being.

“Most of my work has been with and about people who are or were previously incarcerated,” Franke said. “Once I learned about mass incarceration’s innumerable injustices, I couldn’t imagine doing something else. For those of us who have avoided contact with these systems, we often only have privilege—rather than pristine behavior—to thank.”

She’s inspired by people who were called “incorrigible” as children, sent to prison for life, and somehow maintained hope throughout decades of incarceration, making sustainable change both inside and outside of prison walls.

Franke’s mother, who became a CPA after more than a decade of work as an ICU nurse, is also an inspiration, proving that it’s never too late to change your mind.

An assistant professor in the department of social work at La Salle University in Philadelphia, Franke would like to be remembered for doing her part in the fight to end mass incarceration, and for encouraging those around her to stay curious.

“I see this in the classroom every day, where social work students work to be comfortable being uncomfortable, challenge their own biases, and question how power builds and maintains inequity.”

“I am quite lucky to work in a field that is predominantly women who want to support others and fight systemic injustices, creating communities where vulnerability and openness are considered strengths.”

Gabrielle Joffie Richards ’03
Help Others Feel Confident, Valued

In 2010, Gabrielle Joffie Richards ’03 earned a master’s degree in fashion design, setting the foundation for a career in beauty and fashion aimed at positively impacting women’s lives. “My crowning achievement has been leading confidence-boosting brands at Trafilea, empowering over nine million women through our body confidence initiative. I am honored to also serve as a guest host on QVC on behalf of Shapermint Essentials,” Richards said.

As a licensed body confidence coach, Richards actively contributes to her community by offering advice and guidance, helping women embrace their self-worth. She said her motivation is rooted in fostering a world where every woman feels confident and valued.

“My aspiration is to be remembered as a disruptor in media and advertising, championing body confidence and acceptance as the norm,” Richards said. “I aim to overturn the stark reality that over 85 percent of women in America struggle with body confidence, and to help instill a new era of self-acceptance.”

Richards feels that navigating adversity involves understanding the challenge and approaching it with positivity and openness. “I’ve cultivated daily rituals, like listening to positive meditation frequencies and indulging in self-care, backed by a supportive network of mentors, to maintain balance and resilience,” she said.

Her own network has helped her achieve her current success, and she credits entrepreneur Ericka Dotson, co-founder of Indique Hair, with paving a way for her: “Her guidance in risk-taking, patience, and making one’s mark in the industry, along with her groundbreaking work in beauty, marketing, and advertising, has been profoundly inspirational.”

Richards believes that through women supporting each other, she has witnessed the birth of thriving businesses, the formation of robust communities, and significant societal changes—a testament to the power of female solidarity.

“Stay true to your path, embrace bold risks, and always believe in the light ahead. Your uniqueness is your greatest asset—never dim it.”

Bailey Blake Weibley ’11
Fill Someone Else’s Bucket

Within the elementary school where Bailey Blake Weibley ’11 works, everyone reads, Have You Filled a Bucket Today? A Guide to Daily Happiness for Kids by Carol McCloud. In order to fill someone’s bucket, you have to show love and say or do something kind to make someone feel special. This approach highlights the way Weibley lives her life and the women she chooses to surround her—bucket fillers, not bucket dippers.

Weibley is a special education teacher, working in the borough of Mercersburg. She graduated from Wilson College in 2022, earning a master’s of education in special education with a concentration in Autism Spectrum Disorder.

“My focus has always been helping students learn to the best of their abilities,” Weibley said. “If a student isn’t learning the way you teach, then you need to change the way you teach; don’t focus on changing the way the student learns. As educators, it is important to be flexible and have an open mind to new technologies and teaching practices.”

Weibley’s approach has paid off. In May 2022, she was awarded the Exemplary Educator Award by the Pennsylvania Training and Technical Assistance Network Autism Initiative. “People often ask me, ‘Why? Why special education? Why autism?’ I choose to be an educator to model unconditional love and acceptance for all,” Weibley said.

Weibley and her dog, Knox, were recently approved as a certified therapy dog and autism companion dog team for Tuscarora School District.

“As a certified therapy dog team, Knox and I can go to schools, nursing homes, hospitals, etc., to bring joy, love, and a sense of calmness to people,” Weibley said. “I plan to bring Knox to school to teach my students various daily living and social skills, as well as teaching my students how to be responsible for someone else.”

In her personal life, she is proud of her family. She met her husband, Coleman Weibley, Mercersburg’s associate dean of students, while working for Mercersburg Summer Programs. They married in the Irvine Memorial Chapel in October 2018 and have two children, Parker (4), and Quincy (2), and are expecting a third child in 2024. “It has been such a blessing growing a family in a community like Mercersburg,” Weibley said.

“Take chances, try new things, and open your eyes and heart to all experiences that come your way.”

Grace Caroline Wiener ’14
Have Fun, Bring Joy

Without the intention of doing so, Grace Caroline Wiener ’14 turned something she created for her own amusement into a major trend both on and off social media.

Her customized L.L. Bean tote bags with cheeky sayings led to coverage in publications such as The New York Times, Vogue, and Harper’s Bazaar, and gave her the opportunity to design collections with several brands, including a holiday line with L.L. Bean that sold out immediately.

“The most rewarding part of running @IronicBoatAndTote is hearing how much joy it brings,” Wiener said. “While there are plenty of things I want to accomplish in my career, I think that is what I want to be remembered for—making people smile.”

Wiener is social media manager at AIR MAIL Weekly, co-founder of Perry Jones Media, and a tastemaker—a person who influences what becomes fashionable.

“People will laugh at what you are doing and think it is cringe—until it becomes cool,” Wiener said. “When I started posting on TikTok in 2021 and created @IronicBoatAndTote in 2022, several people I considered friends were outwardly negative and made fun of me behind my back. It was hard not to listen to them, but I knew what I was doing was fun for me and brought joy to others. Once I started to find success, they came back to congratulate me on what I had built.”

Wiener’s focus within social media has expanded into brand marketing, influencer marketing, and brand creative, with her taking a holistic strategy approach to brands through her agency, Perry Jones Media.

“I fell into doing social media professionally by happenstance,” Wiener said. “I saw there was a growing need for social media managers, and I knew it was something I understood and enjoyed doing.”

She said her entire career has been an outcome of women helping women.

“I have created connections with incredible women in the workforce, especially in fashion and media in New York, who are excited to help me advance in my career,” Wiener said. “I have found this is the case for most of my friends as well. It is very inspiring and has encouraged me to help others, especially women younger than me, in their careers as much as possible.”

“Pursue what you love, and listen to those who really matter to you during your comeup.”

Sarah Lyman ’16
Turn Outward to Help Others

Spending 18 months in Uruguay enveloped in the culture and immersed in the Spanish language proved to be a pivotal time for Sarah Lyman ’16.

“It was a humbling and difficult experience, but I see aspects of my life every day where that time helped me,” Lyman said. “As a second-grade teacher in a Title 1 school, I speak Spanish every day to connect with my students and their parents.”

Lyman overcomes adversity by turning outward and helping those around her.

“This helps me become more grateful for all that I have instead of thinking about what I do not have,” she said.

Lyman was drawn to Uruguay for missionary work, an experience that led her to become more service-oriented. She is now teaching at Graham Road Elementary School in Falls Church, VA, coaches high school basketball, and remains involved in her church by coordinating activities for women in the congregation.

“My belief in having charity toward others and serving others is one of the reasons I choose to be a part of this community and
do my part to help it continue to grow,” Lyman said. “The relationships you create with those around you are the things that matter most.”

Lyman views her parents, Amy and Michael Lyman, as mentors and said they continue to have an impact on her. Her father is a professor of social work and gerontology at Shippensburg University. Her mother is the head volleyball coach at Mercersburg.

“My parents instilled in me the importance of receiving an education, but it was not until I saw those without the privilege of receiving an education that my perspective changed,” Lyman said. “Before attending university, my focus was not on education and learning. Now, my focus is more on helping others receive a good education and continuing to acquire more knowledge myself.”

Lyman said she experienced women supporting women in her college education, as most of her professors were educated, successful women who were passionate and driven to help other women learn how to best teach the next generation.

“As a university student and now professional educator, I recognize the privilege I have had to experience an exceptional high school and university education. I also recognize how important it is to be a lifelong learner.”

Samantha Goldman ’17
Keep Learning, Embrace Change

As a student in 2014, Samantha Goldman ’17 was the first female athlete to score points in a varsity football game at Mercersburg Academy. Today, she is a business analyst for Tepper Sports & Entertainment, where she supports two professional teams—the Carolina Panthers (NFL) and Charlotte Football Club (MLS)—and an entertainment venue in Bank of America Stadium.

“I always approach adversity as a problem to be solved,” said Goldman. “I break down the challenges into manageable tasks, adapt to new circumstances, and strategically work toward solutions. Additionally, in times of adversity, I place great emphasis on seeking support from family, friends, and mentors.”

Some of those mentors she remembers most fondly include the Conklin family at Mercersburg. Mike and Cally Conklin supported her as dorm parents, and Mike Conklin, who is now director of college counseling, served as her college counselor and encouraged her to apply to the University of Miami. “His guidance was instrumental in shaping my educational journey, and I credit him for directing me toward an institution that has been pivotal in my career,” Goldman said.

Goldman also recognizes the importance of women helping women. In February 2020, while a student at the University of Miami and working for the university’s football program, Goldman was selected by the NFL’s Sam Rapoport as one of 40 women to participate in the NFL Women’s Careers in Football Forum. “Sam created this event as a bridge for women to engage with NFL coaches and executives, providing a pathway for women like me to enter the industry,” Goldman said.

Goldman hopes to provide that same support to others, and she offers these three pieces of advice:

  • Network. Network. Network.
  • Never stop learning. (She credits Mercersburg for instilling this trait in her.)
  • Don’t shy away from taking risks and embracing change.

As Goldman continues in her career, she aspires to be a leader who actively works to break down barriers, champion equality, and empower individuals from all backgrounds to thrive and achieve success: “My goal is to inspire others to fearlessly pursue their dreams—be it in their careers, personal lives, or creative endeavors.”

“Have the courage to take the leap and explore something new.”

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