I’m a Woman on a Mission Too
Since 1995, U.S. presidents have proclaimed March as Women’s History Month. It is a time to celebrate contributions made by women throughout American history—women who were on a mission to break barriers, challenge stereotypes, and make inroads against sexism and systemic racism.
It is also a time to recognize current trailblazers—such as women leaders at Walden—who are using their education to lead change in their own organizations and lives. They’re on a mission, too. A mission that builds on the achievements of the past and works toward an equitable future.
Learn more about women leaders who have made history and Walden women who are part of history in the making.
Walden Women Leaders
Rita Turner – Pioneer in Distance Learning
Rita Turner comes by her passion for activism naturally. During World War II, her whole family pitched in from home to help with the war efforts. “My parents had a keen interest in not only what they believed was right for the United States, but for the world as well,” she recalls. Her passion for activism, along with her desire to make a difference in the lives of the unprotected and underserved naturally led her to love education. As she continued her higher education, she and her husband, Bernie Turner, realized that education could be used as the impetus for social change. In Rita’s own words, “if we put our heads together and concentrated on the development of an educational institution that devoted itself to positive social change, we would not only make a very good team, we would also accomplish the larger mission.” With $15,000, a guerilla marketing campaign and—most importantly—a dream to create better access to higher education for mid-career professionals, Walden University was born. Today, Walden has over 153,000 graduates from over 165 countries. With more than 55,000 students that are over 76 percent female and 52 percent minority, Walden continues to drive Rita’s vision of education being a catalyst for positive social change.
Dr. Barbara Benoliel – Award-winning Mediator
Dr. Barbara Benoliel is a professional problem solver. The Canada native has built an inspiring career as a professional mediator, working to understand and develop solutions to challenging problems that range from bullying to workplace harassment and discrimination. In addition to serving as president of Preferred Solutions, where she specializes in alternative dispute resolution, she’s been a Walden senior core faculty member in the PhD in Human Services program since 2006. Inspired by trailblazers such as Ruth Bader Ginsburg and poet and Nazi fighter Hannah Szenes, Benoliel continues to focus on advancing the role of women in the workplace. “We should be over the excitement of finding women in traditionally gender-dominated workplace roles,” she notes. “Now, we have to go further. Women must be able to be themselves at work, not expected or required to copy models or standards designed without their input.” In 2020, Benoliel was honored with a Star Award from the Appropriate Dispute Resolution (ADR) Institute of Ontario.
Dr. Renata Hedrington-Jones – Activist and Advocate
A 40-year social work veteran, teacher and community activist, Dr. Renata Hedrington-Jones has worked in the juvenile justice system and as an adoption social worker. She also spent more than 30 years supporting students and their families as a social worker with Richmond (Virginia) Public Schools. She is currently a core faculty member in Walden’s Master of Social Work program. Through her work, she reflects and practices the teachings of her mentors, including a junior high school teacher who “taught us math could be our best friend,” as well as Willie Dell, the first black woman elected to the Richmond City Council. Her greatest influence, however, was her mother, Ellen Norman Hedrington, who she says did a great deal with just a little. “I was never taught that there’s ‘difference,’” she says. Known as an influential leader and a strong voice for social change in the community, she was honored by the National Association of Black Social Workers with a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2018. “I haven’t done anything more than what has been asked or expected of me as a social worker,” she notes. “It’s important for my students to know what I’ve done and learn to do something bigger than themselves to make a difference.
Dr. Yvonne Thompson – A Born Leader
Dr. Yvonne Thompson is on a mission to lead. A contributing faculty member in Walden’s Master of Business Administration program, she is a born leader, educator and innovator. Over a nearly three-decade career, she has challenged perceptions about female roles. She began defying norms early—graduating high school at 16 and becoming the first generation of her family to graduate from college. She would go on to a long and successful military career, serving as a captain and commander in the Finance Corps of the Army and leading an entire company at 20. “I realized my leadership style was a servant leader,” she says. “As a female, I could be feminine and masculine, strong and delicate, raw and flawless all at once. My gender didn’t place limitations on my ability to be successful or a change agent for the world.” She’s taken that change agent and leadership gift to the teaching and business level, serving as president of a management and financial consulting firm. As a former military leader, she understands what it means to be on a mission to lead. “We must rise above adversity, forgive ourselves and others daily, listen more and talk less, and respect diversity and inclusion,” Thompson notes. “We must make it our mission to grow every day and give a helping hand to others. Change the world but start with one person and one mind at a time.
Dr. Olivia S. Herriford – IT Pioneer and Visionary
As a Black woman earning a computer science degree in the 1970s, Dr. Olivia Herriford was a visionary and pioneer. But that’s only one piece of a multidimensional mission she’s pursued over a 45-year career focused on her vision of helping build a diverse and inclusive tech work environment across the globe. The California native currently works for the Bay Area Community College Consortium (BACCC), focusing on workforce development and career education for 28 community colleges in the San Francisco area. She’s also been a contributing faculty member for Walden’s Doctor of Business Administration program since 2014. Her mission also includes founding the Women Sharing Wisdom Institute, a leadership development program aimed at sharing wisdom with women in Kenya. “I’m proud to have been a tech pioneer,” she says, “a Black woman earning a computer science degree in 1973 and entering the tech workplace was a rarity.” So was persisting, and now thriving. And her continuing mission? “The number of women in tech has been declining since the mid-1980s. I’m on a mission to play a part in turning that trend in the other direction.”
Pamela Glenn – Activist Against Human Trafficking
A certified nurse midwife and academic coach for the College of Nursing’s Tempo programs, Pamela Glenn has been on a caring and advocacy mission for patients for decades. Glenn’s greater mission is serving as an advocate, activist, educator and organizer connected to the cause of human trafficking and intersection of nursing care. She’s piloted several innovative and humane programs, writes articles for journals, and is a professional speaker addressing topics such as screening patients for relationship abuse and human trafficking in the healthcare setting. “Nurses, in particular, play a unique role in helping to identify and rescue victims of human trafficking,” she says. “Nurses can sharpen their skills to screen patients get involved in the fight against modern-day human slavery.” She also strongly advocates for her team members in the workplace. “Empowering all team members to do their best work, as well as valuing their worth and individual contributions, has been key to supporting equality in the workplace,” she says. “I cannot be silent about such topics as relationship abuse and human trafficking. What being on a mission means to me is speaking out, sharing this knowledge, and improving awareness to effectively address and prevent these horrendous situations in the future.”
Dr. Monique M. Chouraeshkenazi – Homeland Security Expert
Dr. Monique Chouraeshkenazi is an award-winning entrepreneur, professor, author, psychometrician and homeland security expert committed to understanding and creating safety and protection. A former antiterrorism instructor for the United States Air Force, Chouraeshkenazi served more than 13 years of active duty specializing in cybersecurity, knowledge operations and security management. She earned her PhD in Public Policy at Walden in 2015 and authored the first college textbook to integrate homeland and national security initiatives and global security complexities. In 2020, she was selected as Top Professor of the Year in National Security by the International Association of Top Professionals (IAOTP). Chouraeshkenazi takes inspiration from her grandmother, who raised her after she lost both her parents. “My grandmother taught me kindness, tolerance, equality, respectfulness, discipline, responsibility, perseverance and independence,” she notes. “I don’t believe I would have come this far without her.” Chouraeshkenazi believes the women breaking barriers and making history are those who don’t stop. “They are not doing it just to break barriers,” she says. “They are doing it because they have grit, believe in themselves, are passionate in what they do, and most importantly, know that little girls and young women are looking up to them to do the same.”
Historical Women Leaders
Mary McLeod Bethune – Educator and Civil Rights Leader
Born to parents who were formerly enslaved, Mary McLeod Bethune used the power of education, political activism and civil service to champion racial and gender equality. The first member of her family to be born free and receive an education, Bethune began her career as a teacher, eventually moving on to found and serve as president of Bethune-Cookman University. She was involved with numerous organizations supporting the efforts of African American women, working to establish programs that fought to end segregated education, improve healthcare for Black children, and help women use the ballot to advance equality. Her successes on a local level propelled her to the national stage when the National Association of Colored Women (NACW) elected her its eighth national president in 1924. She would eventually become an advisor on minority affairs to Presidents Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover and became the first African American woman to head a federal agency when she was appointed Director of Negro Affairs of the National Youth Administration by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Wilma Mankiller – Advocate for the Cherokee People
Wilma Pearl Mankiller was a pioneer in tribal government, an American Cherokee activist and a social worker. Mankiller, whose ancestors were forced to relocate to Indian Territory over the Trail of Tears, was the first woman ever elected to serve as Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation. She was hired by the Cherokee Nation as an economic stimulus coordinator in the 1970s. She was eventually named to lead the Cherokee Nation’s Community Development Department, and, in 1985, she was elected Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation. A popular leader, she remained on the job for two full terms. During her administration, the Cherokee government built new health clinics, created a mobile eye-care clinic, established ambulance services, and created early education, adult education and job training programs. For her leadership and activism, Mankiller received numerous honors, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1998.
Frances Perkins – First Woman Cabinet Member
Frances Perkins was an American activist, sociologist, stateswoman and the U.S. Secretary of Labor during the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt. She was the first woman ever appointed to a cabinet post, and her tenure lasted for 12 years, from 1933 to 1945, which made her the longest-serving Secretary of Labor in the history of the United States. As Secretary, Perkins implemented a number of aspects of the New Deal, such as the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Public Works Administration and its successor the Federal Works Agency, and the labor section of the National Industrial Recovery Act. She also headed a Committee on Economic Security, where she forged the blueprint of legislation finally enacted as the Social Security Act. Through the Social Security Act, she set up unemployment benefits, pensions for the many uncovered older Americans, and welfare for the poorest Americans.
Tammy Duckworth – Advocate for Veterans and People with Disabilities
Senator Tammy Duckworth is the first woman with a disability to be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate, as well as the second female Asian American senator. She was also the first senator to give birth while in office. A combat veteran of the Iraq War, she served as a U.S. Army helicopter pilot and lost both of her legs in the line of duty. She later served as director of the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs, where she initiated programs to provide veterans and their families with better mental support, healthcare and housing resources. In 2009, President Barack Obama appointed her Assistant Secretary in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and developed resources tailored to the unique needs of female veterans. In addition, Duckworth is a fierce advocate for disability rights, leading efforts to protect the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) last Congress. She also passed legislation to require airlines to disclose the number of lost bags and broken wheelchairs to ensure travelers are treated with dignity. In addition, she introduced legislation to make fitness facilities across the country more accessible for those with disabilities and make it easier for small businesses to comply with the ADA.
Megan Rapinoe – Athlete and Activist
Soccer star Megan Rapinoe is not only a world-class athlete, but a global advocate for equality. An Olympic gold medalist and two-time FIFA Women’s World Cup champion, she currently plays professionally for the OL Reign. Her soccer achievements reflect a Hall of Fame career. She won gold with the U.S. national team at the 2012 London Summer Olympics, the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup, and the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup. She was co-captain of the U.S. women’s national team from 2018 to 2020. But her social activism is equally as impressive. She uses her platform as an athlete to advocate for women’s pay equity, LGBTQ+ issues, racial justice and refugee rights. She is also an advocate for numerous LGBTQ organizations, including GLSEN and Athlete Ally. In 2013, she was awarded the Board of Directors Award by the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center. Rapinoe was named one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People of 2020.