Women of Impact
by Carla Turchetti
These are the local leaders who are enabling positive change,
inspiring others and making a difference in the world.
The women you are about to meet all share the traits that have made them women of impact.
They live life with passion and purpose, and they are committed to the people and things that mean the most to them.
Tashni-Ann Dubroy, Ph.D.
President, Shaw University
This Shaw University alumna took an unusual career path on her way to being named President of the South’s oldest historically black university at the age of 34. She began as a research scientist at BASF who rose to high management levels; she is co-founder of Tea & Honey Blends hair care, co-owner of Element Beauty Bar in downtown Raleigh, and she served as a chemistry professor and department head at Shaw prior to being named president.
“I can’t accept full credit for curating my career, as some positions were not part of my plan,” Dubroy says. “I didn’t have an ambitious goal of becoming a college president when I started my career. Unique opportunities were facilitated by people who I now recognize were combinations of sponsors, using their influence to facilitate my promotion, and mentors, who empowered and advised me to work strategically for a promotion.”
Dubroy says she has taken her skills from the corporate world and applied them to academia while being mindful of academic traditions.
“Our business approach reflects a balance between bold, strategic moves that positively impact the bottom line and value for the morale of the Shaw community.”
Dubroy is also the co-founder of the Brilliant & Beautiful Foundation that supports the advancement of women in science. One of their most popular learning modules is a shampoo lab for young girls, where participants create a lab full of bubbles.
“All sessions are taught by women scientists so young girls get to see what a scientist looks like, and the diverse population of women scientists that lead the Brilliant & Beautiful Foundation is certainly proof that we exist in various shapes, sizes and colors.”
Lisa Carey, MD
Medical Director, UNC Breast Center, Chief of Hematology/Oncology, Physician-In-Chief of the NC Cancer Hospital
Dr. Lisa Carey always knew her passion would be medical research. Early on she zeroed in on cancer research specifically.
“In internal medicine you spend time on all different kinds of rotations, and I found cancer patients were fascinating,” Carey says. “They were wonderful people and amazing individuals, and the science of cancer care and the pace of change was incredibly attractive to me because a lot was starting to change for cancer patients – and I wanted to be a part of that.”
As her training progressed she became a breast cancer research specialist.
“I thought that the patients were wonderful; I enjoyed spending time with them and learning their stories, and I thought the research was interesting.”
Now Dr. Carey is nationally recognized as a leader in identifying subtypes of breast cancer, evaluating new chemotherapy agents for early breast cancer, and examining of tumor characteristics and how they respond to chemotherapy. Dr. Carey says prevention strategies need to increase, but treatment has become so much better.
“The main thing we’ve accomplished to date is that fewer people are dying of breast cancer. I am a piece of a really important machine. Every advance that I’ve been involved with has been me and unbelievably smart scientists and clinicians. A great deal of my own perspective is what is breast cancer, how do we do this better and bring it out to the community better?”
Whitney von Haam
Executive Director, Wake County Bar Association and Tenth Judicial District Bar
There are nearly 5,500 lawyers in Wake County and if they want to practice law here, they must be a member of the Tenth Judicial Bar. They may also voluntarily join the Wake County Bar Association. Both organizations fall under the leadership of Whitney von Haam.
When she’s not in the midst of lawyers and the law, von Haam is a tireless community volunteer with SAFEchild, a child abuse prevention agency, as well as a Girl Scout troop leader for her daughters. She is also a past president of the Junior League of Raleigh.
“My parents raised me to understand that service to the community is essential, so it has always been a part of my life,” von Haam says. It’s never been a question to me of if I should serve, but instead where I should serve. And I make my kids part of the service, too.”
Von Haam was one of the co-chairs of the 2017 Governor’s Inaugural Ball presented by the Junior League. With a winter storm on the way, her committee made the decision to move the event a day ahead with just seven hours’ lead time.
“We had painstakingly gone over every detail of our planned event and within a few hours it was scrapped and a new plan was in place. What I witnessed was a group of professional, committed volunteers doing what needed to be done. I have never been more proud to be a part of this women’s organization.”
Sepideh Saidi, PE
President/CEO SEPI Engineering Companies
When she left her job in the engineering sector to go out on her own, Sepideh Saidi, President and CEO of SEPI Engineering Companies, had two employees, two contracts and a lot of grit and determination. She was backed by 16 years as an engineer with the North Carolina Department of Transportation and additional time at a startup firm. Fast-forward to today, where her firm employs more than 200 people and is growing.
“In terms of never having done anything like that before, I didn’t have a sense of the magnitude of the challenge that was ahead of me – which in a way may have been a good thing,” Saidi says. “The biggest fear is failure – regardless of what you have to lose, you don’t want to lose. If I fail I can always say that I gave it a shot and will learn from it.”
Saidi believes entrepreneurial spirit prevails, even when there are setbacks.
“I think typically people who have that fever and want to be entrepreneurs even if they fail, they do it again. Many entrepreneurs give it a shot several times because they are so passionate about trying to make it work.”
And she is aware that engineering is still a male-dominated profession.
“We are all human and you judge the situation by what you know, and if people have had dealings with a woman engineer who started a company, maybe they have always known women to be in different roles. For me, I had to, and still have to, prove myself. Credit wasn’t automatically given to me.”
Saidi had no idea when she came to Raleigh for high school from her native Tehran that the Ayatollah Khomeini would come into power and she would not be returning home. But her role models were strong females in her family, and she knew she would be independent.
SEPI Engineering continues to grow and now there is a wholly owned subsidiary construction management firm, Idias Contracting, which is her last name spelled backwards. That company has a female president, and she is the CEO. The new company’s focus is on securing mid-size construction projects.
“When somebody tells me that I have inspired them to start a company, I feel that I have done my job. That is exciting to me.”
Editorial Director, Facing South, the online magazine of the Institute for Southern Studies
Sue Sturgis cares about the southern United States and the issues its residents face. As Editorial Director of Facing South, the online magazine of the Institute for Southern Studies, she is aware that the South is a changing demographic, with residents pouring in from other parts of the country.
“On social and economic issues, racial, ethnic and gender justice and more, what happens in the South sets the tone for the rest of the country,” Sturgis says.
The nonprofit Institute for Southern Studies was founded by civil rights leaders including Julian Bond and John Lewis as a think tank for social change movements.
“Our target readership is people we think of as change makers. They are organizers, activists and politically engaged citizens. We aim to produce material that illuminates barriers to equality and human rights and explores constructive solutions to these problems. In doing so, we hope to empower our readers to understand the issues more deeply and act more effectively.”
Sturgis often dedicates her energies for Facing South toward energy and environmental issues. She says climate change and related sea-level rise are enormous issues for the growing South.
“That the climate is warming and seas are rising is, of course, connected to how we power our world. So the ongoing shift from fossil fuels to clean, renewable energy sources is of utmost importance for preserving our environment for future generations.”
Owner, Elizabeth Galecke Photography
Elizabeth Galecke sees the world from behind a camera lens. With more than two decades of experience as a photographer, Galecke takes black-and-white candid portraits of her subjects. Among her favorite shoots are the ones that document a day in the life of a family from the time the children awaken until they go to bed. She says this allows her to capture life spontaneously and leave a piece of history behind.
“Adult women are often so critical of themselves that they usually cringe at the thought of their photo being taken.” Galecke says. “If I can help them relax and be themselves and even have fun in front of the camera and they love what I capture, it’s the best feeling.”
Galecke also loves photographing quiet landscape vignettes, and has rededicated herself to slowing down and taking a look at things around her and capturing their beauty. These photos are tagged on social media with the hashtag #EyesWideOpen.
“I started to use it to create awareness of slowing down, paying attention and discovering beauty in everyday life,” Galecke says.
Now others have joined her in the #EyesWideOpen movement and are posting their photos as well. Galecke will have some of hers on exhibit at the Ackland Museum Store Galley in Chapel Hill.
Galecke has spent a good deal of time volunteering with children’s cancer causes, the Make-a-Wish Foundation and anti-child abuse advocates. She recently took photos of StepUp Ministry program participants documenting their success. But it was back in 1999, while she was growing her business, that she found herself spending a lot of time with other female entrepreneurs and was led to create Chix in Business – a business networking group that also has a social side and is focused on helping members achieve work/life balance.
“We are learning from each other, facing fears and challenges, giving back, and having a ton of fun.”
Co-founder, The Green Chair Project
Before she co-founded The Green Chair Project, Jackie Craig knew a few things about volunteering in the community to help those who need it the most. She also knew from her work as a stager for home sales that people had entirely too much stuff and they just needed an excuse to let it go. That’s how she became part of an effort to collect all that extra furniture in attics, basements, and even people’s living rooms, and make it accessible to people living in sparsely furnished surroundings.
“It used to be considered a victory to get someone living on the streets or chronically homeless into shelter, but then they would walk into a bad chair and a sleeping bag on the floor. Somehow that was a little bit better than homelessness, but what was missing was that component of a furnished home and making a place that felt like their own.”
The Green Chair Project sets up its space much like a home decorating showroom. Participants, who are referred by partner social service agencies and churches, are given a set amount of Green Chair money to spend.
“It’s a couch to sit on with your child and read book or it’s a lamp to light the room or it’s a table and chairs to sit at and be able to eat dinner – or even basic pots and pans and utensils to eat a meal.”
One new project addresses what the nonprofit has identified as a growing problem in Wake County – children without a proper bed to sleep in. Health regulations prohibit donations of beds, but for $250, the Green Chair project purchases and delivers a brand new bed complete with comfortable linens that becomes a place for a child to sleep peacefully.
The Green Chair Project isn’t named after any specific piece of furniture – it’s named with idea of recycling and upcycling furniture in a green manner.
Owner, MA Allen Interiors
MA Allen is making Raleigh more beautiful one room – and one block – at a time. She is an award-winning designer who has been acclaimed by the national press. But when you come right down to it, she is a North Carolina native who believes everyone should have a special space.
“My design style is, at its base, classic. It’s timeless. I think it’s all about promoting collecting antiques and combining them with pieces that might be midcentury modern, along with cute pieces that are new. Color choices and patterns with fabrics and materials may be unexpected combinations, and we create balance through old and new, traditional and modern. The end result is pleasing, but it is a pretty good mishmash.”
MA Allen Interiors is housed in a downtown Raleigh building circa 1922. Once upon a time it was a corner grocery. MA worked within good design and historical specifications to create a one-of-a-kind office that is the centerpiece of the block. Her personal office has no windows, so she brightened it with magenta pink paint on the walls with black trim.
“My biggest goal of my remodel was to replace the gable roof with a flat roof and restore it to its original look. I was traveling in Italy shortly before closing, and I was inspired by planter boxes in Florence and Rome. I came back from that trip with a design to add big planter boxers to soften the front facade.”
And she urges everyone to be inspired by the travels and events of their own lives as they create meaningful spaces.
“Add art and fabrics picked up from traveling; enjoy your grandmother’s sideboard or your great-grandmother’s china. Surround yourself with the things that bring you joy and tell your story.”
Siobhan Southern and Caroline Morrison
Co-owners, Fiction Kitchen
In the very beginning, Siobhan Southern and Caroline Morrison were just looking for a place to enjoy a plant-based meal.
“At the time there were very few vegetarian and vegan items on most menus, and in many cases if there was a veggie option, it was the same old salad, bean burritos and portobello sandwiches,” Southern says. “We felt there was a real lack of thoughtfully prepared vegetarian items and wanted to make exciting yet comforting hearty choices that would appeal to vegans, vegetarians and omnivores alike.”
The idea to create and serve a menu like that began with monthly pop-up vegan brunches that helped shape their brand and build a customer base. After two years of pop-ups, they opened the Fiction Kitchen in downtown Raleigh. They liked the location because it was a part of the historic art and warehouse district, but also because it was close to two farmers’ markets. Fresh, local produce is the heart and soul of the Fiction Kitchen menu.
“We want to show people that sourcing products and vegetables from their very own community is rewarding in so many ways. North Carolina has a fruitful growing season, so by relying on what is in season we not only reduce our carbon footprint, we also support our local farmers and help the economy.”
The Fiction Kitchen versions of “chicken” and waffles and pulled “pork” BBQ are crowd favorites, but Southern says the soup, Locavore Salad and Farmers’ Market Plates change every few days and represent produce at its freshest and finest.
“Chef Caroline Morrison is inspired on a daily basis by all the different vegetables we are fortunate enough to access in this wonderful state we call home,” Southern says.