Congratulations to Our 2022 National Women of Influence Award Winners!
Champion of Women Award Winner
Exabeam, lives by the philosophy that everyone is better together. To help promote that internally, the company has created multiple company culture committees, one of which is ExaGals. This organization focuses on supporting and empowering women, cis and trans, of Exabeam, as well as women in the technology community at large, with career development, education and personal growth opportunities.
ExaGals first began as an initiative driven by former CEO, now Chairman of the Board and Co-founder, Nir Polak, when he selected a handful of women at Exabeam to help shape the company culture. It started with a budget for monthly lunch meetings and grew so large that it eventually had a leadership team of women throughout the organization making an impact and paving the way for others. The prefix “Exa” ties into the company name, and “Gal” had two meanings: the first, a classic and approachable synonym for a woman, and the second, a measurement unit of gravitational acceleration.
Gamechanger Award Winner
Leesa McNealy is an expert Diversity Talent Acquisition Strategist, Founder and Managing Director of SpotLite Recruiting. She helps growing organizations find the diverse talent they need to successfully scale. With nearly 20 years of recruiting experience, Leesa leverages her strategic leadership, operational best practices, collaborative spirit, and positive can-do attitude along with her extensive recruiter network to help clients find the top talent they need.
While other recruiting companies may shy away from difficult candidate searches, Leesa enjoys the hunt for hard-to-fill roles, making SpotLite Recruiting the go-to firm for diverse leadership talent. She hasn’t met a recruiting challenge that she could not overcome. Few people can provide the breadth of best practices that Leesa maintains as a true subject matter expert in diversity talent acquisition.
She has built SpotLite Recruiting on finding great talent for her clients at reasonable rates through a unique business model, providing the maximum recruiting ROI for clients, saving most clients over 50% of what a traditional contingent or retained search firm costs.
Catalyst for Change Award Winner
Ed Qunilan is Executive in Residence at California State University San Marcos School of Business, and Director of Strategic Relationships at Gateway for Good, connecting the business world with Make a Difference experience to make the world a better place.
With years of executive experience with Fortune 100 and national consulting companies in health, wellness, and productivity, Ed’s “roll up your sleeves” approach to optimizing businesses has included all facets of growth including sales, operational excellence, employee empowerment, and overall company health and culture. Ed’s passion for personal and professional development aligns to the Gateway for Good experience of creating meaningful connections along with measurable results.
Woman to Watch Award Winner
Sofia Rinvil is a leader, advocate, entrepreneur, mentor, and philanthropist who has supported and better marginalized individuals’ lives. Sofia was the 2021-2022 Global Goals Ambassador (SDG 17) for the United Nations Association of the United States of America (UNA-USA), where she strengthened the means of implementation and revitalized the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development and was elected as the Programming Officer for the Black Alumni Council (BAC) of Columbia University. Sofia has worked on the front lines of many of the world’s most critical global issues throughout the years. She advocates for the health, education, global poverty reduction, and civil and human rights of underprivileged communities at the local, state, and federal levels.
Sofia currently works for the New York State Senate and owns her own consulting business providing opportunities for students. Sofia served at a nonprofit pro bono civil legal services provider in New York City, working to enhance volunteer resources targeted to the small businesses and entrepreneurs to help expand and fortify the Project’s network of partners, including law firms, corporate, community partners, and bringing volunteer legal services to impacted small business owners and low-income residents of New York City during the pandemic.
She has also received numerous scholarships, fellowships, awards, and honors in recognition of her community service and academic excellence.
Woman Breaking Barriers Award Winner
Wendy Forkas, CEO of Adjoin, and Vice Chair Board Director of CA Disability Services Association (CDSA), She helps people find new opportunities and new pathways to achieve their personal vision of success and belonging.
Adjoin’s Catalysts offers services to people with intellectual and development disabilities, helping them create optimal experiences where they live, work, learn and play.
For our Veterans, Adjoin, under Wendy’s leadership, focuses on the housing-first strategy, securing permanent housing for every Veteran family they proudly serve. Wendy leads efforts serving more than 1400 people annually throughout CA with services ranging from living and housing to employment and skills training to social recreation. Most individuals have been marginalized and have had significant barriers and challenges in their lives.
Women’s Advocate Award Winner
Marisa Calderon is an experienced executive who has been recognized, awarded, and cited nationwide for her expertise in the housing and financial services industries. She has nearly two decades of experience dedicated to the issues of economic mobility and bridging America’s racial wealth gap.
As executive director of NCRC Community Development Fund, Inc., a U.S. Treasury-certified community development financial institution, Marisa has build an 80% female staff that provides loan capital to expand access to affordable homeownership and helps Black-, Brown-, and woman-owned businesses thrive.
Marisa is ranked on the Swanepoel Power 200 as one of the most powerful leaders in the residential real estate industry, and was named a HousingWire Woman of Influence in 2018 and 2021 for her work in increasing real estate and mortgage professionals’ understanding and appreciation of the Hispanic home-buying market. In 2021, she was also named one of Diversity Journal’s Women Worth Watching in Leadership and is featured in the 2021 volume of Hispanic Stars Rising: The New Face of Power. In 2022, she was named to Diversity Journal’s Latino Leaders Worth Watching.
President’s Award Winner
Cher Ofstedahl is an award-winning trauma survivor and one of Southern California’s most revered community leaders and foster youth advocates. She is truly the epitome of kindness, unconditional love and genuine community service. The first female CEO of Trinity Youth Services, Cher passionately operates one of the leading foster care and adoptions agency in Southern California.
She has served her community for over 20 years, and has supported over 65,000 children and families in crisis through providing permanent and temporary housing for youth, and other essential support to help them thrive after trauma and after aging out of foster care.
Under Cher’s expert direction, Trinity continues to make a difference for thousands of youth in Los Angeles, Riverside, and San Bernardino County. Upland Unified School District, Mt. Rubidoux Foster Resource, San Bernardino School District, Ark Family Homes, Ontario Montclair School District, Foothill Family Shelter, Uncommon Good, and many others.
Author of Influence Award Winner
Alessia Falsarone, Managing Director at Pine Bridge Investments, and author of The Impact Challenge, Reframing Sustainability for Businesses.
Through the focused lens that only an applied mathematician and Japanese brush painting artist of her caliber could adopt, Alessia provides a unique roadmap for organizations that are seeking to address data challenges regarding sustainability impact and explains how the collection, measurement, and strategic integration of new alternative data sources on material, social, and environmental issues enable faster adoption of a sustainability-oriented thinking.
In the post COVID world, where it is recognized how women are key drivers of an economic recovery which is just and sustainable, Alessia has been able to create an accessible “Learning Journey” for all willing to elevate the real value of environmental conservation, diversity and human rights in the day-to-day life of businesses of all sizes. She offers step-by-step guidance to implement impactful changes in business in a programmatic and intentional way.
As a foundational text in the field, the Impact Challenge will be featured in the Summer Reading List by Stanford Magazine.
Falsarone is an alumna of the university and served as the Stanford University campaign Ambassador in 2018-2019, bringing true voice to community values.
Emerging Woman Owned Business Award Winner
Tammy Wahl, Principal/Founder, Denim Is The New Black, started her career as a web designer during the dot.com boom, followed by homeschooling her two children and becoming a professional photographer at the same time. Once her children entered high school, she found that many women her age did not have any support in ‘finding themselves’ again. Because of this need/gap, Tammy boot-strapped and created the fashion photography blog ‘Denim Is The New Black’ as a way of reaching these women over 40 to show them they can still be beautiful, healthy and amazing. This rapidly growing business has gained the eye of thousands of women nationally and internationally, to include some major brand names.
Tammy has created one of the only fashion blogs for women over 40. She discovered this gap in the fashion industry when she was seeking this input, and wasn’t finding it anywhere. Tammy had homeschooled both her children for years (until they entered high school), and after ignoring her own needs, she decided she wanted something for herself and women in her peer group.
Lifetime Legacy Award Winner
Debra Miller is a mom on a mission – and 20 years after starting a nonprofit devoted to finding a cure for her son’s rare disease, she has brought new hope – and treatments – to thousands of young boys just like him. Debra’s son, Hawken, was given the grim diagnosis of Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD) in 2002 at age five – a rare muscle-wasting disease with no treatments or cure. When they received his diagnosis, Hawken’s physician told Debra and her husband Paul to, “go home and love your boy,” expecting he wouldn’t live beyond his late teens.
Hawken’s diagnosis ignited a fire in Debra. As a mother, she was determined to do all she could to give her son the best life possible. Debra left a successful career in advertising sales for a new journey: to change the odds for all families affected by Duchenne. Over nearly 20 years, she has proven to be a fearless leader, businesswoman and advocate for the Duchenne community. She has paved the way to a brighter future and built a legacy of hope by funding research for Duchenne. Thanks to Debra, for the first time there is hope that there will be a cure for this devastating disease that affects thousands of boys and their families.
CureDuchenne, the nonprofit created by Debra and her husband Paul in 2003, is recognized as a global leader for fostering treatment research and helping to improve and extend the lives of those living with the disease. In fact, since Hawken’s diagnosis, CureDuchenne’s work has helped increase the life expectancy for those living with Duchenne by almost a decade and led to the first FDA-approved drugs that treat DMD.
Veteran of Influence Award Winner
Nicole D’Ambrogi is a distinguished estate planning attorney based in San Diego. Recognized as a Super Lawyers Rising Star, she has built a name for herself in estate planning and probate law and has garnered a reputation as a staunch advocate for veterans. A former member of the U.S. Navy, her practice focuses on comprehensive estate planning and asset protection services. Among numerous other honors, Nicole received the Women Resiliency Award by the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs in 2015 and the Trailblazer Award from the California Department of Veteran Affairs in 2016.
Nicole worked toward her bachelor’s degree in management during her time in the Navy. Once she completed her service and graduated from the University of Phoenix in 2010, she headed straight to Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego. While in law school, she volunteered at the Veterans Legal Assistance Clinic and was an integral part of the foundation of the Veterans Self-Help Legal Clinic, which provides pro bono legal services for low-income veterans in San Diego County.
Nicole founded her practice in May 2014 and has since developed a specialty in comprehensive estate planning strategies. Inspired by the mishandling of her grandmother’s estate, she is passionate about assisting clients in planning for long-term care and protecting their assets.
Connected Woman of Influence Award Winner
Shelly Harrison is CEO and Founder of Luminary Leaders, a full-service Professional Representation, Managing, and Consulting company. Shelly is recognized as a LEADING authority in speaker management. She and her team have a successful track record of helping CEOs and Thought Leaders to be bookable on stage for conferences, breakout sessions, Industry/Trade Shows and Radio/Podcast Shows to develop their platforms, build profitable businesses using speaking to amplify their brand and become “LUMINARY” in their industry and on stages for in-person & virtual events across the country.
Resilience Award Winner
Agatha Funes, a chaplain, is a member of the New York State Chaplain Task Force and has been a part of numerous meetings and symposiums since 2020 in order to update Veterans on the latest COVID-19 changes and any assistance that they can obtain for housing, rental relief and medical care. This is just the latest effort she has joined as part of the Chaplain Task Force as she has been an integral part of changing the lives of Veterans for many years. She has been involved in community outreach in feeding the homeless and homeless Veterans; donating her time in order to bring food, medical necessities and hygiene products to those in need.
Agatha is also a certified ProVetus mentor, helping service members that are transitioning to civilian life and have questions or concerns on where and how to receive assistance during that process. Agatha’s knowledge and experience as an Army Veteran is invaluable because she is able to recall on her own time transitioning as well as the training she received in order to help guide the veterans in the right direction.
NextGen Award Winner
Madalyn Nguyen is a STEM Diversity advocate, Gold Award Girl Scout, and a Worcester Polytechnic Institute freshman majoring in CompSci on a full WPI Merit Scholarship. Encountering racism and biases as a young girl interested in STEM has shaped who she is today and made her stronger. Madalyn has been a tremendous role model for girls and underserved youths. She believes it’s important for young girls to have leaders and mentors who look like them because representation matters. It shows them that they can succeed and thrive in STEM.
Named as 20 under 20 in Diversity in Action magazine this summer, Madalyn is a remarkable 18 yo leader who clearly has a passion and hard work ethic, leading to her far-reaching impact for the many girls who have crossed her path during mentorship and leadership. She is living her dream to help increase diversity and inclusion in STEM careers.
As Dr. Marian Kim-Phelps, PUSD Superintendent of 36,000 students and 39 schools, wrote in Madalyn’s letter of recommendation, “Madalyn is extremely articulate, bright, motivated, and exceptionally self-driven and conducts herself in a way that exceeds the maturity of many adults. It is rare when a young student makes such an impression upon educators with their vision for change, sense of purpose, and drive.” I concur with Dr. Phelps that Madalyn Nguyen is a ‘changemaker and trailblazer, especially in service of underrepresented groups”. I have witnessed Madalyn’s unwavering passion for promoting STEM diversity during her teenage years to adulthood and it is my distinct honor to nominate Madalyn Nguyen for the Women of Influence NextGen Award.