2014 Women of Distinction Leadership Award Recipients

2014 Women of Distinction Leadership Award Recipients

Women of Distinction Leadership Award Recipients

Read more about the Moxie Conference, featuring the Women of Distinction Leadership Awards presentation.

Register today!

To allow you to learn more about the award recipients, we asked them to answer the following questions. We know you'll be inspired by their responses.

  1. What are you passionate about?
  2. What leaders inspire you? Why? What characteristics do they exhibit?
  3. What is most rewarding about your paid and/or volunteer work?
  4. As you think about the next generation of women leaders, what advice would you give them?

Jump to: Emily Auerbach   Dawn Crim   Sally Miley   Laurel Rice   Teresa Téllez-Girón

Sadat AbiriSadat Abiri—Ms. Abiri is a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner for William S. Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital. She is a board member of the Interfaith Coalition for Worker Justice and the founder of the Muslim Women Support Group at Neighborhood House Community Center.

  1. I am most passionate about being part of making a difference in the life of the most vulnerable members of our community. 
  2. Among the many female leaders that inspire me are my mother and Rose Mapendo by their strength, passion for giving, resilience, and ability to forgive. Mom raised her family with warmth and love. She provided her children the formal education she never had; and she started and ran a successful business. As an admired leader in her community, many women seek advice from her. She helped many start and succeed in business. Her passion for helping others knows no end.
    Rose Mapendo was imprisoned with her children and her husband who was killed in front of her during the violent 1990’s war in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Despite this, she became a full-time advocate for refugees, women, and for peace in her country using forgiveness and reconciliation. I attended Rose’s UW Madison talk and saw her PBS documentary “Pushing the Elephant.”
  3. When people ask me "How do you do what you do?" I say I cannot imagine not doing what I do. I believe I have the most rewarding job ever. I see tangible results from the people I help such as a smile, an improved demeanor, comments like “I am still doing very well” or “I got my own apartment." It is heartwarming to see that the little things I do make a difference in someone else’s life.   
  4. Work hard for what you believe in. Never let anyone tell you that you can’t. Know that with God, anything is possible. Be trustworthy and give and receive graciously. Let your actions do the speaking. No matter your condition, always be grateful for what you have. Acknowledge that you are not perfect because nobody is perfect. Ask for forgiveness when you know you are wrong and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Most of all, don’t forget to take time off to take care of yourself. 

Emily AuerbachEmily Auerbach—Prof. Auerbach directs the life-changing UW-Madison Odyssey Project for adults overcoming adversity.  She serves as co-host of Wisconsin Public Radio’s University of the Air, producer of “The Courage to Write” series of radio documentaries on brave women writers, literature teacher at libraries and retirement centers, and author of Searching for Jane Austen.

  1. I am most passionate about providing access to the riches of a liberal arts education to those who face barriers. I love sharing the power of literature with diverse populations, whether on campus, at a retirement center, in a library, in a prison, over public radio airwaves, or through the UW Odyssey Project. Having grown up in Madison, I also feel passionate about our need to target racism, economic injustice, and academic disparity. We need to help break the cycle of generational poverty by providing free access to higher education for motivated adults facing adversity.
  2. Jane Austen overcame her era’s prejudice against women and wrote six novels introducing a new kind of heroine celebrated for her mind and morals rather than her looks and wardrobe. Eleanor Roosevelt survived unhappiness in her childhood and marriage and became “The First Lady of the World,” using her voice to fight for civil rights, women’s rights, and human rights. Wisconsin State Supreme Court Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson blazed a trail for other women, working tirelessly and often thanklessly on behalf of a more open and fair judicial system. All three displayed their courage, conscience, and commitment to justice. Although my mother never earned fame as a “female leader,” she blazed a trail by working her way out of poverty; she became the first in her family to graduate from college and pursued a career helping others. Her memory inspires me every day to be a person of integrity and generosity.
  3. The most rewarding part of being Director of the UW Odyssey Project is watching students undergo a powerful transformation. One student wrote, “Odyssey allowed me to unwrap my gifts,” and another remarked, “The Odyssey Project helped me rewrite the story of my life." I share the joy when our students who were homeless or labeled “not college material” earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees, in watching incarcerated adults begin meaningful work in the community, and in hearing our graduates say that because of Odyssey they are more likely to read to their children, vote, and feel hopeful about the future.
  4. My advice to the next generation of women leaders would be to find the courage to speak up for yourself and what you believe in, fight to open doors that others may slam in your face (or that you may shut on yourself), laugh at and learn from your own plentiful mistakes, reach out for partners and collaborators around you, and use any power you achieve to help empower others who lack a voice. 

back to top

Dawn CrimDawn B. Crim—Ms. Crim is the Associate Dean for External Relations in the School of Education at University of Wisconsin-Madison and has over 20 years of higher education experience. She has served on several executive-level searches, including the Presidential searches at Madison College and Edgewood College, as well as the UW Madison Provost. She is a member of the Edgewood College Board of Trustees and a co-founder of the Madison Network of Black Professionals.

  1.  Education and the opportunities that it affords. It is life changing, mind set changing and transformative. Travel. I love going to new places and discovering new things, new cultures, new foods and new experiences. It really feeds my soul. 
  2. Female leaders that inspire me include Eleanor Roosevelt, Oprah Winfrey, Michelle Obama and Hilary Clinton. They each are courageous, focused and are true leaders. Especially Eleanor Roosevelt because her actions and input was before her time, when woman weren't supposed to share their opinions, insights and thoughts. She contributed to her husband leading the country much in the way that Hilary did. It was amazing for Hilary to be task with tackling health care issues at the early stages of the system being in trouble. She was faced with lots of opposition and opinions that President Clinton should not have tasked her with the assignment yet she took it on. Oprah Winfrey has transformed television with her empathy and compassion to be the Queen of television talk while being a production studio, running a business and now a network. All the while maintaining her close friendship with her best friend Gayle. I know there is nothing like having a great girl friend...priceless! And, the many people that she has employed over the years and the many topics that she has tackled and continue to tackle. Michelle Obama...is amazing, inspiring, and an incredible example of a working mother. Smart, fit, and fierce!
  3. Most rewarding is helping people achieve their goals by supporting them, providing strong mentorship, and providing honest input, doing this because it is what you are supposed to do, wanting nothing in return. Especially when it comes to students. Seeing them blossom and watching their growth as they gain more confidence and self‐assurance in the classroom and in life. It is heart‐warming watching that growth and feeling like in some small way, I have contributed to that growth.
  4. Be open to the possibilities that life brings your way. It is okay to be out of your comfort zone, to try new things with new and different people. Your life will be richer because of it. Never in a million years could you have told me I would have visited 45 states and lived in Germany, visited Australia, Greece, Russia, Asia and Europe. That is what being open to the possibilities brings. And the other thing is to keep your close ties with family and friends. There is nothing like having close connections with people who really know YOU that have your best interest at heart in good times and bad times.

back to top

Sally MileySally S. Miley—Ms. Miley is Assistant to the Mayor of the City of Madison and former Common Council member. She is president of the Madison Opera board of directors. She is also a former board president and volunteer at the Madison Children’s Museum, as well as a former board member at Access Community Health Centers, SSM Wisconsin, and Camp Randall Rowing Club.

  1. The increasing inequality in personal wealth that we are seeing at the local, national, and international level is the issue that concerns me most today.  We will never know what we have all lost when lack of opportunity prevents individuals from developing their abilities to the highest level.  The societal costs will be more and more evident if this trend continues.
  2. There was an exceptional group of women leaders in Madison a few decades ago who continue to inspire many women today.  Several of them were Women of Distinction: Sue Herbst, Midge Miller, Mary Lou Munts, Betty Smith, Mary Louise Symon, Helen Vukelich, and Rebecca Young among others. These women were trailblazers for those who followed. They were actively engaged with issues including civil rights, women's health, education, child care, and the environment. And many of them held office as city council members, county board supervisors, or state representatives, where they continued to work tirelessly to make Madison and Dane County a better place for everyone, held positions of leadership, and earned the respect of those they worked with. All of these women exemplified dedication, integrity, hard work and intelligence to those who came after them.
  3. I feel very fortunate to have been a part of many organizations, both city government and nonprofits, working to improve life in our community.  In every case I have had the benefit of learning a great deal from others, whether how to deliver health care to underserved people, the importance of early education, generating a community discussion on important contemporary issues through art, how a large organization can transform itself through its pursuit of the highest quality in the delivery of services, how an organization which fully embraces its mission can become more even important and relevant to the community, and more.  This knowledge has helped me to understand the community better and I have been able to apply it in many other endeavors. I am very grateful that these organizations are here to help us all.
  4. Be brave. Listen to other people.  Don't be afraid to ask questions.

back to top

Laurel RiceLaurel Rice—Dr. Rice, Chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health, cares for women with gynecologic cancers. Dr. Rice is president-elect of the Council of University Chairs in Obstetrics and Gynecology, and Secretary/Treasurer of the American Gynecologic Obstetrics Society. She serves as Director, Division of Gynecologic Oncology, American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology, as well as a member of the Editorial Board of Gynecologic Oncology

  1. Women’s Health Care. As a physician who has cared for women of all ages for 25 years, from all walks of life, I have had an opportunity/privilege to provide care for women with myriad health care problems. While I am a Gynecologic Oncologist by training, I long ago developed a deep appreciation for what it means for women to control their reproductive health. I am committed to the principle that all women should have access to contraception, regardless of cost.  When women have access to all facets of health care, families thrive, allowing them to plan their families and realize their dreams.
  2. My mother is an amazing woman, and a role model extraordinaire. Her integrity, intelligence and generosity of spirit, all combined with a work ethic that I have never seen the likes of in any other individual, set the course for my life. She continues to teach me, even at the age of 88, exactly what it means to live a full, rich life, putting the needs of others before my own. The luckiest thing that ever happened to me was to be born to this woman. As is true with many women of my generation, we had important male influences, men who saw the future in their young female colleagues and students. Dr. Leslie Ottinger was one of those men and continues to be an important influence and mentor. As Residency Director of Surgery at Massachusetts General Hospital for 25 years, it was easy to observe what an extraordinary surgeon, physician, teacher and mentor he was. Les showed me on a daily basis how to be the kind of physician we all want caring for our family and friends. A more generous mentor—male or female—would be hard to find. Finally Francis Kelsey, MD PhD obtained her degrees at the University of Chicago in 1936. After two decades in private practice in North Dakota, she joined the FDA. Her first assignment involved a powerful pharmaceutical company seeking approval for Thalidomide, a drug already approved in Western Europe for pregnancy pain. Even under tremendous pressure, she did not approve the drug for distribution in the USA, recognizing that there was not enough clinical data. World-wide, 15,000 babies were born with no limbs and cardiac defects, but none in the USA. President Kennedy gave her the highest civilian recognition: The Medal of Honor. She was a honey badger.
  3. Every day I am grateful for the privilege I have in caring for women with gynecologic malignancies. It is a gift. Serving women, some who will be cured of their cancer, some of whom will not, is work that I do not take for granted. Observing grace and dignity under duress, and helping in ways that are many times quite intimate, quiets me, enriches my life in ways that cannot be described. Unrelated to my daily practice, as chair of the UW Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology I am in the front row, watching the future of women’s health care evolve. Nationwide, the view is more promising than it has been in several decades. I feel hopeful, and to participate in any small way is meaningful to me. The Chair position also allows me to be closely involved with training the physicians of the future…medical students, residents and junior faculty. I see the future in their faces and I again feel hopeful. Lastly, I want to make a comment on the move to UW and Madison in 2007. I saw an outstanding OB-GYN faculty, with a wonderful institution standing strongly behind it. My colleagues in the department inspire and reward me every day. These physicians and staff members who care for thousands of women every year; whether they are having a baby, just need a checkup or are facing a serious illness, provide the best and most compassionate care available.  It’s indeed an honor to work with them. All of this combined with a community that continually impresses me with the responsibility they feel to all members, regardless of socio-economic status, and their willingness to jump in and really work to make life better.
  4. There is a lot of discussion about women and work life balance, equity in the workplace, etc.  I think there are some great lessons in Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In, which can apply to women of all professions, including women who stay home and care for their kids.  Lean into the conversation, don’t give up before you start.  Think about your own life and your own happiness, even while simultaneously caring for your families. Your life, and the lives of those you love, will be richer, and I don’t mean financially. Caring for cancer patients has taught me the importance of every day. And as my sweet mother would say, “Laurel, get out there, grab the world by the tail and shake it.”

back to top

Teresa Tellez-GironTeresa Téllez-Girón—Ms. Téllez-Girón is Bilingual/Bicultural Social Services Specialist at Dane County Department of Human Services. She is the co-founder and chair of the Latino Children and Families Council. She is also a frequent speaker and facilitator for local and state-wide racial justice training programs.

  1. My main passion is on helping and empowering Hispanic/Latino families, so that they can succeed in this country and create a better life for them and their families. I have a very strong passion/commitment for social justice and equity. I also have a strong commitment to creating programs that educate and empower the Latino Community and give them the tools that they need to be successful in this country. I am also passionate about educating the community at large about issues the Latino or minority community struggle with. I love working in committees that help with understanding/ending racism, discrimination, and violence. Having a gay daughter, I also feel the need to educate the Latino community about issues that impact the LGBT community and how to understand your children's sexuality and accept it. As you can see I have so many passions and sometimes not enough time to do more.
  2. My mother is my main inspiration. She is strong, dedicated, non-judgmental, smart, loving, humble, and persistent. I call her ‘The iron woman.” She is strong and at the same time a loving person. My two daughters who are the wind beneath my wings. I, of course, have many females that have inspired me to be the person I am today, many of them are being recognized here with me, which is very ironic. Other women that have inspired me, my sister Patricia, who is also a very strong, humble and so dedicated to helping others. Ilda Thomas, Eva Jackson, Shiva Bidar Sielaf, Brenda Gonzalez, just to name a few other ones. All of these woman have always been there for me and have also work together with me to change and create programs that improve services for the Latino Community in Madison. They are all a beautiful group of dedicated, loving , humble and very strong women. I feel very fortunate because as a single mom, I could have never accomplished what I have without the support of so many strong, dedicated, supportive and humble women. I would also like to say that I have had the support of so many wonderful men in my life, my father, my brother who is an incredible role model and my great support. My boyfriend and so many other men that have always been there for me.
  3. In my paid job, I feel the commitment to help end violence against children. Seeing children recover from physical, sexual, and verbal abuse is the most rewarding thing I love about my job. When I go home, I feel sad, angry, but when I am able to help the children and their families, I then know why God gave me the strength to continue doing what I do and what I have been doing for the last 22 years. As a volunteer, I feel so happy when I see that the programs that we are creating to educate the families are working and are making changes in the lives of many Latino families. Nothing like prevention, that’s my passion. I love it when I see that by being committed to ending discrimination and violence I can be part of the creation of a better community where families of color feel welcome and safe. 
  4. Be strong, committed, humble, real, and never give up on what your believe is your dream and/or your passion. Also, give back to your community. By doing that, you can create a better world for yourself, your family, and your community.

register for awards program and lunch


From Conversation to Action

YWeb Career Academy

Planned Giving

School Discipline Code

YWeb Career Academy

From the CEO: Diversity is more than open door

Moxie Conference Speaker Materials

Annual Reports

Finding My Identity

YWCA Madison: Who We Are Video

U.S. Must Acknowledge Legacy of Racial Injustice

Business Case for Racial Equity

Call for Proposals Guidelines

MAKERS Film Screening Details

WPC Impacts Madison Community

Healthy Places

Race-Based Mascots

Shriver Report

Why Focus on Racial Equity

Summary of WPC15 Black Male Think Tank