Meet the Baltimore area’s leading voices in business, activism, research and more.
Look for the 25 Women to Watch in a special magazine supplement in some editions of The Sun on Sunday, Oct. 23. The women will be honored with a celebration at the Baltimore Museum of Art on Oct. 19.
President and chief executive officer, Housing Authority of Baltimore City
Janet Abrahams is steering Baltimore’s housing authority, which oversees the city’s 7,100 public housing units, toward a future where deteriorated and segregated units are transformed into modern apartments located in thriving mixed-income neighborhoods. Abrahams said she has repaired trust between residents and the authority with clear communication and a commitment to listening, and she has overseen projects including the ongoing demolition and development of Perkins Homes in the Perkins Somerset Oldtown community. “I love a challenge,” Abrahams said.
— Lilly Price
Life science consultant and senior manager, Avalere
“I’m very passionate about progress and equity,” said Margia Argüello. The South Florida native came to Baltimore for graduate school and now advises health care companies on how to navigate policy, like the Inflation Reduction Act. Argüello is on the board of the Maryland Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and also works with the Maryland Tech Council and the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School to mentor young entrepreneurs. “My biggest wish is to see more representation for women in the business of science.” Outside of work, Arguello enjoys painting and making art.
— Giacomo Bologna
Chief philanthropy officer, Helping Up Mission
After Jennifer Bedon lost her brother to a drug overdose in 2017, she felt called to help others battling addiction. So when the chief philanthropy officer position opened up in 2020 at the Helping Up Mission men’s recovery center in Baltimore, she went for it, leaving her job in fundraising at Baltimore’s Port Discovery. At the mission, Bedon has led fundraising to build its new Center for Women & Children, which began accepting residents this year. Career opportunities like that “might be one of the most special things you ever get to do in your life,” she said.
— Christine Condon
Lyndsey Beidle Meninger
Vice president of legal services, Chesapeake Employers’ Insurance Co.
Lyndsey Beidle Meninger is never afraid to ask questions, especially of some of her co-workers who have been in the office for decades. “I am much younger than them and much less experienced than them,” she said. " I know what I know, but I also know what I don’t know.” She started at Chesapeake Insurance in 2008 as a law clerk, working her way up in the company until reaching her current position earlier this year. She’s made some internal changes in the department but said she’s still finding her way in the role. “I am looking forward to my continued growth as both a leader and attorney at Chesapeake Employers’ Insurance in the coming years.”
— Jason Fontelieu
Angela M. Eaves
Associate judge of the Court of Appeals, Harford and Baltimore counties
Judge Angela M. Eaves acknowledges her groundbreaking appointment as the first Afro-Latina to the Court of Appeals, but at her core, she contends she’s like everyone else. “Everybody wants the same thing at the end of the day. You want to have a safe and protective environment for your family, and you want to enjoy all there is that’s good in life,” she said. While decades of “hearing cases that impact people’s lives,” prepared her to sit on the court as a judge representing Harford and Baltimore counties, so did Eaves’ experience living throughout the U.S. and abroad. “Regardless of where I’ve lived,” Eaves said, “I recognize that there are very few things that make us different from each other and more things that bring us together, and I think that makes me ideal for the court.”
— Micha Green
Founding director, Ballet After Dark
This summer, the faces of eight dancers who are members of Ballet After Dark were broadcast into approximately 6 million homes when they auditioned for the wildly popular reality TV show “America’s Got Talent.”
The dancers, all survivors of trauma, provided an eloquent testimony to the healing potential of the organization, founded by Tyde-Courtney Edwards in 2014 as she sought to recover from her own sexual assault.
“I don’t think that anyone who has survived a traumatic experience ever really heals,” Edwards said. “I will always be ‘in healing.’”
Edwards has been dancing since she was 3. She founded Ballet After Dark when she couldn’t find a local recovery program for Black women that focused on releasing trauma stored inside the bodies of people who have been attacked.
“Movement can be a way of soothing ourselves,” Edwards said. “It’s a simple, fundamental form of expression that releases endorphins and signals to our brains: ‘I’m OK. I’m safe, and I’m happy.’”
Now, Ballet After Dark offers about 70 programs per semester to participants as young as 5 who are survivors of sexual or domestic abuse, gun violence, homelessness, addiction or another type of trauma.
Workshops range from dance classes to self-defense to a story ballet for toddlers. Most programs are held at the Eubie Blake Cultural Center, though Ballet After Dark also offers aqua ballet at a nearby pool. In addition, a youth-lead ensemble performs on weekends in the fall and spring.
“It sounds cliché, but Tyde never stops working — ever,” said Brittany Harris, chairwoman of Ballet After Dark’s board of directors.
“She doesn’t know how. Her attitude is: ‘I may not be able to conquer every problem in my path. But I will be able to help more people if I continue to show up than if I stop.’”
Though Ballet After Dark didn’t make it to the finale of the NBC talent show, Edwards said the broadcast is helping her organization achieve its dreams.
“The show did exactly what I needed it to do,” she said. “It put more eyes on the dancers as talented performers and more eyes on the organization as being a hub for healing.”
— Mary Carole McCauley
Gigi Kwik Gronvall
Senior Scholar, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Center for Health Security
After posting on Facebook about a COVID-19 vaccine clinic, Gigi Gronvall added: “Happy to answer any questions.” The Johns Hopkins immunologist says it’s part of her mission. Throughout the pandemic, Gronvall has served on national scientific panels, published studies and advised Baltimore City schools — delivering the facts to policymakers and the public. “It’s what I’ve been training for,” she said. “I have to leave it all on the field.” When she’s not saving lives, Gronvall can be found playing horn in the Baltimore Ravens marching band and photographing her son’s soccer games.
— Meredith Cohn
Women’s basketball head coach, Towson University
Since being hired in April to helm the Tigers, Laura Harper has been trying to improve the program. She has been inspired by her grandmother, Lenora Champagne, who told her, “The work is always the work, and there is always more.” Only two years removed from coaching a high school team in Florida, Harper wants to be the first woman to capture a Division I title as a player (Maryland in 2006) and coach. “I will never lower my expectations. That’s not who I am.”
— Edward Lee
Executive director, Accountability and Implementation Board of the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future
Rachel Hise has gone from growing up in a small town of about 14,000 folks to leading the rollout of billions in education funding in Maryland over the next 12 years through the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future. “We have a real opportunity to make sure that we’re providing a high-quality education to every student around the state,” said the Bexley, Ohio, native. To incorporate the public in the blueprint’s implementation, Hise plans to release a draft of the plan in October.
— Sabrina LeBoeuf
Nia Imani Fields
Assistant director, University of Maryland Extension; Maryland 4-H Program Leader
Nia Imani Fields is working to “expand the narrative about who 4-H is for.” Fields serves on the 4-H national committee on equity, and helped develop a social justice curriculum for middle and high school youth. She aims to modernize Maryland 4-H through a “healthy disruption of traditions that may not have been inclusive.” Fields is also a children’s book author: “Omari Had a Dream,” a project she worked on with her two sons, was published in 2020; it follows a young boy who meets influential African American leaders in his dreams.
— Christine Condon
President and CEO, Homes for America
Since she took over the Annapolis-based nonprofit housing corporation Homes for America in 2020, Dana Johnson has sought to provide affordable housing to residents while overcoming the growing challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. “Staffing shortages, supply chain issues, construction pricing has been crazy,” said Johnson, who has more than 20 years of experience in the field. A sense of empathy and an awareness of people’s needs motivate Johnson to do more such as offering specialized programs offering on-site summer camps for kids and health screenings for the elderly. “Keeping your eye on the work that we’re trying to accomplish and the impact it can have and the circumstances that residents are in really helps you overcome all those challenges,” she said.
— Dana Munro
Chief operating officer, T. Rowe Price Group
Kimberly Johnson is no stranger to the role of chief operating officer in financial services. The COO of the Baltimore money management firm since April was previously COO of the Federal National Mortgage Association, or Fannie Mae, where she led a digital transformation and believed in “making housing more affordable for people who needed it.”
At T. Rowe, the former Princeton University rugby player, who earned a Columbia University MBA, leads operations and technology. Opportunities abound, she said, even amid market uncertainty. “I love the mission around making sure that people … get the best retirement possibilities, preparing for their futures.”
— Lorraine Mirabella
Vice president for research and development, McCormick & Co.
Suzanne Johnson has been working in the flavor business for most of her career. Some of the chemist’s favorite flavors are pepper, mint and black currant. “I’m fascinated by multi-sensory flavor perception,” she said. “How can flavors, and actually the whole food, eating and cooking experience, contribute to your well being?”
Johnson, the third-ever female president of the Flavor Extract Manufacturers Association, said her mentors have inspired her to help others. “I love to give people opportunities to grow, push people a little bit outside of their comfort zone and see where it can take them,” she said.
— Giacomo Bologna
Director of Front End Operations, Klein’s Family Markets/ShopRite
Sarah Klein grew up accompanying her father, Andy Klein, who was then president of Klein’s Family Markets, to its stores. After college, she worked her way up in the family business, inspired by her grandmother, Shirley, who worked with her grandfather in the Harford County grocer, long before it joined with ShopRite in 2009. “It was very rare for a woman to work outside the home and be a leader in the community,” said Klein. “She paved the way for me.”
Klein and her brother have led Klein’s Family Markets since 2019, when their father died in a vehicle crash.
“We really want to be the hometown supermarket for everybody,” she said.
— Lorraine Mirabella
“The best man for this job is a woman.” That was one of Stacy Link’s slogans when she knocked on every door in Sykesville, a small town of 4,000 people in Carroll County, during her successful campaign to become the first female and first gay mayor in its history. As mayor, she’s engaged residents, some of whom had never voted in a municipal election before, by creating a citizens council where they can speak with council members directly. “People driven and process oriented because passion isn’t enough,” was her second campaign slogan, Link said. “That’s truly who I am.”
— Lilly Price
Member, Baltimore Transit Equity Coalition
Niesha McCoy is a civil rights and social action activist and a member of the Baltimore Transit Equity Coalition, a public transit advocacy group. She said she wants equality for all: “Whether Black, white or Latino, they should all be treated with respect and dignity.”
Recently, McCoy used social media to raise awareness of BTEC’s efforts to get a petition proposing the creation of a Baltimore Regional Transportation Authority on the ballot. The proposal, which the Baltimore City Board of Elections said fell short of earning the required number of signatures, would have removed the governor’s authority over regional transportation decisions, and put the power in local hands.
— Billy Jean Louis
Renée McDonald Hutchins
Dean, University of Maryland Carey School of Law
“Community, community, community,” Renée McDonald Hutchins said with gusto. “Community is the bedrock to all of the other work that we do.”
In Hutchins first term as dean at the University of Maryland Carey School of Law this fall, her main goal is to bring back school spirit, the kind she remembers fondly from when she was a faculty member at the college. She’s excited to again overhear students talking about their favorite classes in the hallway and to watch faculty and staff members connect with pupils throughout the building. Interactions like these faded with the COVID-19 pandemic, she said.
On Tuesdays, she’s starting up Spirit Day, encouraging all to wear the college’s T-shirts. She thinks it will be an opportunity to show the strength of their numbers in the law school.
Michael Millemann, the Jacob A. France Professor of Law at Carey, taught with Hutchins at the law school in the early 2000s. He said her engaging personality always combined learning and fun in the classroom, something he knows she’ll carry into her role as dean.
“She really develops these wonderful relationships with students, staff, faculty, alumni,” Millemann said. “I mean, she really is a perfect dean.”
A native New Yorker, Hutchins attended Yale Law School, worked as a lawyer in trial and appellate courts, and later earned a position teaching law at New York University. From there, she worked as a Carey School of Law faculty member. In 2019, she became the dean of the University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law.
Hutchins, who lives in Silver Spring, Maryland, enjoys spending time with family and hiking on Sundays. And each day, she wakes up hoping the new Wordle puzzle is already out for her to solve.
— Sabrina LeBoeuf
Chief people and administrative officer, Under Armour
After more than two decades in business, Tchernavia Rocker has learned “to thine own self be true,” and to follow opportunities that have an impact. With a first career in nursing, Rocker’s love for humanity remains a driving force even in the boardroom. She firmly believes that there is “much untapped opportunity in people and communities.” As Under Armour’s chief people and administrative officer, Rocker leads people, teams, organizations and outreach, and oversees the execution of all of their strategic programming. She calls her ability to solve complex challenges in actionable ways one of her “superpowers.”
“My perspective as a Black woman brings value that is unique and … those perspectives help shape policies and approaches that are actually beneficial,” she said.
— Micha Green
NFL agent and vice president of football operations, Steinberg Sports & Entertainment
Samantha Sankovich has never been far from sports — or from Baltimore.
The Fallston native played lacrosse at The John Carroll School and University of Maryland, Baltimore County before starting a short-lived sports broadcasting career. Next came jobs in the sports business world. Sankovich helped market ticket sales for the now-shuttered Leffler advertising agency. She also worked in product management for Under Armour’s basketball operations.
In 2017, a conversation with then-Players First Sports CEO Dan Saffron convinced Sankovich to lead the Baltimore-based agency’s marketing department. A year later, she was a certified NFL agent, a rarity for a woman in this male-dominated profession. Sankovich estimates that, compared with 200-plus male agents, fewer than 10 women have clients on active NFL rosters.
“Everybody asks, ‘How do you get into the business?’ and ‘How do you gain respect?’ and ‘How do you get treated the right way?’” Sankovich said. “It’s an interesting deal to navigate as a female. But I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”
Sankovich said she’s found more and more NFL prospects and veterans open to the idea of having a woman manage their careers. Over the past year for the Steinberg Sports & Entertainment agency, Sankovich has helped sign standout local players, such as Maryland safety Nick Cross, a third-round draft pick of the Indianapolis Colts; and former Calvert Hall and Maryland inside linebacker Chance Campbell, a sixth-round pick of the Tennessee Titans.
“When someone would say, ‘Why would I sign with your agent?’ it’s because my agent would go above and beyond for you,” said former Ravens defensive back-linebacker Anthony Levine Sr., one of Sankovich’s clients. “It’s not just about wanting to get the good contracts and all of that. Everyone wants the big contracts; everyone wants to get paid well. But at the same time, she knows where your best fit is.”
Sankovich remembers how the 1996 movie “Jerry Maguire” framed her early notions of what a sports agent looked like. Now she has girls and young women asking how they can follow her path.
“Hopefully, down the road, it’s not a celebratory thing where you have a ‘Women in Sports Day,’” she said. “It’s, like, every day. I hope we continue to see that kind of growth.”
— Jonas Shaffer
Anna L. Smith
Senior vice president of community involvement and family wealth, M&T Bank, Wilmington Trust
Anna L. Smith has spent much of her 41 years at M&T Bank in wealth advisory, working with multiple generations within families.
But four years ago, she also began leading the bank’s charitable foundation in Maryland, greater Washington and central Virginia.
“People say, ‘What a wonderful job. You get to give away money,’” Smith said. “It’s a blessing and a curse. The blessing is that M&T Bank is very philanthropic. … The curse is that there are so many worthy causes and so much need, and we can’t say yes to everything.”
The bank awards nearly $4 million in Maryland each year to more than 400 nonprofits.
For Smith and the bank, philanthropy is hands-on and goes beyond writing a check. The bank forms partnerships with nonprofits that focus on health and human services, food assistance, diversity and equity, education and arts and culture, and often supports groups where employees volunteer.
“She is a natural connector,” said Augie Chiasera, regional president for the bank. “She leverages her personal contacts to find deep networks within the not-for-profit community to connect with folks at M&T.”
Smith, traces a strong belief in giving back to her days growing up in Richmond, Virginia. Students at the Episcopal school she attended were taught to live by the school motto, “What we keep we lose, and only what we give remains our own.”
After studying art history at Hollins University in Roanoke, Virginia, she worked for a Washington bank. She was planning to become a New York bond trader when M&T predecessor First National Bank of Maryland offered her a portfolio manager job.
She never left, and decades later, she works to further the bank’s community investment mission. Most recently, the foundation joined the Aspen Institute to fund individuals doing “good works” in Baltimore. The bank chose 10 finalists for last year’s “Weavers” pilot, for activities such as mentoring and cleanups, and is expanding to 20 to be awarded $5,000 each this year.
“We’re out there looking for the next Bea Gaddy,” Smith said, referring to the homeless advocate known as the “Mother Teresa of Baltimore.”
“It’s community based and that’s Baltimore. Baltimore is a city of neighborhoods.”
— Lorraine Mirabella
Londyn Smith-De Richelieu
Director, Baltimore Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs
Londyn Smith-De Richelieu, a transgender woman, wants to address the high death rate within the LGBTQ community. “We have to reteach people on how to engage,” Smith-De Richelieu told The Sun earlier this year.
She partnered with the Baltimore City Health Department to host the Human Rights Campaign’s Connecting Communities: A National LGBTQ+ Liaison Summit, she said. Baltimore received a 95 out of 100 rating on HRC’s 2021 report card reviewing nondiscrimination laws, LGBTQ+ equality and more. The high marks contributed to HRC’s decision to hold the summit in the city.
“I want to see Baltimore back on the map. … Baltimore was a tourist city. Baltimore had a thriving population,” Smith-De Richelieu said. “I’ve lived here all my life. These houses were not abandoned houses,” she said.
— Billy Jean Louis
Owner, Cocina Luchadoras
Rosalyn Vera wants diners at her Mexican restaurant in Upper Fells Point to feel like they’re coming home. Every culture has its comfort foods, and for Vera, it’s the taco.
The item on Cocina Luchadoras’ menu evokes memories of childhood for Vera, who was born in New York but grew up in Mexico City with her grandmother.
“I want to make sure that you get the best Mexican food... with the best ingredients, that is made with lots of love,” Vera said.
She became an unlikely restaurant owner in 2018, when she took over the eatery less than a year after her parents started it. Her father had cooked in restaurants and ran his own in New York. But they had misgivings about the Baltimore venture and turned to their daughter.
An airline customer service employee at the time, she had no restaurant experience. But she stepped in, recreating a small restaurant in Mexico serving dishes her grandmother and mother had prepared.
Though she took on the restaurant out of a sense of duty, “it turns out that she actually had all of this passion for food inside her the whole time,” said Christopher Vaeth, a longtime customer and friend who works as a private chef. “She paired that with her natural tenacity and then her experience working in the corporate world.”
Besides becoming a stabilizing force in Upper Fells Point, attracting tourists and neighborhood regulars alike, the restaurant gives Vera a platform for community involvement.
She has donated tamales to local schools and taught students taco making. In a city health department campaign, she encouraged others in the Latino community to get vaccinated for COVID-19. And while operating a Mexican ice cream shop in Highlandtown, she offered her perspective to the Highlandtown Immigration and Food Project, a University of Maryland, Baltimore County student initiative to document Latino politics, history and food culture in Highlandtown in the 1980s and 1990s.
Vera is working with Vaeth to write a cookbook and offer cultural supper club events highlighting Mexican cuisine.
“She’s kind of all about food as an expression of love and also as an articulation of culture and as a way of honoring those that came before us,” Vaeth said.
— Lorraine Mirabella
Co-chair, Asian American Pacific Islander Workgroup in Howard County
Jodie Wang stepped into her new role in Howard County’s Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Workgroup in February 2021. Her first order of business: responding to criminal acts she believed targeted the community she’d just been chosen to represent.
Shortly after the work group was formed by County Executive Calvin Ball’s executive order, six Howard County businesses were burglarized on the first night of Lunar New Year, according to county police. Four of the businesses were Asian-owned.
“We felt like we needed to say something,” Wang said. “We formed during the rise of the [anti] Asian hate.”
The AAPI work group, made up of over 20 members from various communities, serves as a channel between local AAPI organizations and Ball’s office, Wang said. The work group advises local officials on how to better uplift and empower AAPI residents, who make up more than 20% of the county’s population.
Last May, the group helped put on the county’s first Asian American heritage festival, which was wildly successful according to organizers. The group also organized a rally against anti-Asian hate, which was attended by more than 1,000 people and drew participation from over 40 local organizations, Wang said. It was organized in response to the 2021 Atlanta spa shootings, in which six people of Asian descent were killed, and included a candlelit vigil.
“We want our voice to be, not only to be heard, but also to … be treated seriously, by the legislative level or executive level,” Wang said.
An immigrant from China, Wang previously served as executive director of the Chinese American Parent Association of Howard County; she still helps with community outreach.
Richard Ning Li is Wang’s co-chair on the AAPI work group.
“I like Jodie because she’s great, open-minded,” Li said. “It’s not like, ‘You have to listen to me.’ She’s more like, ‘Yeah, let’s work it out.’”
Wang works full time as an artist out of a studio in her basement. She teaches art classes to students ranging from kindergarten through high school.
Wang and her husband have an 11-year-old daughter and live in Clarksville. In her free time, Wang loves going to museums.
— Maya Lora
Director, American Visionary Art Museum
When the American Visionary Art Museum’s board of directors last spring appointed Jenenne Whitfield as AVAM’s new director, they accomplished the seemingly impossible by finding a kindred spirit to pioneering founder Rebecca Hoffberger.
Whitfield began her new job in September after 29 years helming Detroit’s acclaimed Heidelberg Project. These are the “to-do” items on her agenda: diversifying AVAM’s audiences, building partnerships with cultural and educational groups, and raising money for an endowment.
“Rebecca Hoffberger and I are both engaged in bringing the work of visionaries to life,” Whitfield said. “We have so much in us as people that is untapped.”
— Mary Carole McCauley
President and chief executive officer, University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Health
Since starting at University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Health as its president and CEO earlier this year, Elizabeth Wise is all about the people. “I really care about the people that I work with, and I want them to know that I do care,” she said. “I want to make sure that they have the tools and equipment that they need to do the job.” She wants to help bring more providers to the area because “the residents of our county want to have care close to home,” she said. She’s also looking forward to the opening of three new buildings next fall or winter: the Aberdeen Medical Center, a tower at the Bel Air campus and an ambulatory surgery center.
— Jason Fontelieu
Note: Nominations for Women to watch were open to the public in May and June. Women were selected after consideration and consultation with Baltimore Sun editors and staff.