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. 13. The women will be honored at a celebration at the Baltimore Museum of Art on Oct. 10.
50, Baltimore office managing partner for KPMG LLP
Christine Aspell had long focused on retaining and boosting female employees at KPMG, the accounting firm where she has spent her career, when she landed a first-ever role for a woman. Aspell made partner in 2003 in the audit practice, then advised an initiative to help female employees network and build careers. In 2015, she became managing partner, the first woman in that role for a Baltimore office of a big-four firm. “I’ve always just worked hard, and sometimes you look up and you’re one of the few women in the room,” she said. “It just highlights how far we’ve come... I hope it gives people the idea, I can do that, too."
— Lorraine Mirabella
Courtney G. Capute
65, Baltimore office partner-in-charge for Venable LLP
If Courtney Capute hadn’t settled in Fells Point over 40 years ago, she’s not sure her career would be the same. The changing landscape in the neighborhood inspired her to focus her legal work on hospitality and special service practices. Capute worked her way up at Venable from a summer associate to the first woman as a partner-in-charge. After 30 years of volunteering pro-bono services, Capute won an award from her firm in 2019. “Legal help is an expense,” she said. “And anytime I do something pro bono, that’s one more dollar an organization can give back.”
— McKenna Oxenden
33, Baltimore Design School teacher
When Valencia Clay read the late Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye,” she said it healed her. Now, as an English teacher at Baltimore Design School, she uses books to bring healing and exposure to her students, and “to help them plan for their futures.” Clay is receiving national attention for her teaching style, which she documents for her 160,000 Instagram followers. In one viral video, she talks to her students about using their pain to uplift them. Clay, who was recently selected for a Johns Hopkins doctoral program and a National Geographic education fellowship, wants to help other teachers “have their students thinking like explorers.”
— Talia Richman
72, executive director of the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture
In the six months since Jackie Copeland began leading the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture, she’s continued the institution’s upward trajectory by meeting the $1.9 million state fundraising requirement the second year in a row. And coming this season: two high-impact exhibits that Copeland can mount for relative pennies by borrowing works from local collectors. The Pikesville resident sharpened her skills during three decades working as a museum administrator, including 15 years for the Walters Art Museum and two at the Lewis second-in-command. The Lewis celebrates its 15th anniversary next summer. “The Lewis is a young museum,” she said. “I want us to grow and be sustainable for the future.”
— Mary Carole McCauley
58, founder and CEO of Sisters in Law Inc.
As a police officer in East Baltimore, Darlene Crider got to know many kids in the neighborhood. After seeing the same ones late or missing school, Crider got involved. She’d plead with them to get to class, offer to give them rides and meet with them regularly. Crider retired in 2008 from the force but is still mentoring youth. She’s opened Sisters in Law Inc., where girls can get a meal and homework help, and join in other activities in Oliver. All too often the girls don’t receive the basics at home, she said. “They all just want to be loved and heard."
— Jessica Anderson
16, figure skater and Towson High School senior
Ting Cui may remember the past figure skating season as one of firsts.
There was her debut at the U.S. championships in Detroit in January when she finished fifth. There was the bronze medal she won at the World Junior championships, becoming the first American to medal at the event since Gracie Gold captured the silver in 2012. And there was her first serious injury, a Grade 2 ankle sprain that included an avulsion fracture and partial ligament tears.
But Cui (pronounced Tsway) stayed off her feet for only two months before returning to the ice in June.
“Unfortunately, I’m not a very good patient,” she said. “I’m always kind of thinking that I can do things myself.”
The injury has not diminished what has been a whirlwind year for Cui, who qualified for the World Junior championships after participating in a training selection camp and placing 11th at the Four Continents championships.
“It was a lot of back-to-back competitions, which I wasn’t used to,” she said. “I had never done that in my career so far. So in the long program, I feel like I kind of burned out. But that’s OK because three weeks later, I had junior worlds, and I did really well there.”
NBC Sports figure skating analyst Tara Lipinski said Cui’s upper body and balletic moves remind her of 1994 Olympic champion Oksana Baiul.
“The moment I first saw Ting skate, I knew she was going to be one to watch,” said Lipinski, the 1998 Olympic gold medalist. “She has solid technique and a jump arsenal filled with the triple-triples that are essential to compete with the top tier of ladies.”
Cui attended Champs Camp in Irvine, California, at the end of August with an eye toward making her debut on the senior grand prix circuit before taking another run at the U.S. championships in January.
“It’s kind of daunting because I’ll be competing against some of my role models and icons,” she said of skating as a senior. “So it’s going to be very exciting and kind of scary at the same time.”
— Edward Lee
Dr. Letitia Dzirasa
38, Baltimore Health Commissioner
If there was something Dr. Letitia Dzirasa understood on her first day as Baltimore Health Commissioner last March, it was technology. She had helped her husband launch the software company Fearless Solutions, and she plans to tap that know-how to update how the agency functions. In areas that her high-tech education and her medical background didn’t cover, she plans to do some learning on the job with a listening tour. That will include the community and her new office. “I aim to ensure everyone’s voices are heard; I value diversity of opinion,” she said. “I’m just as accountable to my team as my team is to me.”
— Meredith Cohn
64, executive director of the Maryland Film Festival
A year into her stint at the Maryland Film Festival, Sandra Gibson sees big things ahead for the organization, which not only runs Baltimore’s annual five-day celebration of all things cinema (set for April 29-May 3, 2020), but also offers year-round programming at the wondrously restored, century-old Niarchos Foundation Parkway theater. The challenge, Gibson said, is to persuade the festival’s audience to come to the Parkway year-round, while attracting more visitors from the community at large. “We want to bring people into our family," she said, "to have people really come here and feel like the Parkway is for them all the time.”
— Chris Kaltenbach
50, president and CEO of the Annie E. Casey Foundation
When Lisa Hamilton became president in January of the foundation — which aids children who face barriers to doing well in school, the economy and society — the building blocks of her career slotted into place: The job combines her experience in the law, lobbying, public relations and grantmaking. Hamilton said a focus will be expanding Casey’s work with children of color in the South and Southwest. Having grown up as an African American in Atlanta, Hamilton said, “In many ways I beat the odds.” “The work at the foundation gives me a chance to make sure we change the odds,” she said.
— Ian Duncan
Maria Harris Tildon
54, executive vice president for marketing, communications and external affairs at CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield
During her tenure in the Clinton administration in the 1990s, Maria Harris Tildon focused on translating the complexities of trade policy to stakeholders on Capitol Hill and elsewhere. The role prepared her well for her position at CareFirst, she said, where she manages government affairs, media and volunteer work. “We’ve done a lot to be strategic and tackle really difficult public health issues in the region,” said Tildon, a Mount Washington resident and lawyer by training. “At this moment in time where the city is under siege, I’m proud to know firsthand that the people here are committed to ensuring we have an impact on the top issue this region faces.”
— Hallie Miller
Dr. JoAnn Z. Ioannou
51, senior vice president of patient care services and chief nursing officer for GBMC Healthcare
Dr. JoAnn Ioannou works to build a culture of mentorship among nurses at GBMC. “When I’m looking for talent, I always say I’m looking for bigger and better than me,” she said. A self-described servant-leader, Ioannou has implemented the “Art of Nursing" philosophy for emphasizing science, knowledge and caring among nursing professionals. The philosophy marries evidence-based practice with compassionate care, and empowers nurses to be an integral part of multi-disciplinary teams. “Any nurse in our organization, we teach them early on to question and have a questioning attitude because so many people are involved in taking care of patients," Ioannou said.
— Lillian Reed
Adrienne A. Jones
64, speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates
When Adrienne A. Jones speaks at a community meeting, or stops by a political fundraiser or attends a festival, she gets a frequent request: “They want their picture taken, or their daughter’s.”
Jones, after all, is the first woman and first person of color to serve as a presiding officer in the Maryland General Assembly. Admirers want a keepsake with a woman who made history.
In May, the Baltimore County Democrat was the surprise pick to become speaker of the House of Delegates, following the death of her political ally, longtime Speaker Michael E. Busch.
Jones had initially put herself forward as a candidate for speaker, but withdrew when she realized she didn’t have enough support to win. In a twist, the two leading candidates couldn’t muster a majority of support among Democrats — and Jones was put forth as the compromise candidate.
In the months since she was elevated to the top job, Jones has been busy meeting with delegates and working on an agenda for the 2020 General Assembly session. Finding ways to pay for improving public education will be at the top of her list.
Jones is bringing a fresh perspective to the House of Delegates. She said she’s not wedded to doing things they way they’ve always been done — “unless you can show me that this is the best way to do it.”
She’s also gradually taken over the corner office in the State House that Busch occupied for 16 years. Gone are the stark white walls, painted over in periwinkle. Her first piece of art to go on display is a portrait of abolitionist Frederick Douglass, borrowed from the state archives.
When Jones is out of the office, not only does she get photo requests, but people also ask her for advice, particularly for girls and young women.
One tidbit she shares is that you never know when circumstances will arise that present an opportunity. For Jones, the unfortunate death of her friend and ally was unexpected — and led to her political advancement.
Secondly, she reminds them: “People are always watching.”
She didn’t know, back in the early 2000s, that Busch had been observing her work as a rank-and-file delegate. When Busch became speaker in 2003, he tapped Jones to be his second-in-command as the speaker pro-tem. In that role, she gained experience that led her to the speakership.
And lastly, she believes that everyone can succeed if they find their calling.
“Everyone has something that we’re gifted in. If you can hone that, that person can be successful,” Jones said. “It’s within themselves to be successful in whatever field. Mine happens to be public service.”
— Pamela Wood
Sabina L. Kelly
61, president of Bank of America’s Greater Maryland Market
Sabina Kelly has led efforts to help Bank of America employees build deeper ties to the companies, communities, families and individuals they serve for the past three years. It may be news that the U.S. Business Roundtable now equates social impact with shareholder value. But not for Kelly. The 40-year Bank of America veteran has helped dispense aid to multiple nonprofits, including $100,000 to Baltimore’s YouthWorks and 900 volunteer hours by bank employees to Habitat for Humanity of Greater Maryland over the past two years. The multipronged approach for such outreach is one branch of the bank few see. “We just do it,” Kelly said. “I’m very proud of what we do. It’s all delivered by our associates. I feel honored and humbled to be their leader.”
— Doug Donovan
44, president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Urban League
After less than a year on the job as the first woman to head the historic Greater Baltimore Urban League in West Baltimore, Tiffany Majors said she is excited about bringing the 95-year-old organization, and its many young clients, into the modern era. Since Majors took over in December, the job training, entrepreneurial coaching and educational nonprofit has launched new programs focused on tech as a path to success. In April, it took about 20 students to San Francisco and the headquarters of Google, YouTube and Facebook. It’s teaching local kids coding and how to fix laptops, too. “We’re going into a completely tech world,” Majors said. “We want to ensure minorities have the opportunity to attain economic sustainability.”
— Kevin Rector
Above a boarded-up check-cashing store in Shae McCoy’s evocative photo, the clouds are thick and look heavy enough to flatten the building. But the West Baltimore storefront resists. It’s down on its luck but not easily vanquished. Like Devin Allen’s 2017 book, “A Beautiful Ghetto,” McCoy’s Instagram page helps viewers appreciate a landscape — and by implication, people — that are often overlooked. “I treat each building like it’s a person I’m taking a portrait of,” she said. “They might be vacant and abandoned, but they’re still beautiful." Next up for McCoy — an exhibit and perhaps a book.
— Mary Carole McCauley
40, founder and executive director of Centro de los Derechos del Migrante Inc.
Rachel Micah-Jones enrolled in law school wanting to put her efforts behind environmental justice. But working at a human rights clinic, and later as a farm worker attorney, exposed her to the plight of immigrants. It made her reflect on her own experience and inspired her to help those lacking access to opportunities. Today, Micah-Jones’ nonprofit, based in Baltimore and Mexico, fights and advocates for guest workers’ rights and protections. “I am really motivated, inspired by the courageous women and men who come forward and share their stories and organize in their communities,” Micah-Jones said. She’ll continue her fight for migrant workers by pushing for a path to citizenship.
— Thalia Juarez
Dr. Elizabeth Nichols
37, associate professor of radiation oncology and clinical director of University of Maryland Department of Radiation Oncology
Though many cancers affecting women are curable, treatment can involve agonizing doses of radiation that damage healthy tissue and cause fatigue. Technologies that Dr. Elizabeth Nichols, clinical director of the University of Maryland Department of Radiation Oncology, has helped to pioneer are giving patients new treatment options proving both effective and tolerable. That includes the GammaPod system, a device that targets breast tumors while causing minimal damage to healthy tissue, and proton therapy, targeting other types of tumors with precision. Nichols said it’s been rewarding to see: “It’s really an honor to be let into someone’s life at such a vulnerable time.”
— Scott Dance
31, owner of the Urban Oyster
In her past life in corporate America, Jasmine Norton wanted to blend in. After hours, her mostly male coworkers drank dark liquor. So she developed a taste for Old Fashioneds made with whiskey.
But when Norton started her own business, she wanted to stand out. “There’s plenty of raw bars all over Baltimore,” said Norton, owner of the Urban Oyster, a farmers market stand that opened its first brick-and-mortar location in Locust Point this year. "I wanted to do something different.”
Grilling oysters helps get rid of the slimy texture, eliminating some people’s reservations about eating them, Norton said, while toppings like cheese and bacon make them feel more approachable. "When you’re introducing something unfamiliar there still has to be some familiarity in the mix,” she said.
Her mom, Patrice Norton, is her business partner. “When she first came to me of course I thought she was crazy," said Patrice. But soon enough, Patrice was helping her daughter test out oyster recipes. Jasmine, her mom said, “is like a local celebrity now. One lady came into the restaurant and she was just in awe of Jasmine," she said with a laugh. “I wanted to say, ‘That’s just Jasmine!’"
Norton, who credits her dad with teaching her how to shuck oysters, said she gets inspiration from both her parents. “I look at my business like it’s my child,” she said. “You have sleepless nights.”
In her first summer as a brick-and-mortar shop, Norton has been learning firsthand about the summer slow season. She’s been working 77-hour weeks to run both the restaurant and her farmers market stall. “It’s definitely been a lot of ups and downs,” she said.
One recent highlight came this summer, when state comptroller Peter Franchot stopped by the Locust Point eatery and presented Norton with a token “in recognition of excellence, service & sacrifice.” The medallions are given to people who make a difference and invest in their communities, said a spokesman for Franchot’s office.
In her precious few off hours, Norton enjoys spending time with her family, eating at restaurants like the Jetty, across the Bay Bridge in Kent Narrows. She tries not to cook when she’s off the clock, mostly because “I hate dishes with a passion.”
She’s also on a quest to find the best Old Fashioned.
— Christina Tkacik
49, community outreach regional leader for Southwest Airlines
When students from the Greater Baltimore Urban League received a special invitation to visit Google’s offices in San Francisco earlier this year, the social-service organization’s president called Karen Price-Ward.
Price-Ward — an Urban League board member for more than 20 years — provided free, round-trip flights, as well as food vouchers and gifts for more than a dozen students and chaperones, courtesy of Southwest Airlines, said Tiffany Majors, the Urban League president and CEO.
“She literally rolled out the red carpet,” said Majors, a fellow Woman to Watch.
As Southwest’s regional leader for community outreach, Price-Ward said her job is to “make sure we’re being a good corporate citizen.”
Price-Ward became Southwest Airlines’ first African-American district marketing manager, overseeing the Mid-Atlantic region, in 2003. She now works from her home in Prince George’s County, seeking opportunities for the Dallas-based airline to provide money and transportation to generate goodwill for the company among community organizations, nonprofits and other groups in Baltimore, Washington and eight other East Coast cities.
“We all have a responsibility to pay it forward, and Southwest Airlines has given me an opportunity to provide resources,” she said. “They’re very generous to allow us to find the passion points in the community."
Price-Ward has assisted with the BWI Youth Summer Initiatives Program, which provides young people from five Baltimore recreation centers with behind-the-scenes tours of the airline’s operations at the airport; the U.S. Dream Academy’s Mentor of the Year Award, for which she coordinates flights for staff and mentors training to support students with incarcerated parents; and the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation Camp, a baseball camp that teaches leadership and draws students from around the country.
“I have so much fun doing this it doesn’t feel like a job," she said.
Price-Ward, a native of St. Louis, moved to Baltimore in 1996 and earned her master’s degree in business administration from the Johns Hopkins University in 2008.
BGE CEO Calvin Butler, a friend of Price-Ward’s since high school, has served on countless boards and in other volunteer roles with Price-Ward and said she “always has a smile on her face.”
In addition to the Ripken Foundation and the Greater Baltimore Urban League, the two have served in advisory roles together for Light City Baltimore, the American Heart Association and the Soulful Symphony at the Hippodrome.
“She’s always there with the spirit of giving back and contributing," Butler said. “She doesn’t hesitate to roll up her sleeves and engage Southwest in the big discussions.”
— Colin Campbell
48, senior vice president of business transformation for McCormick & Co.
Nneka Rimmer’s portfolio at McCormick & Co. includes company-wide IT and global transformations — she works to align global processes that include sales in over 100 countries and territories for the Hunt Valley-based spice maker. Rimmer said her work is an honor and a delight, so building “The McCormick of the Future” doesn’t seem so hard. Outside of work, she’s driven by her children. Of her 8-year-old and 11-year-old, she said, “If I want to inspire them as much as they inspire me, I have to keep getting points on the board.”
— Cody Boteler
40, owner and lead makeup artist for Accessmatized LLC and Pretty Mobile Baltimore
“You can come back from anything. You can change your narrative. Every day is a new day to get it right,” said Takia Ross, a single mother of three who has overcome poverty and bullying to build her beauty empire one makeup brush stroke at a time. The South Baltimore native and Westport resident has been featured in Fortune and Essence magazines. She’s gone to Capitol Hill to lobby for funding of small business programs. And she wants to continue to help aspiring businesswomen — especially where she grew up — to become fiscally successful. The winner of $65,000 in cash and prizes from entrepreneur competitions, she launched the annual So You Want to Pitch Conference to help local entrepreneurs.
— John-John Williams IV
32, editor-in-chief and host of “Binge Mode” podcast for The Ringer
Mallory Rubin aspired to cover the Orioles when she was growing up in Reisterstown and built a successful career as a sports and pop culture editor at Sports Illustrated, Grantland and The Ringer, a Los Angeles-based website. But she found a parallel calling in “Binge Mode,” the podcast she hosts with her close friend, Jason Concepcion. Together, they became two of the world’s most insightful and entertaining voices on all things “Harry Potter” and “Game of Thrones.” Rubin, who was promoted to the website’s editor-in-chief in August, promises more to come from “Binge Mode,” and whatever the subject, she’ll remain heartfelt. “It’s like a really, really special thing to say out loud, ‘I love this thing unabashedly and here’s why’ and not have anyone tear you down for it,” she said.
— Childs Walker
50, Maryland Department of Commerce Secretary
Since December, Kelly Schulz has led Maryland’s primary economic development agency, traveling around the state to help promote and assist its hundreds of thousands of businesses. “I want businesses all across the world to know Maryland is the place to do business in the United States,” Schulz said. “Every day I’m working with businesses that want to expand and businesses that want to come into the state.” A former state delegate and state labor secretary, the New Market resident is on many pundits’ short list to one day seek the Republican nomination for governor. Schulz said she’s not thinking about the speculation: “I can’t even see past tomorrow,” she said. “Whatever I do in my future life, I want to be in a role where I can make a difference.”
— Luke Broadwater
39, head brewer of Guinness Open Gate Brewery & Barrel House
Only a special kind of brewer could take an internationally storied beer brand and adapt it to shifting American tastes. Maryland, whose craft brewery economy still lags behind 22 other states, luckily boasts one: Hollie Stephenson, head brewer of Guinness Open Gate Brewery & Barrel House.
The Georgian’s path to Guinness’ only U.S. outpost began in the mid-2000s, when she was a lobbyist in Washington, D.C. A door opened when the owner of a beer bar Stephenson frequented paid her to develop a brewery plan.
“I decided it could be a good time for me to take a leap and go get a brewing education,” Stephenson said. Despite having just finished a master’s degree in government at Johns Hopkins, she headed to England to earn a brewing certificate. That experience prepared her for the “$13-an-hour” job she landed at Stone Brewing Co. In 2015, she became head brewer of Highland Brewing Co. in Asheville, North Carolina, and created the AVL IPA — still one of the brewery’s flagships.
Stephenson’s success with new recipes made her a natural choice to take Guinness, where she began in 2017, in a new direction stateside.
Visit the Halethorpe brewery, where perennial options like the IPA and White Ale sit alongside experimental offerings like dry-hopped sours, to experience how she makes Guinness’ legacy a creative asset. She believes this balance can entice new fans.
“A lot of people still don’t buy craft, so we can introduce them to Guinness and offer a beer that’s more flavorful than your classic domestic beer," she said. “We’re [also] going to do a lot of really cool stuff with barrel-aging here, which I’m super excited to really get rolling on, that’s going to be innovative and ahead of the curve.”
Stephenson, who lives in Otterbein with her wife and two dogs, understands that she bucks the industry’s bearded white male stereotype. She believes that her professional background helped level the playing field.
“She can speak so well about what she does, and the beer that she creates, that it just gets everybody listening," Guinness senior manager Erin Lauer said. “I love that my daughter has somebody like Hollie to look up to, because she’s been able to break the mold, step into a nontraditional space, and frankly, just be a total badass.”
— Sameer Rao
50, associate professor of communication and African and African American studies at Loyola University Maryland and host of “Today with Dr. Kaye”
Known as “Dr. Kaye” to listeners of her WEAA radio show, Karsonya Whitehead has led an unscripted life full of twists and turns. Documentary filmmaker. City middle school teacher. Historian and author. And now social commentator and Loyola University Maryland professor. When she was a teacher, a friend found a never-published Civil War-era diary written by a black woman. “It changed my life. I decided that I would quit,” she said. She entered a Ph.D. history program and turned the diary into a book: “Notes from a Colored Girl.” Trayvon Martin’s death jolted her into activism, but activism practiced through a historian’s lens. Her radio show, she said, “is a place where all the experiences I have come together."
— Liz Bowie