St. Mary’s Academy hosted the bi-annual Career Day event on Friday, March 16, 2018 to educate our Belles about various career paths. This year’s theme “She Believed She Could So She Did” served as an important reminder that women are capable of pursuing their career aspirations. It starts with students believing in their charism (gifts) and using their talents and knowledge to make a difference in the world.

Career Day provides our Belles with an opportunity to explore different professional fields through workshop presentations geared towards the students’ career interests such as law, medicine, engineering, business, arts, social work, finance and education. Red Tie Captain Brenda Threatt ‘71, the Executive Director of U.S. VETS – Long Beach, served as this year’s Keynote Speaker.

A total of 54 women presented at our Career Day event to share their expertise, provide advice, and answer questions. 74% of the presenters were SMA alumnae! We thank each of the presenters for providing an inspiring experiential learning opportunity for our Belles!

Below are a few biographies of our Career Day speakers:  

Kristen Berry has more than twelve years experience developing and executing strategic communications programs for a variety of travel, aviation, interior design/decor, lifestyle and consumer tech brands. Her expertise includes media relations, securing coverage from publications spanning Vogue, Travel + Leisure, Fast Company, and the New York Times; designing effective media and consumer events; blogger ambassador programs; social media activations and more. Kristen also crafts a wide array of communications content in her role, including product news, campaign messaging, press materials, reactive statements, infographics, social media updates and distilling industry/consumer research into coverage-generating highlights.

Jovon English, Blue Tie of 1996, is the Associate Director for Division Operations at  Homeless Outreach Program/Integrated Care System Division (HOPICS). She has over 10 years of extensive finance, operations and management experience to her position. Jovon holds a M.A. in Business Administration from the University of Phoenix and a B.A. in Psychology from the University of Southern California. Before coming to HOPICS, Jovon spent over 10 years in banking honing skills that will sure enhance her primary focus; increasing fundraising and meeting strategic goals and financial targets.

Sherry Hayes-Peirce, Gold Tie of 1982, has experienced different professional roles including: social worker, corporate trainer, television news/producer and on-air personality, executive assistant, motivational speaker and now entrepreneur as the President and CEO of Communications Consultants Inc. As a social media strategist, Sherry helps Catholic Churches, University and Health & Safety Industry businesses to create effective social media strategies and provide marketing advice. She has served as a guest lecturer at UCI, University of Australia, University of Washington, LMU|LA and has written an academic paper for the Academy Institute Journal Leadership on social media. She holds a BA degree in Sociology and Communication Studies from California State University, Dominguez Hills.

Monica Henderson is President of Encore Wellness & Weight Loss Management, Inc. She brings over thirty years of experience in the healthcare field to the organization and understands the importance of integrating wellness into the corporate culture to create a more productive and healthy workforce. As founder and principal consultant with Unisource Insurance Services, Inc. and The Unisource Group, Inc., she has served California employers for over twenty-five years. The firm provides employee benefits brokerage and consulting services to small businesses, large national corporations, municipalities and non-profit organizations with a focus on risk management, benefits plan design, wellness program development and identifying effective funding strategies for the clients’ core and voluntary benefits. Monica brings a depth of experience to Encore and is committed to delivering the most effective and sustainable approach to healthy weight loss. With a focus on improving nutrition and establishing healthy rituals, Encore members are able to achieve lasting results. Monica holds a BS in Business Administration with an emphasis in Marketing and Finance. She is on the Southern California advisory board for US Bank and is a member of the Los Angeles Chapter of the National Smart Set social organization of professional women.

Donna Simone Johnson, Green Tie of  2005, is an actress who was recently awarded the 2018 NAACP Award for Best Lead Actress for her work in “Broken Fences.” She is seen on TV shows like Shots Fired (FOX), Pilot Season (NBC), Teachers (NBC), Agent X (TNT), The Inspectors (CBS), and a host of commercials for Dannon Yogurt, Walmart, Adidas, and Nike. Most of the time, she is on stage, and has played some of the most lovely roles in the world over 4 continents, 14 countries and many cities. She proudly has a BA degree in Theatre Performance from Vanguard University, a MA in Dance from New York University and a MFA in Acting from California Institute of the Arts (CalArts).

Dr. Nicole Johnson, Blue Tie of 1996, is a coach and consultant who develops leadership programs to inspire the next generation of leaders. Nicole has worked for many years as an educator, including 17 years in k-12 and higher education. Her research interests includes: organizational behavior, mentoring and program innovation. Nicole has presented her work to the American Psychological Association and served as an Ambassador to its convention. She is a Governor’s Teaching Fellow and professor. She has taught at UCLA and the University of San Diego and her present appointment is National University. Nicole earned her BA in English, her M.Ed in Teaching & Learning from the University of San Diego, and her EdD in Organizational Leadership from Pepperdine University.

Veronica Lewis, Blue Tie of 1996, is the Director of the Homeless Outreach Program/Integrated Care System Division (SSG/HOPICS) where she oversees more than 30 million dollars in annual funding for 30 different programs from 10 funders for mental health, substance use disorder treatment, reentry support, homeless and housing services, and trauma-focused services; and a multidisciplinary team of 180 employees. She has spent the greater part of her life working to educate, empower and provide resources to underserved youth and families. She is a recognized leader in LA County in the homeless services and reentry sectors. Veronica graduated from Loyola Marymount University with a Bachelor of Business Administration, Business Law Concentration and received her Master of Public of Administration degree from California State University, Dominguez Hills.

Major Lydia Lygon Thomas, Blue Tie of 1968,  is a member of the California State Military Reserve (CSMR), the official State defense force. She is currently embedded with the 578th Brigade Engineer Battalion as the Behavioral Health Officer. In this role, Lydia provides psychological support for Soldiers and family members. Every month she drills at the National Guard Armory in Manhattan Beach, and once a year she accompanies the Battalion on Annual Training field missions to Camp Roberts, Fort Hunter Liggett, or Camp Pendleton where she provides emergency crisis intervention for Soldiers at risk, and presents training briefs on suicide prevention, PTSD, combat stress and resiliency. Lydia was awarded the California Commendation Medal and the Army Achievement Medal for her service to the National Guard. She was also featured in the California National Guard magazine, Grizzley, for her pioneering work as an embedded therapist. Before her retirement career as a Soldier, Lydia served the Department of Social Services for over three decades as a Branch Chief with Disability and Adult Programs Division, Los Angeles South Office, and District Manager of Community Care Licensing Offices in Culver City and the San Fernando Valley. Lydia is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) with a Masters degree in Clinical Psychology from Pepperdine University. She is an active member of the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists. Lydia resides in Los Angeles where she has a private practice.

Pamela Martin-Polk is a graduate of the historical HBCU Howard University in Washington D.C. with a professional degree in Occupational Therapy. She also attended Oakwood College in Huntsville, Alabama.  Ms. Martin-Polk has worked in various settings such as The National Rehabilitation Hospital (Washington D.C), Queen of Angels Hollywood Presbyterian Hospital, Skilled Nursing Facilities extending from East LA to Palos Verdes, Home Health Care, Suburban Medical Center and the Great Daniel Freeman that was once located across the street from St. Mary’s Academy. Besides being a career woman and Clinical Instructor, she is compassionate and enjoys serving others as God has opened several doors for her. Her greatest accomplishment is being the proud mother of Kennedy and Kyla Polk – Green Ties Class of 2021 – at St. Mary’s Academy!

Kimberly Morris, Gold Tie of 2002, critiques self-identity, ideas of beauty, popular culture, and race in America via video, sculpture, photography, and painting. She inserts herself into her work by casting her own body, using her hair, and portraiture—all forms struggling with the constraining expectations society imposes on women of color. She writes “Through the lens of beauty, I examine my position in the diaspora. Pressures of fitting into what the majority culture defines as normal: neater hair and constrictive body type casting, dictate my daily routine.” Kimberly has a BA and MA from California State University Northridge and her MFA from California State University Long Beach. Recent exhibitions include Biomythography: Currency Exchange at Claremont Graduate University, Who Are You? at the Museum of Latin American Art, Insights at the CSULB University Art Museum.

Cristina Nieto, Green Tie of 1997, is the Associate Director for Data and Quality Assurance at Homeless Outreach Program/Integrated Care System Division (HOPICS). She manages several rapid rehousing programs for families and singles, employment services, data integration, and quality assurance. In former professional roles, Cristina worked as the Associate Director for Hearings at a Social Security Disability law firm and interned at the San Diego Mediation Center where she decided to pursue a career working with families and individuals  She earned a Bachelor’s degree in International Security and Conflict Resolution with an emphasis on Mediation, Negotiation and Conflict Resolution from San Diego State University.

Tressa Smiley is the Host and Executive Producer of VIP Live Empowerment Talkshow, creating a positive platform designed to educate, elevate and empower all seeking life advancements. She also serves as the Associate Producer and Social Media Manager for Women In Film, assisting with PSA productions with nonprofit organization charity Access Book to promote literacy within public schools. Tressa has served as a co-host for the Red Carpet VIP, interviewing high profile celebrity and non-celebrity guests during pre and post award ceremony. She was also a co-host News Anchor Ed.TV and News for the Long Beach Unified School District helping to identify stories, subject and guests for the daily program. In 2009, Tressa was a Talkshow Contestant for the Oprah Winfrey Network. She has an Early Childhood Education and Teaching degree from Brenau University.

Captain Brenda Threatt, Red Tie of 1971, currently serves as the Executive Director for U.S. VETS- Long Beach. She directly oversees 15 programs with a 7.1 million dollar budget providing daily housing, services and support for over 600 veterans. Brenda’s mission is to ensure that men and women who have served our country in all positions, in all wars, from every walk of life, receive the dignity of life and a place to call home. Prior to U.S. VETS, Brenda served as the shelter system manager with the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, overseeing the 14 winter shelters including 3 National Guard Armories, housing 14,700 persons countywide. She facilitated services and shelter for homeless veterans and other homeless individuals.Previously, she was director of veteran outreach, acting as sole liaison to the veteran community for the City of Los Angeles, during Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s Administration. Her rank is Captain serving as a military chaplain in the California Guard as the Southern Regional Command Chaplain at Los Alamitos Joint Forces Training base. Her duties include advising the Commander on religious matters, providing religious support, deployment support, chapel services, marriage and family counseling and support for chronically homeless veterans at the VALBMC.Brenda was the designer of the California 9-11 personalized license plate which memorializes the lives of the victims who perished September 11, 2001. This plate has raised millions of dollars in funding to support the families of the victims and funding for anti-terrorism in California.

Wenonah Valentine, Blue Tie of 1972, is the founding director of iDREAM for Racial Health Equity, a project of Community Partners®. She is passionate about her ministry to improving Black maternal health and birth outcomes. She was recently featured in the L.A. Sentinel Religion section as a “Champion of Faith”, providing an opportunity to highlight ordinary people inspired by their faith to make a difference in the community. In recognition of Women’s History Month, L.A. women will be showcased during the month of March. Wenonah’s faith in Christ is a three- braided cord and her worship is expressed through alumnae collaborations, lived experience and service leadership. Wenonah has a BA degree in Black Studies and Economics from the University of California, Santa Barbara and a MBA degree in Christian Business and Professional Leadership from Azusa Pacific University.