Champions of Change Blog

  • You've Got to Have GUTS

    Stacey Young-McCaughan

    Martha Daniel is being honored as a Women Veteran Leaders Champion of Change.

    Serving my community has always been an important part of my personal and professional life. As a veteran entrepreneur, I founded our Orange County, California chapter of the Elite SDVOB Network. We are actively working towards helping other veterans establish new businesses and grow their current businesses.

    Last year, we established a Concierge Program for our veterans returning home. If they need a bank, lawyer, or help understanding how much they should spend on marketing, this program gives them a chance to get “one-on-one” interface with professionals and agencies that have signed up to help other veterans.  

    I also believe that it is critical to inspire our youth to achieve academic success. I speak to girls through organizations like Girls Inc, Girl Scouts of America, Young Ladies with Potential, and college students. I have sat on the advisory board of EmpowHer Institute, and I am a national speaker supporting the education initiative STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math), which encourages girls and women to pursue education and careers in STEM fields. I try to teach women and girls to know their worth so that they can embrace their dreams with boldness, confidence, and a level of certainty that success can be achieved.

    As I mentor individuals, I share with them a quote by Dolly Parton that I love. She said, “if you want the rainbow, sometimes you gotta put up with the rain.” That’s one of my favorite quotes that I live by. I say that the first order is to understand that you are going to have some rainy days. 

    Over the years, I have developed another belief that is very important in order to be successful. GUTS is an acronym I use to describe it. You’ve got to have what I call GUTS. This is what I tell other entrepreneurs, girls, or women who want to step out to achieve their dreams.

    G = Greedy: You can’t be greedy. You just have to know that there is enough opportunity and success out there for everyone. You don’t have to take someone else’s idea; you don’t have to do wrong things. You just have to know that there are enough opportunities so that when you decide to move into your space, you can do it and not be greedy.

    U = Unity: You cannot discriminate or segregate yourself. No person is an island, and you cannot build your success alone. Your network is extremely important. The way you can avoid many errors and making mistakes in life is by talking with others who have gone before you who can share their experiences and wisdom.

    T = Trustworthy: Say what you mean, mean what you say. Be dependable, be responsible, be honorable, be faithful, and do a good job. You will always have your reputation, so make it a good one!

    S = Spiritual: As an ordained minister of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, I believe in God. I encourage all that I come into contact with to step out on faith and trust in the Almighty, because there are some things you just can’t fix alone. It is important to know that there will be trials, challenges, and decisions that you will have to make that no one in the human race can help you with; it’s going to take divine intervention. 

    Martha Daniel is the Founder, President and CEO of Information Management Resources, Inc, a Service Disabled Veteran and Woman Owned Small Business that delivers cyber security, program management, engineering, and technology support to federal and state government agencies and commercial business enterprises.  

  • Raising Educational Expectations of Young Latinos

    Graciela Tiscareño-Sato

    Graciela Tiscareño-Sato is being honored as a Women Veteran Leaders Champion of Change.

    As she exited the school auditorium, the little girl tugged gingerly on my sleeve. She had just watched me do my “STEM of Aviation” presentation that included a reading of Good Night Captain Mama/Buenas Noches Capitán Mamá, the first bilingual children’s book about women in the military. Excitedly and in Spanish she exclaimed, “Capitán Mamá, yo quiero volar en aviones como tu!” [Translation: Captain Mama, I want to fly on airplanes like you!]

    Squatting down to her eye level, as mothers intuitively do, I told her I know she’ll learn all the math, science and reading needed to make her dream happen. Holding her hand, I told her to never, ever let any adult tell her she couldn’t do it. She smiled and joined her class. In that precious moment, the decision to use my status as a Latina military veteran turned publisher of bilingual and multicultural books that spark dreams of adventurous futures, was solidly validated. This little Latina whose first language (like mine) was Spanish, was now dreaming of one day flying airplanes.

    As an American-born daughter of Mexican immigrants with a Master’s degree, silver Air Force aviator wings, and two decades of global work experience, my mission as a social entrepreneur in educational publishing is to create aspirational literature that’s widely adopted in schools and showcases the many success stories from my beloved Latino community. I intentionally pursued this endeavor for the benefit of young students and to simultaneously help reverse decades of low expectations of Latino students and negative media stereotyping in all its forms.

    This work was sparked by hardship twelve years ago, when I birthed my severely premature, one-pound baby girl. Documenting the 137-day hospitalization and her blindness helped me cope with the difficulties. We’ve always been encouraged by parents of older blind children to have high expectations.

    Our daughter is now a joyful Braille reader and writer, a whiz with adaptive technology, the 5th grade commencement speaker and a finalist in the “Braille Bee” at the California School for the Blind. If she can achieve all that without eyesight and with a severe hearing impairment, imagine what little Latinos without those impairments can accomplish, if only all educators, administrators and parents have high expectations of them.

    Our nation is facing one of the greatest civil rights challenges of our time–weak educational attainment numbers for our fastest growing ethnic group. In 2011, as we launched our first book, Latinnovating: Green American Jobs and the Latinos Creating Them, I cited frightening, absolute numbers from the National Center for Education Statistics in my article titled “Two by 2020 Mentoring Challenge.” The USA is only graduating 140,000 Latinos annually with bachelor degrees (versus 611,000 needed annually to return us to the top of the most-educated nation list.)

    This country needs MANY more entrepreneurial success stories of people with last names like Ramirez, Salazar, Caballero, Rincon and Rojas as profiled in our Latinnovating series. It’s all-hands-on-deck time. If you have a college degree will you please pledge to mentor two Latino students toward their degrees by 2020? Millions of children of immigrants need mentors to ignite their imaginations and provide guidance on how one achieves a degree. This is how we can “Out-innovate and out-educate” other nations, rising to the challenge stated by President Obama.

    I’m deeply honored to be recognized by the White House for my military service and my social entrepreneurship work. I recognize that my professional life, since breaking tradition and leaving my parents’ home to attend Berkeley on an Air Force ROTC scholarship, has been blessedly extraordinary. I’m compelled to motivate others to follow my lead and those whose stories my team and I are privileged to publish.

    Graciela Tiscareño-Sato is CEO and Founder of award-winning, educational publishing firm Gracefully Global Group LLC located in the San Francisco Bay Area where she serves K-College students and educators as a bilingual STEM consultant. Graciela is the author of the Captain Mama and Latinnovating book series, and a sought-after keynote speaker and co-founder of the National Women Veterans Speakers Bureau, the first such bureau comprised entirely of professional speakers who are veterans and published authors.

  • Making Health Possible

    Stacey Young-McCaughan

    Stacey Young-McCaughan is being honored as a Women Veteran Leaders Champion of Change.

    What an incredible honor it is to be named by the White House as a Champion of Change. While the award recognizes people attempting a seemingly impossible task—changing systems from the bottom up—I have seen that good ideas are infectious and spread like wildfire.

    It has been my good fortune, in my military and post-military careers, to be part of complex systems and multi-disciplinary teams spurring and promoting great ideas, particularly when it comes to improvements in military and veteran health.

    As a registered nurse with a doctoral degree in physiological nursing, I joined the Army Nurse Corps right out of college, eager for the wide range of nursing experiences it offered and the opportunity to care for our Service Members and their families. That 29-year career included a variety of clinical and research positions with a primary focus in oncology. It also led me to assignments as Deputy Director of the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs; Chief of Evidence-Based Practice for the U.S. Army Medical Command Quality Management Division; Chief of Nursing Research and Chief of Clinical Investigation for Brooke Army Medical Center.

    The patients I cared for taught me great courage in the face of life-threatening disease and injury. The cancer survivors I worked with taught me the power of advocacy. The individuals who participated in my research operationalized the joy of discovery as well as the challenge of moving research into practice.

    Upon my retirement from the Army, an opportunity with the School of Medicine at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio presented a new challenge. Lt Col (retired) Alan Peterson, PhD, a former Air Force psychologist, asked me to join a world-class, multidisciplinary and multi-institutional research consortium that he directs. STRONG STAR, or the South Texas Research Organizational Network Guiding Studies on Trauma and Resilience, was funded in 2008 by the Defense Department to improve prevention and treatment efforts for combat-related posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and comorbid conditions among military service members and recently discharged Veterans.

    In August 2014, President Obama announced that our group would lead the new DoD-VA-funded Consortium to Alleviate PTSD (CAP), one of two consortia established as part of a National Research Action Plan to improve care for those suffering from the signature wounds of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan: PTSD and traumatic brain injury.

    Serving as part of the incredible STRONG STAR and CAP teams as Director of Research has allowed me to continue working with military providers and researchers in a highly meaningful way, as together we strive to develop and evaluate the best methods for helping our nation’s war fighters recover from the psychological wounds of war. It has been exciting to work alongside Dr. Peterson and other esteemed colleagues to establish a highly effective research infrastructure to support 24 ongoing projects; over 20 collaborating civilian, military, and VA institutions; and over 130 partnering investigators.

    Particularly exciting is that over 1,000 Service Members and Veterans have been recruited into clinical trials testing evidence-based treatments from the civilian world for their effectiveness with combat-related PTSD, and that I’m able to direct my own project testing an exercise intervention for PTSD.

    As STRONG STAR and the CAP move forward, we continue to look for opportunities to advance the care of our military members exposed to combat trauma. We believe that PTSD can be cured and that striving for anything less is a disservice to the men and women who put themselves in harm’s way in service to our nation. Our challenge is making health possible.

    Stacey Young-McCaughan, RN, PhD is a Professor in the School of Medicine at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio and the Director of Research for the STRONG STAR Multi-disciplinary Research Consortium designed to understand, prevent, and treat combat-related posttraumatic stress disorder and comorbid conditions among military Service Members and recently discharged Veterans.

  • Paying It Forward: The Fabric of a Strong Community

    Deborah Scott Thomas

    Deborah Scott Thomas is being honored as a Women Veteran Leaders Champion of Change.

    Educator, Civil Rights and Women's Rights activist Dorothy Height once said, “Without community service, we would not have a strong quality of life. It's important to the person who serves as well as the recipient. It's the way in which we ourselves grow and develop.” She couldn’t have been more correct.

    Growing up in Alabama, I was always surrounded by people who gave back. It was what my mother, father, teachers, church members and next door neighbors did, so it’s only natural that I continued that legacy throughout my life. Community service is something everyone can and should do. It is just as important as the air we breathe.

    Volunteerism and education go hand-in-hand. As a graduate of Alabama State University, I’ve made it my mission to always help Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). I created and led the development of the National Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) Entrepreneurship Conference at Alabama State University in 2011.

    The HBCU Conference brought together higher education, government, and corporate professionals while giving conference participants opportunities to develop relationships with established companies. The conference sessions offered information on entrepreneurship and business development, grant writing and science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education and career preparationlaying the foundation for future leadership.

    Later that year, I also participated in the White House Initiative HBCU Week. The conference was tied to President Obama’s and the Department of Education’s initiative to have the best educated, most competitive, and diverse workforce in the world by 2020.

    I also presented and participated in the Working with the Small Business Community session panel where the role of small businesses in creating employment and growth opportunities for HBCU graduates was discussed.

    Mentoring up-and-coming businesses is another passion of mine. My company graduated from the 8(a) program in 2005, and now I am committed to helping others reach the same success. My goal is to assist them with learning the best practices of the business world, such as building and maintaining a successful brand and securing contracting opportunities. It is a wonderful feeling to know that my experiences can help shape the success and affect change in business leaders. My motto is, “My success is your success and your success is my success.”

    Oftentimes, people don’t know where to begin when it comes to community service, often asking themselves, “What can I REALLY do to help?” My answer is to look into your background to find what you are passionate about.

    Not only did my childhood shape my desire to give back, but also my college experiences and 30-plus years in the United States Air Force National Guard. Reaching back to help others is what builds strong communities. We are all standing on the backs of the millions of selfless people who volunteer every day and that volunteerism is what made us who we are today.

    Deborah Scott Thomas is President & Chief Executive Officer at Data Solutions & Technology (DST) Incorporated. She founded the company in 1994 and has served government and private clients for the past 20 years.

  • On Being a Pioneer and a Public Servant...The Challenges and Rewards

    Coral Wong Pietsch

    Stephen H. Lockhart is being honored as a Next Generation of Conservation Leaders Champion of Change.

    What an honor and privilege to have been chosen a White House Champion of Change. Previously, I never considered myself a champion or an agent of change. But as I look back, my life has been filled with opportunities to make a difference and I was curious enough and perhaps adventurous enough to accept those opportunities. Let me share with you a little bit about myself and about some of the opportunities that I have had the fortune of accepting.

    I was born in Iowa. My father is Chinese, my mother is Czech. I grew up in a time when many of the professions were not populated with womenthe law, the military and public service among them.  Fortunately, it was my mother who “nagged” me into going to law school (children of all ages listen to your mother!) and while I was in law school I met my husband, a fellow law student. He was a commissioned officer in the Army and the Army had allowed him to attend law school on a full-time basis. It was through him that I “joined” the Army and this was the beginning of my long, rewarding and wonderful career in public service. 

    I have been in the profession of public service on several levelsstate, national and internationaland at each level I saw the challenges through the lens of a pioneer. When I was commissioned an Army officer, there were approximately 20 women in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps, a Corps consisting of over 1,400 lawyers.

    The challenges included acceptance by my fellow JAG officers, assignments, and career management,  to name a few. But the rewards were astoundingtravel, friendships, personal and professional development, and best of all, I was able to help pave the way for other women. There are now more than 400 women in the Army JAG Corps and in fact, the current Judge Advocate General of the Army is a woman!

    When I was the Chair of the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission, a non-compensated position, the challenge was to improve our processing times and to be responsive to both employees and employers. I took on this challenge knowing that I had to explore new ways of dealing with this backlog.

    In the end, we accomplished our goal and timely and responsive action became the norm. Again, the challenges were many but the rewards were extremely satisfying because the citizenry, and especially those who may have faced discrimination, regained confidence in the process.

    In 2007, the War in Iraq reached new heights and the  "Surge” was implemented. To complement the increase in military strength, a call was made for Department of Defense civilians to volunteer to increase diplomacy and reconstruction efforts. I volunteered and I spent one year in Iraq as the Deputy Rule of Law Coordinator for the Baghdad Provincial Reconstruction Team working side-by-side with the military and going on missions into the heart of Baghdad as the fighting reached its highest point since the beginning of the war.

    This one year tested me on every level and was made more difficult because I was a civilian (civilians working in a combat zone was a rarity). But in that one year I was able to work with the Iraqi Bar Association, numerous Iraqi Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), and the international community to advance the rule of law. In coordination with the Iraqi Bar Association, we established a Legal Aid Clinic at one of Iraq’s largest detention facilities, which is operating to this day. I worked with Iraqi Law Schools on curriculum development; and I worked with NGOs to open up opportunities for Iraqi women. The challenges were oftentimes overwhelming, but the rewards were priceless.

    I looked at each of these endeavors as an opportunity to embrace a difficult situation and to see where it would take me. In the process, I like to think that I have improved the lives of people while at the same time becoming a better person myself. This is what the profession of Public Service is about.  

    Coral Wong Pietsch was the first woman to be promoted to general officer in the United States Army Judge Advocate General and the first woman of Asian ancestry to be promoted to general officer in the Army. She is currently a Judge on the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. She was appointed to the bench in June 2012.

  • Growing Food for Today and Farmers for Tomorrow

    Sonia Kendrick

    Sonia Kendrick is being honored as a Women Veteran Leaders Champion of Change.

    It is an honor to have been selected as a Champion of Change. As a veteran of the war in Afghanistan, I experienced what war and food insecurity can do to a people. I came out with an understanding that whoever controls your food controls you and that our ability to feed ourselves is the root of our democratic right to rule ourselves. I also realized that food security is national security and that plows are greater than swords.

    Returning to civilian life I shoved my military experience into a box under my bed. Two children and four years later the economy collapsed and I was laid off from my factory position. Unable to find a job, I decided to return to school and pursue my dreams of farming.

    At this time, I believed that I could not become a farmer because I was not born into a farm family. I believedas many Americansbelieve that farming is a caste system and is accessible only to those who carried the birthright of land. I thought becoming an agronomist (Farming Scientist) was as close to farming as I could get.

    While attending Iowa State University, I was told that the mantra was "Iowa Feeds the World", yet Iowa has almost 400,000 food insecure people (Feeding America). I found a great disconnect from the mantra and reality, given that Iowa was not even feeding itself.

    In response, I decided to start a small, half-acre vegetable farm in order to get fresh vegetables into local food pantries. About this time the military box under my bed turned into a monster and came out in the form of PTSD. I did not understand what was happening to me and I was barely holding onto my sanity. I found that the work on the farm grounded me in that it gave me a mission and a purpose. Through God’s grace I can serve my people again in a positive way.

    Like many American states, Iowa imports over 90% of its food (Leopold Center). This directly ties the cost of our food to the price of fuel. As fuel prices increase, so will the cost of our food. Without a systems change, we will have more hungry in the future.

    We have a global food system that runs on fossil fuels; a volatile system, considering the population is projecte to increase to 9 billion by 2050. The threat of limited fossil fuels and climate change make it necessary to come out of the global food line and create our own food. Doing so would keep $230 million in Iowa every year (Leopold Center). The USDA says we also need 10,000 new farmers a year in order to meet growing food demands. 

    Food insecurity and the need to change our food system from a transportation-based food system to a locally-based food system are problems that can solve each other. I founded Feed Iowa First to confront food insecurity today by growing food and tomorrow by teaching farmers.

    In my county, there are over 25,000 food insecure people (Feeding America). To feed these 25,000 people their minimum 2.5 cups of vegetables every day for one year, it will take approximately 500 acres. I did a GIS survey of three cities in my county and there are over 800 acres of underutilized land surrounding just churches. So, the land is there to solve the problem of food scarcity, it is only a matter of whether or not we take advantage of it. Currently, we are urban farming in 3 cities in my county and last year produced and donated nearly 22,000 pounds of fresh vegetables.

    Sonia Kendrick is a veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom, and the founder and Executive Director of Feed Iowa First, collaborated in the creation of Women Veteran Farmer Coalition in Iowa and the secretary of Linn CO Food Systems Council. She is most importantly a mother who is concerned with the future of her children.

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