We are fierce

Tiger women conquer business, arts, athletics and education.

We are Fierce

Tiger women master business, arts and education

The first women were admitted to Mizzou in 1876, 37 years after the university's founding. At that time they were allowed only into the teacher-preparation program Normal College, from which Mary Louise “Lulie” Gillett became the first woman graduate in 1870. In fall 2013 women made up more than half — 52 percent — of Mizzou's student population and set a Greek Life record, with 1,756 sorority recruits. Women hold key MU positions as deans, division directors, department chairs, vice chancellors and vice provosts — and as internationally renowned educators and researchers. We celebrate International Women's Day March 8 and Women's History Month throughout March. Meet a dozen Mizzou women who are finding success in classrooms and board rooms, on playing fields and battlefields, and in laboratories and studios. Hear them roar.

Jessica Hawk, roller derby dame
Jessica Hawke

Audio transcriptWhen Jessica Hawk, an MU alumna with a degree in physical anthropology, saw a reality show about roller derby she said to herself, “Man, those girls look so cool, but they are so above me; they are so beyond anything I can do.” She thought of herself as bookish, unathletic, asthmatic. “I never saw myself as a physically capable person,” says Hawk, a diagnostic PCR lab technician. But when Columbia got its own roller derby league, she gathered enough courage to give it a shot. Eight years later, going by the derby name Maimy Fisher, Hawk is president of the Como Derby Dames. “Derby has changed my perception of myself incredibly,” she says. “It really is an empowering thing.”

Lauren Rundquist, entrepreneur
Lauren Rundquist

Audio transcriptLauren Rundquist, an MU senior majoring in journalism, is an artist and entrepreneur. As an elementary-school student, Rundquist crafted handmade items such as bookmarks and greeting cards, sold them during the holidays and then donated the money she made to charitable organizations such as the American Cancer Society, the American Red Cross and Heifer International. As a high-school student, she made custom jewelry and sold her creations to boutiques. As an MU student, she began seeking “a truly mobile canvas” that would allow her artwork to be displayed and shared in a new way. She started making custom art on TOMS shoes and now paints Converse, Vans, wedges and boots as well. She sells her creations through her Etsy boutique LaQuist. Several hundred pairs of shoes have been donated by the TOMS One for One movement to children in developing nations as a result of purchases made at LaQuist.

Joan Gabel, dean
Joan Gabel

Audio transcriptJoan Gabel, dean of the Robert J. Trulaske Sr. College of Business, started college when she was just 16 years old, with plans to become a doctor. Gabel was “blown away” by a philosophy class and changed her major to philosophy. After she graduated, she worked in industry but wanted to do something challenging, so she went to law school. Although she liked practicing law, she missed her work in industry and that feeling from her first philosophy class. A mentor suggested that she would make a good academic, and she finally found her calling. She worked as a professor and an administrator at Florida State University and Georgia State University before joining Mizzou.

Traci Payne, veteran
Traci Payne

Audio transcriptAfter serving for 12 years in the United States Air Force, Traci Payne came to Mizzou in fall 2012 to pursue a bachelor’s degree in journalism. She plans to work in public relations. “I wanted to do something more,” Payne says. “I wanted to learn more; I wanted to be more. I loved my time in the military, but it’s not what I saw for my future.” Payne started doing yoga three years ago. She credits the practice with helping her stay calm despite the pressures of college life. She is currently attending an Air Force photojournalism course in Maryland.

DeeDee Folkerts, actor
DeeDee Folkerts

Audio transcriptDeeDee Folkerts, a teaching assistant at the Shelden Clinical Simulation Center, has always been a performer. As a child, she directed her friends and performed in front of her parents. Folkerts chose midwifery as a career path, but six years ago she got a chance to be in a theatrical production, which motivated her to audition for a show. She got the part. Since then she has performed in several other stage productions and has started to act in films as well. “Deep in my heart I’m a clown,” she says. “I want to make people laugh. I end up doing a lot of dramatic works, but if I had my wish — my heart’s desire — it would be to make people laugh all the time.”

Haelena Schwemmer, golfer
Haelena Schwemmer

Audio transcriptHaelena Schwemmer, a MU junior majoring in mechanical engineering, is a member of the MU women’s golf team. With a 3.8 grade point average, for the past three years she has earned the Chick Evans Caddie Scholarship, a full tuition and housing scholarship for golf caddies. Last year she also was honored with the Mizzou Athletics "For the Love of the Game" award, given to a walk-on student-athlete who makes significant contributions to the team. She plans to work for a golf-club manufacturer as an engineer after she graduates.

Farah El-Jayyousi, advocate
Farah El-Jayyousi

Audio transcriptFarah El-Jayyousi, a MU junior double-majoring in psychology and women’s and gender studies, was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in May 2012, just before her 19th birthday. This experience helped her reconnect with her faith and approach life with a new perspective. She is the president of Muslim Student Organization (MSO) and an advocate for social justice. “A lot of verses in the Quran advocate justice between people,” El-Jayyousi says. Her involvement in social justice-issues stems from a desire to eradicate the sort of religious discrimination she has faced throughout her life.

Jeanne Szkolka, dancer
Jeanne Szkolka

Audio transcriptJeanne Szkolka, an MU alumna who holds a bachelor’s degree in economics, is the owner and director of Columbia Dance Academy, in operation for almost 20 years. Miss Jeanne, as her students call her, has a background in ballet, modern, jazz and tap dance as well as tumbling. Her dance career has included a scholarship to the National Academy of Arts in Champaign, Ill.

Kate Walker, powerlifter
Kate Walker

Audio transcriptKate Walker, a training coordinator for MU Campus Facilities, was a dancer for many years but had to stop because of osteoarthritis. Tom La Fontaine, director of Optimus gym, introduced her to competitive powerlifting. Now she is a member of Team USA for the American Drug Free Powerlifting Federation (ADFPF) and holds five world records and several national and state records in her age and weight class. She became the world champion for a sixth time in October 2013. Walker was featured in Sports Illustrated in 2011, was named the WIN Gladys Stankowski Sportswoman of the Year in 2011 and was named the Show-Me State Games Female Athlete of the Year in 2012. Walker also teaches yoga for MU's T.E. Atkins Program and Optimus.

Madelyn Munsell, music producer
Madelyn Munsell

Audio transcriptMadelyn Munsell started losing her hair when she was about 18 months old. By the time she was 2, she had been diagnosed with alopecia areata, a condition in which her white blood cells attack her hair cells. She was bullied by classmates in elementary and middle school, and she grappled with self-esteem issues. Munsell reached a low point as a freshman in high school when her dad was on duty in Iraq. But her outlook was changed by a friend’s text message quoting the Bible verse John 16:33: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” She altered her attitude and gained self-confidence. “Being different is something that makes you very beautiful,” she says. “It takes a special kind of person to realize that.” She was crowned prom queen her junior year in high school. Now a junior at MU, Munsell is a music major and a member of Show-Me Opera troupe and the selective choral ensemble University Singers. Last year she released her first album, Layla, and she is now working on her second.

Meera Chandrasekhar, teacher
Meera Chandrasekhar

Audio transcriptDr. Meera Chandrasekhar is the 2014 recipient of the Baylor University Robert Foster Cherry Award for Great Teaching, the only national award for exceptional teaching at the university level. “I think it is wonderful that teaching is recognized as an important activity, and I am looking forward to continued conversations on a national level about the importance of teaching,” Chandrasekhar says. Chandrasekhar is no stranger to awards. She has been honored with the 1997 University of Missouri William T. Kemper Fellowship for Teaching Excellence, the 1999 Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, presented by President Bill Clinton, and the 2006 University of Missouri System Presidential Award for Outstanding Teaching. Originally from India, Chandrasekhar came to the US in 1970 to pursue doctorate in physics at Brown University. After a short stint as a postdoc at the Max Planck Institute in Germany, she joined the faculty of MU’s Department of Physics and Astronomy in 1983. She is currently teaching a class, Exploring the Principles of Physics, for students who plan to become elementary school teachers.

Chantel George, Mizzou Idol
Chantel George

Audio transcriptThe third time was a charm for Chantel George, who triumphed at the 2014 Mizzou Idol singing competition after her two unsuccessful attempts. George, an MU junior majoring in communication, has been singing since she was 8 years old, when she and her family moved to the U.S. from Nigeria. She regards her time spent at a performing-arts academy highly. “It wasn’t until then that I really developed my voice and realized what kind of a singer I was, and I knew that I wasn’t just a singer but also a performer,” George says. She sees herself working as a public-relations representative for a renowned entertainment company in the future, but before that she wants to pursue music in L.A. “just to see if I really do have it.”

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