Release Date: 
Monday, March 25, 2019

Women's Recognition Luncheon 2019 supports students, inspires community

Sylvia Santana gives a high five to Samantha Kavalhuna (held by her father, Russ)
State Senator Sylvia Santana (left) gives a high five to Samantha Kavalhuna, held by her father, HFC President Russ Kavalhuna. Trustee Roxanne McDonald looks on. More photos are at the bottom of this page, and on our Facebook gallery.

HFC’s annual Women’s Recognition Luncheon, hosted at the Student and Culinary Arts Center March 22, 2019, was a packed house of guests representing the local community, civic dignitaries, the Board of Trustees, and Henry Ford College students, faculty, and staff.

The event raises funds for Student Outreach and Support Services and the Student Emergency Fund, which provides students with assistance in times of need. Dr. Brenda Hildreth, an HFC Counselor, chairs a committee of 14 women who work for months on every detail of the event, in collaboration with Culinary Arts faculty and students, Facilities, and others.

Congresswoman Debbie Dingell, Dearborn Mayor John O’Reilly, and Councilwoman Leslie Herrick are annual attendees and were active participants again this year. An elegant meal was provided by the students of the HFC Culinary Arts program. Many members of the HFC community donated baskets and items for auction.

At the luncheon, three outstanding women from HFC, along with Community Role Model Award winner EmmaJean Woodyard, were honored. Their award nominations are below.

Opening: women in leadership are a powerful symbol

President Russ Kavalhuna, attending his first-ever Women’s Recognition Luncheon, included his wife, Courtney, and his daughter, Samantha, in the festivities as he kicked off the event. He recognized the importance of women in leadership, both in the world and in his own life. He noted that his mother has always been, and remains, a strong example of leadership for him -- as his wife is and his daughter will become.

President Kavalhuna talked about the importance of symbols in our lives, and the fact that women in leadership is a powerful symbol of possibility. “Powerful women in leadership roles are an embodiment of the idea that you can achieve great things, and sometimes you have to fight for them,” he said. “One hundred years ago, women couldn’t even vote in this country. I want my daughter to grow up seeing strong women leaders across our country and our world. I’m very proud of women in leadership at this College, because it demonstrates what our culture values. And I’m proud to embrace and celebrate our culture through women in leadership.”

Symbols of honor: Debbie Dingell and John Dingell

Following Kavalhuna’s remarks, the guests took a moment to commemorate a great man and friend, Congressman John Dingell, who passed away Feb. 7. The years of his service were extraordinary, but most important was the quality of his service, with commitment, a strong moral compass, and integrity. Congresswoman Debbie Dingell was invited to the stage to receive flowers and to stand with the community during a moment of silence to honor her late husband.

Panel discussion: Where do dreams begin?

The event’s panel discussion, led by business faculty member and 2018 Women's Recognition Award winner Jacqueline Lawson, included HFC President Russ Kavalhuna, Michigan State Senator Sylvia Santana, HFC alumna Takwa Saleh, and Early College student Yasmeen Berry, who is just 16 years old. The first question was presented to all panel members, and evoked their earliest dreams of what they wanted to do with their lives.

President Kavalhuna’s early dreams were to be a basketball player. Fortunately for him, adults in his life steered him in a more achievable direction, and he’s now on his third career path, which he says is by far the most rewarding.

Senator Santana said she always wanted to be a diplomat, because she loved people and had the advantage of learning in an immersion environment where she learned a second language as a child.

Ms. Saleh dreamed of becoming a pharmacist, because she was a translator for her parents and was very social, so she sought a career in health care. She is now a recreational therapist.

Ms. Berry’s dream is to become a doctor by age 25. She’s well on her way, and she says she intentionally takes classes outside her comfort zone so she can find a specialty that will stand out as she follows her career path.

Mentoring was another theme of the panel, and all four panelists commented on the life-changing influence a good mentor can have, even during a short period of mentorship.

With the theme “imagine the possibilities,” it was natural to talk about how women have overcome significant barriers. President Kavalhuna talked about the women who were prominent in his (previous) male-dominated professions as an airline pilot and an attorney. “Sometimes, a woman has to become the best in her field just to overcome the barriers she faces,” he said. “They often have to overcome preconceptions and ignorance by people who are unable to see them in successful roles.” The greatest difference in their success, he pointed out, was education.

His one-sentence encouragement to women who are considering their future today: “We will support you in accepting that there is no limitation to what you can accomplish.”

Senator Santana stressed the need for a vision: Who are you? What do you want to be? How will you get there? Dreams are great, but it’s action that makes them real.

Faculty Award Winner: Linda Brandt

Linda Brandt is a full-time faculty member in the HFC Biology department. Her nominator was Chris Briggs. Her award was presented by colleague and Business faculty member Jacqueline Lawson. An excerpt from her nomination follows.

Linda Brandt has been a supporter of students and the college as a full-time instructor since 1990.

She has long been dedicated to Student Learning and Student Success over the years and works tirelessly to help students in endless ways:
1. Assistance to Students and Support of Student Applications to Professional Schools and Scholarships:
Linda has written over 300 letters of recommendation to Medical, Pharmacy, Dental, Veterinary, and other professional and graduate programs.
2. Pre-Professional Biology Program / Biological Sciences area of study and track in General Science Studies
She is dedicated to biology students working toward a professional degree in medicine, dentistry, pharmacy, biochemistry, marine biology natural resources, etc. She developed the Pre-Professional Biology program and served as its director since its inception. She serves as a role model to women and men in laboratories where working collaboratively and respectfully is essential. She stresses respect for all cultures, races, and both sexes.
3. Honors Students Directed Studies:
• Sara Luna Salman, one of the students whom Linda mentored entered her research project and paper in the LAND (Liberal Arts Network for Development) 2018 conference. Ms. Salman was chosen and won one of the awards in the Natural Science and Health category.
• Tiffany Feebish and Abear Awada were selected by the LAND Conference Committee as first place winners in the Natural and Health Sciences category
• Jason Lucas won first place in the Philosophy Category and Imane Rhaleb won second in the Natural and Health Sciences category.

Since arriving at the college in 1990, Linda Brandt has taken on many leadership roles in college governance, including:
1. College Senate
2. Current Chair, Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Online Course Evaluation Committee
3. Past Chair of Biology Department
4. Union Involvement, including the Executive Board for six+ years and member of Contract Negotiating Team
5. Scientific, Cultural and Geopolitical History of the World Mural
6. Chair of Strategic Planning Committee 2010-11
7. Co-Chair of Assessment Committee
8. Founding member of Advisory Board to Women’s Institute for National and Global Success

Staff Award Winner: Katrina Minnis

Katrina Minnis is an enrollment associate. Her nominators were Jodi Kenney and Kierra Wilson. An excerpt from the nominations follows.

"Katrina is very passionate and dedicated to her job and the committees she serves on. She is currently the vice president of the Support staff Association. She previously served on the CPI workforce diversity team and as chair of the Operations Council. She is always looking for ways to improve our processes and looking to improve students' overall experience at HFC.

"She was a key influencer in having charging stations installed on campus. She always has the students' best interest at heart. It has been a pleasure to be her coworker over the last 10+ years."

"Katrina has served the college for many years and has taken on many leadership roles during that time. She is currently the Executive Vice President of the SSA."

Administrator Award Winner: Debbie Szymanski

Debbie Szymanski is associate dean, School of Health and Human Services. Her nominator was Kathy A Campbell, Ophthalmic Technician Program Director. An excerpt from her nomination follows.

"Debbie is a very selfless individual who is always willing to help no matter how busy she may be. A champion for student success and a mentor to colleagues, faculty and staff. Debbie Szymanski joined Henry Ford College in 1981. She is currently the Associate Dean for the School of Human and Health Services.

"Debbie is a Registered Respiratory Therapist and holds a master’s degree from University of Michigan. During her 30-plus years at Henry Ford College, Debbie has held the position of Program Director for Respiratory Therapy and has received many accolades from the Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care (CoARC). She has been the Department Chair of Health Careers while five programs underwent successful accreditation processes and is now the Assistant Dean for the School of Health and Human Services.

"Debbie is an inspirational leader who exhibits personal excellence in everything she does. She has led the CPI team to improve the wait list process for Health Careers, as well as being the Chair of the Curriculum Committee. She encourages staff to be all that they can be. Debbie demonstrates patience, care, and understanding and provides excellent mentorship. The School of Health and Human Services has welcomed several new Program Directors in the past 4 years and Debbie has been instrumental in making the Program Directors feel welcome, helped guide decision-making processes, taught them about college policies and is a constant inspiration to all."

Gene L. Brazell Community Role Model Award: EmmaJean Woodyard

Woodyard, director of the Dearborn Community Fund, received her award from her nominator, Dearborn City Councilwoman Leslie Herrick. Read the complete story on Woodyard’s award here.

Next year’s Women’s Recognition Luncheon will take place March 20, 2020. Mark your calendars!