Advice from Alumni Named Among Maryland’s Top 100 Women

By Danielle Ippolito, '13  |  Photos courtesy of the honorees

When The Daily Record named the Top 100 Women in Maryland this year, nine Loyola graduates made the list. The Baltimore-based business newspaper announces the list each March, designating women who have shown extraordinary leadership, community service, and mentoring.

Loyola magazine invited the honorees to answer a few questions about their Loyola experience and their lives since Loyola. They even shared some inspiration and advice, touching on a range of topics from Kelly Clarkson to a Chinese proverb.

Christine D. Cunningham Aspell, ’90
KPMG LLC

Mary Cina Chalawsky, ’84
The Law Offices of Peter G. Angelos PC

Diane D’Aiutolo Collins,’80
Tydings & Rosenberg LLP

Veronica A. Namnun Cool, MSF ’01
Wells Fargo

Carol L. Coughlin, MBA ’95
Bottom Line Growth Strategies

Mary Jean Herron, ’79, M.S. ’80, MBA ’83, MSF ’96
Health Care for the Homeless

Karen E. Pecora-Barbour, ’84
The Barbour Group LLC

Wendi Wagner Peters,’89
Town of Mount Airy

Karen L. Grill Sitnick, M.S. ’74
Baltimore Mayor’s Office of Employment Development

Christine D. Aspell, ’90

1) How has your education from Loyola benefited you in your career?

It has given me a strong moral foundation on which to build my career. This is especially important given that I am a CPA. Above all, my education from Loyola gave me the confidence to be myself and to always be true to myself.

2) What is your current position? How long have you been there?

Partner – audit with KPMG LLP. I started with KPMG right out of college and have been there ever since (22 years). I was an accounting major and am still involved with the accounting department as I currently serve as the chair of the Loyola Accounting Advisory Board. Even after 22 years, I still get to interact with many of the professors that I had as a student.

3) Is there a quote or influential figure/person that has inspired you?

I have had many people in school, career, and life that have inspired me but the one thing that I always say to myself when things get tough is that “what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.” It is important to recognize that we will not always succeed in our ventures. We should then try to understand what happened and then learn from it. Many times we learn the most from our failures. I just wish that I had made a song out of it before Kelly Clarkson!

4) Can you offer any advice to Loyola students today?

Be your best at whatever you do…nothing is too small not to give it your all!

Mary Cina Chalawsky, ’84

1) How has your education from Loyola benefitted you in your career?

I cannot imagine a more wonderful profession than being a lawyer. I have been a litigator my entire legal career. I know that my actions and ability as a lawyer profoundly affect many people in many ways.

I am most grateful to Loyola for the Jesuit education that I received. Loyola’s excellent liberal arts program provided me with a solid foundation for the rigors of law school. Loyola’s high academic standards made me passionate for knowledge and taught me to critically analyze. My professors taught me to question rather than to just accept.

I am passionate about mentoring others. This is a result of my being mentored 31 years ago by two incredible Loyola professors, Antonia Keane (sociology) and Carol Abromaitis (English). I am indebted to these women for directing my pre-law education. They encouraged me to join the Pre-Law Society and to take advantage of Loyola’s community service programs. With their support I was president of the Pre-Law Society from 1983 to 1984, and during Loyola’s month-long winter terms I volunteered several times in the Office of the State’s Attorney for Baltimore City and with the Baltimore City Council.

My involvement with the Pre-Law Society helped me to develop leadership skills that have helped me throughout my legal career. My Jesuit education taught me the value of personal integrity and helping others.

I am grateful to have been recognized for my contributions to the legal profession, and for my commitment to mentoring and community service. Without a doubt my Loyola education and professors provided a foundation for my accomplishments.

2) What is your current position? How long have you been there?

I have been an attorney with the Law Offices of Peter G. Angelos, P.C., since leaving the Office of the State’s Attorney for Baltimore City in July 2000. I have litigated criminal, asbestos-related product liability, personal injury and medical negligence cases. I am currently involved in an environmental mass tort litigation involving groundwater contamination.

3) Is there a quote or influential figure/person that has inspired you?

Growing up my mother frequently said to me and my two younger sisters, “Demmi con qui vi e ti diro que sei.” Translated from Italian it means, “Tell me with whom you go and I will tell you who you are.” My mother’s quote always reminded me of the importance of hard work and personal integrity. It inspires my professional work, as well as my commitment to community and civic activities.

4) Can you offer any advice to Loyola students today?
You must be prepared for when opportunity presents itself. Analyze your future career goals and set a plan. Volunteer as much as possible. The experience and contacts that you will gain as a volunteer are invaluable.

Diane D’Aiutolo Collins, ’80

1) How has your education from Loyola benefitted you in your career?

I loved being a Loyola student. I had amazing teachers and access to a spectacular education. I felt that it provided me with confidence, and the liberal arts curriculum gave me a base of knowledge that has stood me in good stead through all my endeavors. It also gave me one of my truest friends.

2) What is your current position? How long have you been there?

I am a partner at the law firm of Tydings & Rosenberg LLP; I have been with Tydings since 1984, following a judicial clerkship at the Circuit Court for Baltimore City.

3) Is there a quote or influential figure/person that has inspired you?

My mother inspired me to achieve and to be able to support a family on my own. She also let me go—enrolling me at Loyola a year early—without graduating high school. My family inspires me in every way, every day.

4) Can you offer any advice to Loyola students today?

Try everything. Soak it in. Revel in all of your many possibilities.

Veronica A. Cool, MSF ’01

1) How has your education from Loyola benefitted you in your career?

Earning my MSF from Loyola strengthened the foundation on which I built my career. The degree shows one has discipline and drive to accomplish a set goal. Education has been very important to me and my family; my parents emigrated from Dominican Republic with the hope that an advanced education would improve our lot in life. As a contributing member of our State and community, I’m proud to say that I believe it has.

2) What is your current position? How long have you been there?

Currently, I’m a business banker with Wells Fargo, specializing in managing the banking and credit needs of businesses in the region. I have been in banking for over 17 years, and this role for three.

3) Is there a quote or influential figure/person that has inspired you?

“Pay it Forward.” Many opportunities have been granted unselfishly by others whereby I have benefited. Paying it forward is a personal obligation that helps to build legacy, not just for me, but my kids and my community.

4) Can you offer any advice to Loyola students today?

Honored to do so: Work hard, nothing is free nor easy. Give yourself value and worth, strive to be unique and surround yourself with people that lift and encourage you. And find THREE friends, the one that is slightly up ahead, always calling for you to catch up; the one that works aside you, encouraging you to remain steady; and the last one that remains behind, that you encourage and call to catch up.

Carol L. Coughlin, MBA ’95

1) How has your education from Loyola benefitted you in your career?

My MBA program at Loyola prepared me significantly for my career. I took the program at just the right time, though it didn’t seem so at the time on the surface. I worked for a company that was growing significantly and had a director level role. I wondered if I should add another thing on my plate but decided to take on the MBA program anyway. I figured I would find the time somehow. I highly recommend taking the MBA program while having a significant management position. I used my work as the “test kitchen” for my classes. I transformed my team and my operation in the process with the help of the coursework. The two went hand in hand very nicely. As a result of the hard work both on the job and at school, I was promoted to CFO.

2) What is your current position? How long have you been there?

I am founder of BottomLine Growth Strategies, Inc., created in 2006. We are growth advisors providing financial and operational advice to help companies’ growth profitably and sustainably. After spending a number of years as CFO for four larger companies through turnaround, growth, and successful exits, I decided to offer these kinds of services to small- to medium-sized companies that previously had little or no access to this kind of help. I am a CPA and Certified Exit Planning Advisor.

3) Is there a quote or influential figure/person that has inspired you?

“Do the Right Thing.” This is the prevailing philosophy I have in life.

4) Can you offer any advice to Loyola students today?

Yes. Work hard and use your connections to help you. I’ve always had a wonderful mentor in my life and I highly recommend that everyone have a mentor who can provide unbiased, honest feedback to help you grow.

Mary Jean Herron, ’79, M.S. ’80, MBA ’83, MSF ’96

1) How has your education from Loyola benefitted you in your career?

Loyola gave me a broad background academically and a safe place to try my wings. Since I have changed careers several times, the broad curriculum and the successes that I had at Loyola gave me the courage to try new things.

2) What is your current position? How long have you been there?

I am currently the Chief Financial Officer for Health Care for the Homeless and have been there almost six years.

3) Is there a quote or influential figure/person that has inspired you?

Fr. Joseph Sellinger [former Jesuit president of Loyola] was an influential figure for me. A strong leader, he was my initial role model for what leadership is at its best.

4) Can you offer any advice to Loyola students today?

Get involved in as many things as is feasible and meet as many people as you can. You just never know where your career will take you and who may help you on your way.

Karen E. Pecora-Barbour, ’84

1) How has your education from Loyola benefitted you in your career?

Loyola provided me with an excellent liberal arts education. My teachers in political science and history opened my mind and brought to light the psychology behind our leaders and how they managed to woo the world into war, into peace and into messy situations. I’m active legislatively now in Maryland and on the Hill. I enjoy being an advocate for the construction industry, especially small business contractors. I enjoy effecting policy change.

My professors taught me that you cannot control the public but you can control policy and how that policy directs public opinion, etc. It took me time to gather the confidence in my field to fully grasp the empowerment my educators at Loyola instilled in me. I miss them. I wish I could speak to them now and ask all the right questions. What a library of information they were and I think I only got to chapter three.

I have enabled landmark legislation in the state and was able to get a powerful amendment passed with the Stimulus Act, creating a level of support for small business bonding with the SBA (Small Business Administration) that was never seen before. My actions led me to win the Innovator of the Year Award by Daily Record and the USSBA’s Small Business Person of the Year Award for Maryland.

2) What is your current position? How long have you been there?

My current position is president of The Barbour Group LLC. I started my company in 2002, and this year in March we celebrated 10 years in business.

3) Is there a quote or influential figure/person that has inspired you?

“When a [wo]man makes up [her] mind to solve any problem [s]he may at first meet with opposition; but if [s]he holds on and keeps on searching, [s]he will be sure to find some sort of solution. The trouble with most people is that they quit before they start.” Thomas Edison. And, from my mother, may she forever rest in peace, “Don’t sweat the small stuff.”

4) Can you offer any advice to Loyola students today?

Open your minds and don’t be unabashed to ask the stupid questions. Think out loud and realize the library of information your professors have in their mind’s possession and forever pick away at it. It is by far the best resource.

Wendi Wagner Peters, ’89

1) How has your education from Loyola benefitted you in your career?

I am proud to be a Loyola graduate! My education at Loyola has helped me to approach challenges with confidence and an open mind. I also feel my education at Loyola helped to reinforce the importance of the relationship between leadership and service.

2) What is your current position? How long have you been there?

I just completed my second term (eight years) as an elected councilwoman for my hometown, Mount Airy, Md. I am the third generation of my family to have the honor to serve in this capacity, having followed my grandfather and my father. Prior to being elected, I volunteered in various capacities over the preceding 15 years. My elected position was “part time.” By day I work as a paralegal at the Baltimore law firm of Ober, Kaler, Grimes, and Shriver. I have been with the firm over 25 years and am grateful for their support of my community involvement. I have also been part of Ober Kaler’s mentoring programs with Baltimore City schools.

3) Is there a quote or influential figure/person that has inspired you?

I have been inspired by my parents who worked very hard with the family business, were very active in the lives of their three children, and still made serving others in and around our community a priority. They exemplified both in word and deed, the Winston Churchill quote, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”

4) Can you offer any advice to Loyola students today?

I am very proud that my son is currently a Loyola student (having just completed his freshman year), and I do try to offer him advice! I stress to him (and would offer the same advice to others) the importance of the education and growth of “the whole person” (academics, faith, and service), and the importance of maintaining a healthy balance in life.

Karen L. Sitnick, M.S. ’74

1) How has your education from Loyola benefitted you in your career?

Obtaining my master’s degree from Loyola positioned me for high-level positions in the career area I wished to pursue and opened the door for me to begin to build my career pathway. In a highly competitive job market, it is a significant advantage to have post graduate credentials from a well-regarded educational institution, like Loyola.

2) What is your current position? How long have you been there?

I am the director of the Baltimore City Mayor’s Office of Employment Development (MOED) which is a cabinet-level position in the mayor’s administration. I have been with the MOED for 28 years, having had the opportunity to move up the career ladder by gaining experience as a front-line career counselor, several management-level positions and finally to being appointed by then Mayor O’Malley to head the agency in March 2000.
3) Is there a quote or influential figure/person that has inspired you?

There is an old Chinese proverb I regularly reflect on as it helps me stay focused on our work and our mission, despite the significant challenges we often address:
“We have made a start on discovering the meaning of human life when we plant a shade tree under which we know we will never sit.”

4) Can you offer any advice to Loyola students today?

My advice to Loyola students is to find your passion and make it your work.

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