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Pepperdine Outstanding Alumni | Women in Leadership

Selected from nearly 500 nominations of alumnae from across the Pepperdine community, these 32 outstanding women in leadership understand the power that confidence has on their journeys to success

In the book The Confidence Code, coauthors Katty Kay and Claire Shipman examine the transformative impact of inviting confidence into women’s daily lives and the critical role that it plays in the ability of women to succeed. Beyond inspiring women to harness their inherent instincts to rise to action, take risks, and not fear failure, tapping into their confidence—what the authors call an “elemental resource”—rewires their brains to think and behave differently.


Selected from nearly 500 nominations of alumnae from across the Pepperdine community, these 32 outstanding women in leadership understand the power that confidence has on their journeys to success, both in their personal lives and in their careers. Discover how they are lifting their voices and sharing their stories to create the spaces required for their contemporaries and successors to thrive.

Excerpts have been edited for length and clarity.

See each honoree's full responses


Cortney Baker - Pepperdine MagazineCortney Baker (EdD ’15)

Fairview, Texas
CEO/Owner, KidsCare Home Health

A single teenage mother on Medicaid and food stamps, Cortney Baker gave birth to her first child six months after graduating from high school. She put herself through college when her son was two and went on to earn a master’s degree in communication disorders and sciences. Feeling herself undervalued in the workplace, she decided at 28—with no prior experience—to start her own business.

Baker pressed on to open a pediatric home healthcare agency and began providing speech therapy for 10 children with disabilities. In 16 years, the company grew to more than 600 employees in 11 locations.

Curious as to why the gender gap continues to exist in the 21st-century workforce, Baker enrolled in Pepperdine’s organizational leadership doctoral program to explore the challenges women face when climbing the corporate ladder. She is now changing the future of leadership for women by helping them become CEOs through the power of entrepreneurship.

Alexis Bonnell - Pepperdine MagazineAlexis Bonnell (’99)

Washington, DC
Chief Innovation Officer, USAID

At USAID Alexis Bonnell has delivered humanitarian and development programming in more than 25 countries and in almost every sector from education to stabilization, with partners including the United Nations, US government, academia, and the private sector. Her work focuses on how to leverage science, technology, innovation, and partnership for greater impact.

Her more than 20 years of experience in management, communications, and innovation have provided her opportunities to work with Wall Street, dot-coms, the Middle East peace plan, Afghan and Iraqi elections, and on global emergency response coordination and major logistics operations. Bonnell is also the founder of the Global Innovation Exchange and has witnessed the development and philanthropic communities’ investments in innovation, changing millions of lives globally.

Kym Dildine - Pepperdine MagazineKym Dildine (’03, MBA ’08)

Clovis, California
Chief Administrative Officer, Central California Food Bank

What was Pepperdine's role in your success?

Early in my freshman year, I experienced servant leadership and a ministry of hospitality during weekly Bible studies hosted by President and First Lady Benton. At the time it felt so natural and commonplace that I didn’t fully appreciate the sacrifice and dedication it took for them to open their home, be fully present in our lives, and at the same time successfully lead the University.

What's next?

I currently lead our team in addressing poverty and hunger in our community. My goal is to make an even larger impact in Central California because no one should have to go to bed hungry.

Kim Folsom - Pepperdine MagazineKim Folsom (MBA ’02)

San Diego, California
Cofounder, CEO and Managing Partner, Founders First Capital Partners LLC
Founder and Interim CEO, LIFT Development Enterprises, Inc.

Prior to attending business school, Kim Folsom spent eight years trying to start her own venture-backed technology business as an underrepresented founder. At the Graziadio Business School, her cohort helped her develop the confidence and strategy to launch her first start-up tech company, SeminarSource.com.

Folsom later cofounded Founders First Capital Partners in San Diego and LIFT Development Enterprises, Inc. In both organizations, she leverages her years of entrepreneurial experience to address the gap in funding to companies led by underserved and diverse founders.

Before launching LIFT and Founders First, Folsom founded, led, and built startups for which she raised $30 million in institutional venture financing. She recently launched her seventh firm, a revenue-based venture fund with $100 million in committed capital.

Brynn Foster - Pepperdine MagazineBrynn Foster (’95)

Waialua, Hawaii
Founder and Director, Voyaging Foods

A few years out of college, Brynn Foster was living on Oahu, where she felt heavily influenced by the traditions of her Hawaiian ancestry and her tutu, or grandmother. While in Oahu, she became interested in regenerative agriculture and traditional methods of farming in Hawai’i. Following the birth of her son, she searched for a healthy, allergen-free teething biscuit for babies and started making them herself from taro—the same root vegetable her ancestors had fed their babies in the form of poi. This marriage of family, tradition, and passion for agriculture led to the founding of her company, Voyaging Foods, which makes baked goods and flours from native plants.

What was Pepperdine's role in your success?

Pepperdine prepared me to be an advocate, and my work now is all about the inclusion of indigenous voices, particularly those of local farmers and women. I will continue to create healthy, holistic foods that incorporate the local plants, community, and culture.

Sylvia Franson - Pepperdine MagazineSylvia Franson (’87)

Laguna Niguel, California
Vice President, West Coast Advertising Sales, NBCUniversal

What does this recognition mean to you?

It brings me great pride to see Pepperdine celebrating women who are breaking down social barriers and paving the way for other women to succeed.

Success Story

My parents were immigrants from Mexico who worked tirelessly to provide for my four siblings and me. My parents’ struggle inspired me to work toward a better life for myself and future generations. Today I have careers in both corporate America with NBCU and as an entrepreneur as the owner of a winery business. I believe in dreaming big, and then bigger.

What was Pepperdine's role in your success?

Through career coaching, judging marketing pitches, or hiring Pepperdine alumni, Pepperdine has engaged me in ways that help guide students and young professionals in their careers.

Jules (Juli) L. Frost - Pepperdine MagazineJules (Juli) L. Frost (’90)

Chexbres, Switzerland
Head of Programmes and Partnerships, Core Humanitarian Standard Alliance

What's next for you?

In a time of unprecedented scrutiny of humanitarian organizations, the CHS Alliance is more important than ever. Today more than 200 million people require assistance due to natural hazards caused by climate change, displacement, and more protracted conflicts. The CHS Alliance, which promotes the Core Humanitarian Standard, is one of the most influential global networks promoting quality and accountability. I am proud to be part of a team committed to making aid work better for the people we serve.

What was Pepperdine's role in your success?

Pepperdine opened the door to the world for me, first through my year abroad in Florence, Italy, and then during two summer mission trips to Africa. Through these priceless experiences, I formed lifetime friendships and discovered my calling to serve the most vulnerable in the hardest-to-reach places.

Nury Gomez - Pepperdine MagazineNury Gomez (MBA ’12)

El Segundo, California
CEO, Accounting Breeze

In 2013 Nury Gomez was laid off from her role as COO of a veterinary company. Four months later, she lost her beloved brother who had asked her to help with his bookkeeping during his US Navy service. Amid intense grieving, Gomez found what she calls “mortality motivation,” and within seven months, Accounting Breeze, her one-woman tax-accounting, bookkeeping, and financial services company, was born.

How would you describe your leadership style?

I care deeply, both personally and professionally, about the people I work with. I enjoy communicating and resolving conflicts peacefully, and I believe in leveraging people’s strengths. I use my intuition and wisdom to help others because I love sharing ways for them to avoid obstacles.

What is your mantra or favorite quote?

Condition yourself to not talk yourself out of it.

Jessica N. Grounds - Pepperdine MagazineJessica N. Grounds (’03)

San Diego, California
Cofounder, Mine The Gap

At 22, Jessica Grounds volunteered with an organization called Women Under Forty Political Action Committee in Washington, DC, that supported young women running for Congress. Years later she became its president and cofounded Running Start, an organization that inspires high school- and college-age women to build the skills to run for elected office and lead in various capacities.

Running Start has trained more than 15,000 young women leaders, an experience that gave Grounds the opportunity to travel with the US Department of State to speak about the importance of women’s leadership in Tajikistan, Lesotho, Germany, Panama, and Rwanda.

Today at Mine The Gap, she advises Fortune 500 companies, government agencies, and organizations on the financial imperative of attracting and promoting women in their organizations.

“I love stories of women who had a vision for what they wanted to see changed and made it happen,” she says. “I’ve been encouraging other women to step into political leadership my whole career. It might be about time to take my own advice.”

Dawn Solheim Grove - Pepperdine MagazineDawn Solheim Grove (JD ’91)

Phoenix, Arizona
Corporate Counsel, Karsten Manufacturing Corporation, PING, and Other Subsidiaries

Success Story

In addition to providing counsel, handling legal issues, and doing business work, I have the privilege of helping the broader manufacturing and business community in Arizona and across the US work together to maximize job opportunities, safeguard constitutional freedoms (including religious freedoms), and accomplish good in the world.

Challenge to Lesson

When I felt overwhelmed attempting to maintain my legal career and be a mom to a toddler and a very sick premie baby, my grandmother encouraged me to ask for help, work part-time, and be there for my family. I watched her example as, while my grandpa worked nonstop, she found creative ways to work beside him. She truly was the business brilliance behind Karsten Manufacturing Corporation’s early success.

Janie Weng Grumley - Pepperdine MagazineJanie Weng Grumley (’00)

Manhattan Beach, California
Director, Margie Petersen Breast Center, John Wayne Cancer Institute, Providence Saint John’s Health Center

Success Story

I moved to Seattle for my first job as a surgical breast oncologist at Virginia Mason Hospital and brought new approaches and technologies in breast cancer treatment. I trained my partner in oncoplastic surgery to improve patient outcomes and started the first intraoperative radiation program in the state of Washington.

At the Margie Petersen Breast Center, we strive to eliminate unnecessary wait times for women who have benign breast symptoms, facilitate coordinated care with newly diagnosed women, and offer women novel surgical techniques that reduce the need for a mastectomy and maintain the aesthetics of the breast. We use single-dose intraoperative radiation therapy for those who qualify to minimize the risks of radiation while maximizing disease control.

Tricia Halsey - Pepperdine MagazineTricia Halsey (’03)

Denver, Colorado
Founder and Executive Director, Big Idea Project

Success Story

Big Idea Project is a pioneer in shifting the education paradigm from test-centric to student-first by providing content, experience, and coaching that transforms the way students think, feel, and behave. In just six years, it has earned the trust of education leaders as the only turn-key, whole-student development curriculum in Colorado that is fully integrated into all types of high schools as a stand-alone class that meets graduation requirements. Students—including the more than 3,000 who have experienced the positive impact of the program since its inception—graduate with greater confidence, character, and skills, and teachers are choosing to stay in the profession when they are otherwise ready to leave.

Carrie Hastings - Pepperdine MagazineCarrie Hastings (MA ’06, PsyD ’11)

Westlake Village, California
Team Psychologist, Los Angeles Rams

Success Story

Throughout my athletic career, I went through various personal challenges that impacted my focus and overall functioning. I didn’t have access to a sport psychologist but could have used one. After pursuing psychology, I felt particularly compelled to help athletes address mental and emotional stressors that can interfere with performance because I could relate to that struggle.

Challenge to Lesson

I endured a season-ending injury toward the end of my junior year of college, preventing me from attending the conference championship track meet. I was devastated. That experience exposed me to the “invisible injuries” that can accompany physical injuries. I had to distinguish between controllable and uncontrollable elements and be patient with the rehabilitation process. I realized that recovery is a combination of physical and psychological healing.

What's next?

I would say, “I’m going to Disneyland!” but the Rams have to win the Super Bowl first.

Yasmeen Hibrawi - Pepperdine MagazineYasmeen Hibrawi (MBA ’08)

Dubai, United Arab Emirates
US Diplomat, US Department of State

Success Story

I help bring the diversity of America to our diplomatic corps and am convinced that my engagement internally and representation externally are essential to the success of our foreign policy.

Challenge to Lesson

In 2016 I was part of a small team that led negotiations with international leaders for President Obama’s Leaders’ Summit on Refugees. I briefed US ambassadors, senior White House directors, and State Department leadership on a strategy that would have a tangible impact on the world’s most vulnerable people. I helped persuade governments to give more money than ever before, admit refugees into their countries, and offer them access to public services. In the end, the summit increased humanitarian assistance by $4.5 billion, doubled the number of resettled refugees worldwide, and allowed millions access to education and employment.

What's next?

I’m committed to increasing diversity in international affairs, especially in top leadership positions at the State Department. True diversity represented in our diplomatic corps sends a strong message to the world about the importance of inclusivity in America, which leads to more effective diplomacy around the world. I will continue to mentor and encourage minorities to take an active role in international affairs and civic participation so that Americans and our allies can see the diversity of our country in the individuals that represent it.

Danielle L. Hickman - Pepperdine MagazineDanielle L. Hickman (JD ’97)

Washington, DC
Trial Attorney, US Department of Justice, Criminal Division, Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section

Success Story

After completing my LLM in London, I worked with UNHCR to assist refugees from the Middle East and North Africa, including Kurds fleeing genocide in Iraq in the late 1990s. In 1999 I documented war crimes in Kosovo with International Crisis Group. While dangerous, it was the first time these victims of ethnic cleansing had the chance to tell their stories. In the years that followed, I was a prosecutor focused on crimes against women, children, and other vulnerable individuals who are too often victimized by those closest to them. I have been afforded opportunities to make a difference in the lives of survivors and sometimes on behalf of those who didn’t survive.

Challenge to Lesson

In 1999, as the civil war in Kosovo ended, I interviewed survivors and documented ethnic cleansing and other war crimes. On one occasion, masked men with AK-47s came to our home in the middle of the night demanding we turn over our Albanian coworkers. Although there were moments of terror, I learned that I’m tougher than I thought and that great things are only accomplished with persistence, courage, and the help of others.

Kielle Horton - Pepperdine MagazineKielle Horton (’02, MA ’05)

Santa Barbara, California
Vice President, Lindsey Communications and The Lindsey Foundation

What does this recognition mean to you?

Women have the ability to be tremendously impactful in bringing other women forward as mentors to offer guidance to continue the chain of progressing influence and as the most effective support system to encourage professional and personal growth.

Challenge to Lesson

Opening the county’s first shelter for survivors of human trafficking and sexual exploitation in 2018 as president of the Junior League of Santa Barbara was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever attempted. Accomplishing shelter in one of the nation’s most expensive housing markets, working with the State of California under brand-new legislation, and fundraising for a project that may or may not have come to fruition was nothing short of a miracle. During that exact time, the Santa Barbara community was in crisis during the Thomas Fire and Montecito mudslide disasters. We accomplished that project because so many stepped up in a thousand different ways. I now understand that even a small gesture of support can make a profound impact on a seemingly impossible project.

Sara Young Jackson - Pepperdine MagazineSara Young Jackson (’74)

Westlake Village, California
Chancellor, Pepperdine University

Sara Young Jackson has been part of the Pepperdine community since childhood and has served the University in key leadership roles since 1979. As Pepperdine’s chancellor and member of the senior leadership team, Jackson cultivates meaningful relationships to extend the University’s local and global reach.

As the daughter of the third president of Pepperdine, M. Norvel Young, and his wife, Helen, Jackson began her decades-long career at Pepperdine as the assistant director of student life and later collaborated with students to design and launch the Pepperdine Volunteer Center. Harnessing her background in marriage and family therapy and passion for strengthening families, Jackson helped establish the Boone Center for the Family and served as its executive director.

Fueled by her enthusiasm for developing women leaders, Jackson, in partnership with Pepperdine’s human resources department and Center for Women in Leadership, launched the Women in Leadership Institute at Pepperdine, a program that nurtures the career and spiritual development of young women leaders at the University through mentorship and fellowship.

LaNiece Jones - Pepperdine MagazineLaNiece Jones (MA ’12)

Oakland, California
Executive Director, Peralta Colleges Foundation and Black Women Organized for Political Action (BWOPA)

Success Story

In 1995 I worked on my first electoral campaign for one of Oakland’s most beloved political and civic leaders, the Honorable Dezie Woods-Jones, who was running for a seat in the California State Legislature. I met a number of powerful women in politics and civic leadership who were part of Black Women Organized for Political Action. It has been extremely valuable to meet and work with impassioned women in the social justice movement whose objectives have been to increase the number of women’s voices and perspectives in public policy.

What's next?

For Peralta Community College, my goal is to continue to secure enough funding for our students so that anyone who needs financial assistance while in school can receive it no matter how great the need.

Silvia Armitano Mah - Pepperdine MagazineSilvia Armitano Mah (’95)

San Diego, California
President and COO, Connect w/ San Diego Venture Group

Success Story

My mission is to promote, nurture, and invest in transformational startups that allow women and diverse founders to excel around the world. I have identified challenges unique to female entrepreneurs and underserved founders and have created a combination of supportive endeavors to build strong innovation ecosystems, from university programs to inclusive opportunities for women.

I am the new president and COO of Connect w/ San Diego Venture Group and a founding partner of Ad Astra Ventures, an organization that funds high-growth female-led startups and accelerates their momentum. My portfolio of more than 30 angel investments all have female founders or people of color on their leadership teams. I also advocate and accelerate university undergraduate startups as a former student programs diversity director at the University of California, San Diego.

Jackie Beaubian Majors - Pepperdine MagazineJackie Beaubian Majors (MA ’96)

Los Angeles, California
CEO, Crystal Stairs, Inc.

Success Story

My career in early care and education began when I was 19 as a childcare provider at a childcare center. I worked with families that often didn’t know where their next meal would come from and remember waiting with a worried 4-year-old after closing time because her mom’s car broke down and she had to ride the bus to pick her up. I understood the importance of my presence for this family. That became the foundation for my future to educate young children, support families, and support communities.

My passion is working with children from birth to five years old and reaching them before society has told them that they’re not good enough. I now work daily with more than 600 extremely talented and passionate employees to provide programs that empower families to reach self-sufficiency and enable them to provide enriched lives for their children.

Hattie Mitchell - Pepperdine MagazineHattie Mitchell (MPP ’12)

Inglewood, California
Founder, Crete Academy

While volunteering at a mission in Downtown Los Angeles as an undergraduate student, Mitchell witnessed a staggering scene that changed the course of her life.

“After completing my volunteer hours one day, I walked outside and saw a baby girl crawling on the sidewalk,” she recalls. “The baby had crawled away from her mother and was among filth, drugs, and violence. I thought to myself: ‘What would have to change in this girl’s life for her to be a success story?’”

That day, Mitchell became committed to finding a way to provide children like that baby girl a quality education that would help end the cycle of poverty. After graduation, Mitchell set out to understand the nation’s education system and considered school models that would address the issue of homelessness among children. Since then she has served as a teacher and an administrator, worked at the state and federal levels on education policy, and earned a master’s and doctoral degree to assist with the process. In 2017 she opened Crete Academy, a charter school that serves children—30 percent of whom are homeless—experiencing dire poverty in South Los Angeles. Beyond providing preparatory academics, the school’s research-based Wellness Program ensures all students receive the proper nutritional, physical, mental, and emotional care they need to succeed.

Danielle M. Outlaw - Pepperdine MagazineDanielle M. Outlaw (MBA ’12)

Portland, Oregon
Chief of Police, Portland Police Bureau

What does this recognition mean to you?

Those of us who choose law enforcement as a profession are responding to a call to serve. We witness and endure some of the most difficult moments in the lives of others, yet we have the opportunity to positively influence those same individuals. As women, we tend to work behind the curtain and are responsible for many successes within our organizations without receiving any credit for our work. This recognition is not only a pleasant and refreshing accolade, it also serves as a reminder that there are many women trailblazing the path forward to ensure we are seen and are given seats at the table based upon our own merits and accomplishments. If we don’t show the world how to publicly acknowledge and appreciate us, why would we expect anyone to do it? Or even know how?

How would you describe your leadership style?

Authentic, flexible, direct, collaborative, fair, strategic, bold, intentional, and unapologetic.

Candi Castleberry Singleton - Pepperdine MagazineCandi Castleberry Singleton (MBA ’06)

Oakland, California
Vice President, Diversity Partnership Strategy and Engagement, Twitter

What does this recognition mean to you?

I hope to live a life that positively impacts others. This recognition inspires me to continue on the days when the challenges of changing the world get heavy.

Success Story

I am grateful that my life and career have taken me on a path to serve others, create pathways for people of different backgrounds to succeed, and open doors for diverse people to enter.

What was Pepperdine's role in your success?

Pepperdine exposed me to a global business world and prepared me for my first global role. We had an amazing cultural immersion experience and met leadership across industries in the Asia-Pacific region. We learned from cross-functional business leaders as they introduced us to their business, demonstrated how it differed from doing business in the US, explained the role of government, and provided on-site tours. This remains one of my cherished Pepperdine experiences.

Hanna Skandera - Pepperdine MagazineHanna Skandera (MPP ’00)

Denver, Colorado
CEO, Mile High Strategies, LLC

What does this recognition mean to you?

It’s important for women to encourage and support one another on their professional journeys. There are countless glass ceilings left to break, and more women leaders are needed, especially in business and government.

Success Story

While at the School of Public Policy, I was nominated for a fellowship at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. At age 29, I became Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s assistant secretary and, later, undersecretary for education. I also served in Florida as Governor Jeb Bush’s deputy commissioner of education, followed by two years as senior policy advisor and deputy chief of staff to US Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings.

When I sat down with the newly elected governor of New Mexico, Susana Martinez, in 2010, I planned to simply advise her on education policy. I left the room with a job offer to lead the state’s struggling school system as the secretary of education. In New Mexico, we realized record-breaking outcomes, including graduation rates reaching an all-time high—up 10 percentage points—AP course enrollment more than doubling, a one-third increase in the number of high-achieving schools, and the dramatic reduction of high school graduates’ colle