March 8th is International Women’s Day. International Women’s Day is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women.
Recently, my mother and I were sharing stories of the remarkable women in our family with my daughter. We were discussing how truly matrilineal our family is. In our family, the women are named after the previous generations of women, much like how in many families there is a Robert Sr., Robert Jr., and so on. I am named after my maternal Grandmother. My daughter’s name is a combination of the middle names of her grandmother, great-grandmother, and great, great grandmother. We do that in my family to honor the legacies of these incredible women.
As a child, my great-grandmother came to California from Missouri in a covered wagon. In her youth, she studied cello and saxophone and played professionally until her marriage. Sadly, my great grandmother became a young widow and thus a single mother to young children right around the time of the Great Depression. In order to support and educate her children, she studied to become a Registered Nurse. However, in order to work, she had to send her children off for school and boarding – my grandmother to a convent and her brother to military school. Later in life, my great grandmother wrote and had published a collection of poems released under a pen name.
With my great-grandmother as an example, it is no wonder that my grandmother became such a remarkable woman. My beloved grandmother was also a very talented musician. Some of my favorite memories are of listening to my grandmother play her organ. However, the story I retell the most often is how she became a pilot in her early 20s and when the U.S. became involved in WWII, my grandmother answered the call to became one of the approximately 1100 Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs). These women had to have already been pilots, this means that these were women that by their own fruition decided to step outside of the societal norm and decide to pursuit learning to fly simply because they wanted to. Once these women were selected, they met at Avenger Field to receive their formal training and upon completion, they were brought on to U.S. military bases as civilian federal employees to free the men to fly oversees. The WASPs flew over 60 million miles; transported every type of military aircraft; towed targets for live anti-aircraft gun practice, and even taught their male counterparts how to fly the new planes. Although, these women were not granted veteran status until 1977, it never stole the pride from my grandmother’s eyes. In 2009, the WASPs were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal which my mother and I flew to Washington D.C. to receive posthumously on my grandmother’s behalf.
These stories spawned so much awe and interest in my daughter, that it inspired me to ask our team here at Stiris about the accomplished women in their lives.
As a woman-owned, women-led company, this day of honor means a lot to us. The following are the stories of just a few of our Stiris team members:
Madison Pearce – Stiris Clinical Project Associate
My mom has inspired me as long as I can remember – I have always been so proud to have a loving and strong mom. After my brother was born, my mom decided she needed a change of career and enrolled at London’s local college for the DSW program (Developmental Service Worker). While going to school, she still managed to do everything she did before and more. She even let me help her study for her pharmacology exams which is where I think my love for science really bloomed! Once she graduated, she eventually landed a job at my elementary school. While most pre-teens wouldn’t have enjoyed their mom at school, I was beyond happy to have her around!
Fast forward more than 10 years, she is still working at my elementary school in the Developmental Education class where she supports numerous students on a daily basis. Throughout her years there, she has had so many success stories with the kids that she works with. Whether it’s getting them to learn, achieve something new, or to get them to feel comfortable in the classroom – her students still come back many years later to see her as she has made such an impact on their lives. Her team absolutely adores her hardworking and caring attitude.
My mom has taught me the importance of doing what you love. At the time, switching careers with two young kids may have seemed crazy to some, but she knew she needed to do something she was passionate about. She persevered and didn’t just succeed, she flourished! I’m so lucky to have grown up with such an amazing role model. I use the lessons she has taught me every day in my life.
Sara DiPonio – Stiris Managing Director, Corporate Operations
I am extremely fortunate to be surrounded by the most amazing tribe of women I get to call friends. They each motive, encourage and inspire me in different ways, and on a daily basis.
Some motivate me to get moving and keep physical and mental health a priority. Some inspire me by exuding light, positivity and bravery despite what they have been through. Some teach me to see the silver lining in any given situation. Some lead by example and are a true pillar to our community, devoting much of their time to helping others and encouraging others to do the same.
My girls are always there to support me, sometimes guide me, and lift me up when I am in need. I am better because of my friends, and I am forever grateful to be blessed with these friendships. Strong, passionate, and inspirational. I am a lucky lady.”
Shantal Feltham – Stiris President/CEO
“My mom was an elementary school teacher. She made me practice my times tables until they flowed effortlessly through my brain. She still tests me on 6×8 to this day! She made me practice my handwriting … sorry Mom, major fail! … and sometimes she even ‘let’ me help her mark math papers or create bulletin boards.
When I was in fourth grade, my mom graduated from university. She was teaching full time, raising two kids with my dad, all while taking courses at night and during the summer. If I was super lucky, I could sit in bed with my mom, while she was studying and share her sour cream and onion chips. As a child, it never crossed my mind that she was balancing all of this and doing it during a generation and within a society that didn’t necessarily support the development and advancement of women.
It didn’t occur to me that my mom couldn’t be anything she wanted in the teaching world, and that the thing standing in her way was her gender. My mom joined women’s leadership organizations, learned special skills in her job that would open doors for her, took extra courses, volunteered with community organizations and was always doing ‘something’, to help her push forward. It turns out, that ‘something’, was also teaching me how to be a strong, independent woman who sees nothing but opportunity and possibility. She taught me to be comfortable being the only woman in a group and forced me to develop confidence to speak up.
And it’s not just me she’s inspired and impacted! It makes me so incredibly proud when I hear former students talk about how they loved being in Mrs. Caldwell’s class – how she showed them how to learn AND have fun; how she let them be creative and goofy and do things a little bit outside of their comfort zone; and how she taught them to look at the world differently.
Sometimes our inspiration comes wrapped in a package that we don’t appreciate until many years later.”
Geta Alli – Stiris Finance Manager
“I feel very fortunate that there are so many incredible women in my life. All of the women here at Stiris are really incredible and we each bring our own unique stories and unique strength and we’re all together here because of what Shantal has created with her vision for Stiris. I am very lucky in my life to have come from a strong line of women; my Mom and my sisters inspire me every day. My friends too, such women of strength!
My best friend, Pam Singh, I look up to so much. Pam was one of the busiest Moms, always volunteering at her daughters’ schools and within her community while working full time. Mostly at night, at the hospital. In 2006, she was hit by a drunk driver, that changed her life forever. Pam now lives with bunch of wires in her neck and a stimulator in her chest which work together to help her live each day. The accident slowed her down, but it definitely did not stop her – she is an amazing Mom to her three beautiful girls. No matter what, she shows up for her family and friends (including me) every day! She definitely a woman of strength and truly blessed to call her my Best Friend!
But I want to tell you about my friend, Serena Shah, too! Serena is my husband’s cousin; she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) at 16 years old. She overcame so much as she was learning how to cope with and handle her diagnosis. With tons of drive and determination, Serena changed her lifestyle and found a way to live more comfortably in her body which ultimately resulted in her RA going into remission. You would never know from looking at her what she has been through. She always has this beautiful smile on her face. She never takes anything for granted. Serena was the one who first introduced me to meditation – which has become a saving grace in my daily life.
I guess what all of this makes me think of is just how fortunate I am to have all these strong, miraculous women in my corner. “