Event celebrates success of women

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ROME — “When you know what you are and who you are for, it will lead you to where you want to be.”

In recognition of Women’s History Month, Innovare celebrated women of innovation who are paving a way for success in the community at Friday’s Innovare Elevation Series: Celebrating Pathways to Success event.

Guests for the panel discussion were:

- Heather Hage, president and CEO of Griffiss Institute;

- Rome Mayor Jacqueline M. Izzo;

- Karen Roth, chief engineer at the Air Force Research Laboratory/RI;

- Dr. Kathy-Anne Soderberg, principal research physicist at AFRL/RI;

- Erin Gutierrez-Matt, executive director of the United Way of the Mohawk Valley;

- Firefighter Jaimie Stasio, the first female member of Rome Fire Department; and

- Laura Wessing, research mathematician at AFRL/RI.

All shared their insights and wisdom about what it means to achieve success, as well as the “not so straight” life paths that brought them to where they are today.

Hosted by Innovare Advancement Center, 592 Hangar Road, the purpose of the discussion series was to celebrate leading women in their industries within the community.

Emcee Melissa Tallman, Innovare community manager at Griffiss Institute, introduced the panel and presented questions to the speakers.

Each panelist also shared some personal background, such as their education and what inspired them to find their ultimate career path.

Stasio shared that she was planning a career in physical therapy, but after several attempts at passing the entry exam, realized it simply wasn’t meant to be. “I asked for a sign,” she said when considering what path to travel on next. It was when she helped save a woman who suffered an overdose that Stasio said she realized being a firefighter is where she could help make a difference.

Gutierrez-Matt said she has lived in the Mohawk Valley for about 10 years, and is now “helping to build bridges to make connections,” that would support and build strength in the community she now calls home, while serving as executive director of the local chapter of the United Way.

This year the Mohawk Valley chapter is celebrating its centennial, she said.

Gutierrez-Matt began her career with United Way MV in March 2018. She started her career in the banking industry, then transitioned into the tech start-up world, with a position at Twitter being her last before joining the United Way team.

As a young woman who grew up in New Hartford, Hage said she wanted to see the world, getting a job at an investment bank in New York City, that was based in Paris, upon her graduation from Hamilton College in Clinton. She realized her math skills were “not good enough for investment banking,” but during her tenure, saw a vision for big projects and when technology “can change the world.”

Hage said she appreciated “helping scientists take their ideas and turn them into products and services that can change the world.”

Her advice for those in the audience was, “Don’t let failure derail you.” Hage said once you find a passion for something and keep working hard toward your goals, all the “other things will fall into place.”

After graduating with a journalism and public relations degree from then Utica College of Syracuse University, Izzo’s goal was to return to Rome Catholic High School and put its basketball program on the map as coach. Meanwhile through college, she worked at Rome Lab as a “scenario writer, which was a fantastic experience and set me up for so many things that happened in life.”

Izzo would later work for Rome Area Chamber of Commerce and serve as the city’s director of Tourism and the Erie Canal Village before starting her own medical transcription and records business. As a business owner, Izzo said she and other businesses owners who approached her commented on sharing the same struggles of running a small business in the community and growing jobs. Those challenges led her to run for office.

“Now we have a community that’s moving and we have an abundance of jobs that people are coming from everywhere for,” said Izzo, referring to the on-going development at Griffiss Business and Technology Park.

Chief Engineer Roth grew up in the Pittsburgh area and went to Rochester Institute of Technology. As a student, she did a co-op at General Electric and Rome Research Lab.

Roth said she “hopped around” positions because “I always loved learning something new, and understanding how the world works was always of interest to me.” One day she would meet and speak to an Air Force officer who “happened to be from Rome, and I thought I’d never move here,” she said. And although Roth said she was a computer software engineer, “I wanted to do more things...I saw a change and how Rome was evolving, and how there could be more job opportunities.”

By working for the AFRL, Roth said she not only gets to do what she loves every day, she’s “helping to build up a community” in the process.

Dr. Soderberg said like the other panelists, the road to her career was a “meandering path,” but remembered back in middle school falling in love with atoms and how lasers can manipulate them.

“You can trap a single atom on camera and you can see it — it just blew me away,” she said. Having difficulty finding a job as a professor, Dr. Soderberg said once her husband was hired as a professor at Syracuse University, she started networking with quantum physics scientists at AFRL and the rest is history.

“I’m so happy and this is better than anything else I thought I could do,” she said.

And then research mathematician Wessing originally had the goal of following in the family’s footsteps and becoming a math teacher, but after several summer jobs and internships at AFRL, the Westmoreland graduate said she, “had a vision and went with my gut.”

During one of her summer jobs at AFRL, Wessing said she would be introduced to coding and added computer science to her college curriculum. Wessing discovered she enjoyed applying math to programming, which would lead to her career today in quantum computing.

“I learned what a computer can do and how to program them, and fell in love,” she said.

When offering advice for success to those in the audience, Stasio said, “Stay authentic and open” to possibilities. “Be around people who will challenge you.”

Gutierrez-Matt added, “We are only as successful as the community we build.”

And Wessing concluded, “Never stop learning.”

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