Lila Jezierski Mills ’92 credits her Laurel teachers with inspiring her love of writing and literature and for supporting her in becoming a first-generation college graduate. After completing her undergraduate education and earning a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University, Lila returned to Cleveland to use journalism to tell the stories that weren’t being told. She launched Cleveland Documenters, training Clevelanders to document local government committee meetings, as she believes there “is much to be gained when more people commit acts of journalism and when we democratize the practice of journalism.” Lila has recently been named Editor-in-Chief of the Ohio Local News Initiative, a new nonprofit newsroomthat aims to flip traditional news on its head by taking its cues on stories to cover from the community, instead of a small group of editors. Read on to find out about this fascinating new model and the importance of supporting community and nonprofit media.
The proud holder of 12 patents and a Sherwin-Williams Research Fellow, Kathy Collen Gisser ’83 credits the willingness to be wrong, the persistence to figure out what is right and collaboration with colleagues as the most important behaviors for discovery. Many ideas for new products she has worked on have come from colleagues in marketing who understand the customers’ problems. Then Kathy leads teams who conduct experiments and analyze data, coming up with new product solutions such as the first EPA-registered microbicidal paint! As the leader of new product development teams, Kathy relies not only on her STEM skills, but her love of learning, reading and writing honed at Laurel and as a double chemistry and classical civilization major at Yale University. Her diverse interests and the ability to learn new skills has been critical to her success from working on photographic/film technology at Kodak to developing paint technology at Sherwin-Williams. Read on to find out more about everything from working on a product that won a technical Oscar® to her biggest career surprise.
Sonja Warfield ’88 credits her Laurel education with instilling in her “a foundational belief that my opinion, ideas, and voice matter.” She draws on that confidence, a passion for writing inspired by Miss Hotchkiss, along with the art, history and literature that she learned at Laurel when co-executive producing the new HBO costume drama The Gilded Age. The series, created by Julian Fellowes of Downton Abbey, depicts the lives, triumphs and struggles of New York old-money families and a Black elite family in the 1880s. Hired to bring American authenticity to the show, Sonja is proud to help tell the story of the Black upper class, as opposed to the stories usually told from that time period in relation to slavery. Read on to learn more about her role models, her love for improv and how she got her start in the entertainment industry.
Rachel Kanter ’08, Executive Director of Minds Matter Boston, works to connect students from low-income families with the resources they need to succeed in college and create positive futures. Through mentorship, summer programs, professional writing instruction and personalized college advising, Minds Matter helps mitigateracial inequities in the public education system. Inspired by Laurel teachers, including Señora Villaseca who balanced challenging academics with a caring personality, Rachel is passionate about expanding opportunities for students. As COVID-19 has exacerbated existing inequalities, her work has become even more essential. Fortunately, Rachel is a capable leader, having already raised $1M this fiscal year and is well on her way to achieving her goal of expanding the program to 200 students this year. Rachel is proud to share that in Minds Matter Boston’s 17-year history, 100% of high school seniors have been accepted to and enrolled in a four-year college, and 97% of alumni have graduated from college or are still enrolled. Read on to learn more about her challenges (imposter syndrome) and successes!
This Robert Frost poem graced the opening page of the 1989 Laurel Leaves yearbook and has carried Gwynne Rukenbrod Smith ’89 through her winding life path. Despite a need to create from a young age, Gwynne didn’t turn her passion into a career until a heartbreaking life event prompted her to travel to Thailand. There she learned how to blow glass and returned to the States determined to make a career in the arts. While working as a curator without a formal degree, Gwynne purposefully created exhibitions that were accessible to all, not just those with an art history degree. This quality of accessibility is a large reason she is drawn to the field of craft and handmade items, as opposed to contemporary art. Now a Program Director at Mountain BizWorks, a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI), Gwynne helps the creative community of western North Carolina develop skills that enable their businesses to thrive. She also runs the Emerging Artists Cohort program for the American Craft Council, facilitating educational opportunities for artists to advance their professional paths. Read on to learn more about how Gwynne combines her business and creative strengths into developing successful craft artists!