Around Winchester

Winchester Women in Leadership

Sarah Downs

When thinking of women’s history month, we of course remember those who have already left the world, such as Shirley Chisholm who was the first black women elected to the United States Congress. But we often forget to remember the women in our community who are quietly leaving behind legacies that would further the future of women in positions of power. And overall, more than that, would change the trajectory of people’s lives. There are women in every single community, in positions of leadership, changing one life at a time, and we must remember and honor those women while they are here. In Winchester, I identified a few women, who are doing just that: creating a future that’s more equitable and accessible to people of all genders. Here are their stories, and their advice to future women in leadership.  

Dr. Yolonda Gibson

Dr. Yolonda Gibson is the Vice President for Student Affairs here at Shenandoah University. Dr. Gibson’s journey towards her position started when she applied and attended Marymount University as a first-generation student. She shared how hard school was but how much the support at Marymount University would inspire her to help others pursue their degrees. This support would carry her through her journey in pursing her master’s degree and then her Doctorate degree, both at George Mason University. When I sat down to speak with Dr. Gibson via zoom, I was really interested in how she would define her leadership style. She shared that as a leader she strives for collaboration and to bring people to the table. She also stated, most importantly, that listening was the most important and vital skill she uses in her position. She stated, “Always think of the minority, as well as the majority” when making decisions, and the key to thinking about minority populations is sitting down and listening to what they need, and their concerns. “Just listen.”

When asked what advice she’d give to women beginning in their career she stated, “dress for the position you want, not the one you have” and furthermore, “take risks…just do it” and to not “operate in fear”. To wrap up our conversation, I asked her what her hopes are for gender equality, and she expressed that she just wants respect. Respect in every sense of the word.

Amber Mungavin

Amber Mungavin is a graduate of Christopher Newport University and Hampton University, and she is currently the director of counseling at Handley High School in Winchester. She shared how her journey started with the support she received in high school from a guidance counselor that helped her pursue college. Mrs. Mungavin therefore strives to give her students at Handley the same support she received because she knows how much of an impact it can make.  When I asked how she got the position she holds, she stated that the opportunity presented itself and she went for it. Furthermore, she described how great of a role her work ethic played in her advancements in her career. She described the late hours she’d spend in her office, often working far past the bell. And she described her moto in life, a quote from Disney princess Tiana, “The only way to get what you want in this world is through hard work”.

She shared how important it is to push yourself and be committed, stating, “You can achieve your dreams through hard work and dedication.” She described herself as a leader who is always willing to do the work and who creates a foundation of trust and loyalty with her team. Lastly, when asked about her hope for gender equality she said one simple word “respect.”

Madelyn Rodriguez

Madelyn Rodriguez serves the Winchester community in more ways than one. She has a passion for helping the Latino community in Winchester and therefore serves as a professor to students learning English as a second language, she provides services to children with disabilities, and she is a medical social worker. She discussed with me how she never sought out to be a leader, she just sought to help her community. She shared how her journey started with a mentor who saw potential in her, stating how, “leaders mentoring others, empowering others and seeing your potential can drive the desire to keep going.”

Mrs. Rodriguez shared how it took her 11 years to complete her associates degree, but during that time nothing stopped her and thanks to those leaders who supported her she was able to start a job that often required a bachelor’s degree. When asked what advice she’d give to women who want to pursue leadership she said, “If you feel a passion to serve, you will not always receive in return. It’s not supposed to equal out when you are doing something from the heart. Find your passion and go for it.” 

Cynthia Schneider

Cynthia Schneider is the CEO of the Top of Virginia Regional Chamber which is a premier business networking and advocacy organization that’s helps connect and meet the needs of professionals and businesses. She shared with me how her professional journey took turns and dips during the changes in her life. She began her career in Christian ministry work. Then after her children were born, she stayed home with them for 6 years, and then began working part-time at a small business. She worked for that small business for nearly 25 years, moving her way up in the company to director of operations while simultaneously growing the business into an international comptetor. After a life change, she left the company and took an opportunity to expand her knowledge and apply her skills. She similarly to Mrs. Rodriguez did not seek to be a leader, or in leadership. She instead sought to care for others. She shared how every position she was in was a new learning experience and considers her time being a stay-at-home mother as a career, stating “mothers are the CEOs of the household.”

Her advice to young women starting out in the career is to not feel the need to rush or do it all at once stating, “You don’t have to do it all. You can live out your career even later in life. Your career is going to change and that’s okay.” She hopes that in the future gender is not considered in anything, especially in the workplace. She states that the measurable things in the workplace should be, “character, work ethic and attitude” not gender.

Wendy Gooditis

Lastly, Wendy Gooditis is a State Delegate who represents Clark county and part of Frederick. She is an alum of Shenandoah University where she received her Master’s degree in Education. She has also had several careers, but one that stood out in particular was her earliest career where she led a team of mid-career men at Bell Laboratories when she was 26 years old. She comes from a long legacy of working women, and therefore, she had the privilege to enter rooms when she was young with confidence in her abilities to lead. She shared how when she ran for office in 2018, it was new, and scary but she kept true to her moto; a quote by John Wayne that states, “Courage is being scared to death but saddling up anyway.”

Her advice to women starting out in their careers is to just do it, stating, “If you are scared to death do it anyway. If it’s important to your mission and your goals, pretend you’re not afraid, and do it anyway.” And her hope for the future is that it will no longer be a privilege to grow up with confidence, and safety and knowledge. She hopes that in general gender equality will existed upon birth. 

Thank you for reading this piece. My interviews with these change makers, and legacy creators was an experience I will never forget. The reoccurring theme across all of these interviews was: knowing your power, advocating for yourself, and recovering. 

Dr. Gibson states, “when you fall get back up.” 

Mrs. Mungavin states that we must “Continue to speak up and voice concerns because that’s how change happens. Speak up in your truth.” 

Mrs. Rodriguez states, “Just keep going!” 

Mrs. Schneider encourages women to “not be afraid to ask for what you need” 

Delegate Gooditis shared how “Deliberate courage will take you very far.” 

These women will continue to change the community in the work they do, and they are not the only ones doing so. I encourage you as women’s history month closes out, to find a woman who you identify as a leader and reach out to them. Write an email and thank a woman who is doing amazing work in others’ lives. Let us honor the women creating history every day. 

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