Women Who Inspire Series

Q1 WOMEN WHO INSPIRE – An International Women’s Day celebration

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Don’t forget to tune into our 10-week podcast series, Women Who Inspire. On this podcast, you will hear stories from women leaders in STEAM industries, dive into their backgrounds, and be a part of the inclusive message that empowers young individuals.

Women Who Inspire Podcast

We celebrated International Women’s Day with a series of live interviews of women leaders in STEAM. Hosted by student moderators at Hoover High School, broadcast throughout the school and streamed to the public, these panels of women talk about their current roles and their career paths, offered advice, and so much more. Watch the recordings below!

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Speaker Schedule:

Panel 1: 9 AM – 10 AM
Shaye Exner: Executive Director Event/Sponsorships, Biocom California
Tracey Cooper: Senior Manager, Diversity & Inclusion, Illumina
Sergeant Kristal Silva: Commander of the U.S. Army Imperial Beach Recruiting Station, U.S. Army
Dayanara Jacquin: Manager Clinical Lab Operations, Biotheranostics, a Hologic company

Panel 2: 10:45 AM – 11:45 AM
Sophie D'Amico: Software Engineer, Viasat
Melanie Cohn: Senior Director, Regional Policy & Government Affairs, Biocom California
Michelle Penney: Expert Product Development Engineer, TaylorMade Golf
Doreen Pippen: Corporate Vice President of Marketing, Maravai LifeSciences
Colonel Julie A. Balten: Commander, Los Angeles District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Army

Panel 3: 12:30 PM – 1:30 PM
Debrah Fine, Ph.D.: Associate Director, Learning Lab, Vertex
Emily Parng: Staff Program Manager of Commercialization Excellence, Illumina
Heather Vono: Senior Program Manager, Supplier Diversity, Fisher Scientific
Adriana Gamboa: Director, Research & Development, Quidel
Penny Grandon: Director of Network Operations California, Cox Communications

Panel 4: 2:30 PM – 3:30 PM
Anna Kochalko: Reliability Engineering Manager, Viasat
Reign Howard: Systems Integration Engineering Manager, Viasat
Isabel Delaney: Principal Engineer for Testing and Certification Engineering, Collins Aerospace, a Raytheon Technologies subsidiary
Jimmesha Lenhoff: Product Manager, Global Fixed Broadband | Viasat


Sophie D’Amico

Software Engineer | Viasat

Sophie has a degree in electrical engineering from Rice University and started her career as a software engineer in 2019. She is passionate about empowering women in STEAM and serves on Viasat’s Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion council. Her hobbies include riding bikes of all kinds, looking at cute animals on TikTok, and watching RuPaul’s Drag Race.

Anna Kochalko

Reliability Engineering Manager | Viasat

As someone who always enjoyed math and science, I decided to go to college to study electrical and computer engineering.  After school I moved to Boston to work as a Reliability Engineer but eventually made my way back to San Diego to work at Viasat on our airplane Wi-Fi systems.  Outside of work I love doing anything outdoors, especially swimming, running and snowboarding!

Reign Howard

Reliability Engineering Manager | Viasat

As someone who always enjoyed math and science, I decided to go to college to study electrical and computer engineering.  After school I moved to Boston to work as a Reliability Engineer but eventually made my way back to San Diego to work at Viasat on our airplane Wi-Fi systems.  Outside of work I love doing anything outdoors, especially swimming, running and snowboarding!

Emily Parng

Staff Program Manager of Commercialization Excellence | Illumina

Emily grew up in California and graduated from UC San Diego with a B.S. in Environmental Sciences. She has spent 10 years in the life sciences industry.  The first few years of her career were spent in Sales at a pharmaceutical company before she moved to Illumina, where she still works today. Her current role at Illumina is a Staff Program Manager. Emily leads a Commercial team where she works with Marketing and Development to bring new products to market. Outside of work, Emily is passionate about STEM education and works with schools and organizations to empower students to consider a career in STEM. In her free time, she enjoys camping, hiking, and exploring the outdoors.

Dayanara Jacquin

Manager Clinical Lab Operations | Biotheranostics, a Hologic company

Dayanara Jacquin has a degree in Molecular Biology and Microbiology from University of Central Florida and is a Manager of Clinical Lab Operations at Hologic. In her role, she coordinates a cross-functional team of 30+, delegating duties and allocating resources to support the clinical production involving testing of Breast Cancer Index and Cancer Type ID assays. She can be credited with creating a collaborative and positive work environment, as she has built strong and cohesive teams in the clinical laboratory functional group. Her most noteworthy work is her guidance to the team to clear a backlog of over six hundred clinical cases one month earlier than the projected date. In her free time, she enjoys going to the movies with her family, going for long bike rides and hiking with

Heather Vono

Senior Program Manager, Supplier Diversity | Thermo Fisher

Heather has been with Thermo Fisher for 18 years. In addition to leading the supplier diversity team, she is also a member of multiple ERGs (Employee Resource Groups) involving outreach including the STEM and Sustainability teams. She loves being outdoors, assisting animal rescue groups and is an avid hockey fan.

Melanie Cohn

Senior Director, Regional Policy & Government Affairs | Biocom

Melanie is responsible for managing and implementing Biocom California’s regional policy agendas in San Diego, Los Angeles, and the Bay Area. She proactively lobbies public officials to advance the interests of Biocom California members and ensure consideration for the life science industry in new and existing regulations. Prior to joining Biocom California 8 years ago, Melanie managed government and community relations for San Diego nonprofits, and worked in the local office of a State Assembly Member from 2005 until 2009. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science, with minors in Art History and Sociology, from the University of California, San Diego.

Michelle Penney

Expert Product Development Engineer | TaylorMade Golf

I am from San Diego, CA, received my Bachelor’s of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering from UCSD. I worked in automotive design for five years before moving into the golf industry where I have been for 14 years. I enjoy golf even though most of the time I play for fun and don’t keep score. I am married with three sons, a dog, cat and fish at home.

Sergeant Kristal Silva

Commander of the U.S. Army Imperial Beach Recruiting Station | U.S. Army

As Commander of the U.S. Army Imperial Beach Recruiting Station, Sgt. Silva oversees a team of 10 Non-Commissioned officers in providing Army Career Opportunities to students and citizens throughout Southern San Diego. 

STEM Career Field: 25Q Multi-Channel Transmission Systems Operator & Maintainer Sgt, Silva worked on transportable satellites to acquire both audio, visual, internet and telephone capabilities for forward deployed units in Germany and Korea. Secure, reliable communication is key to all military operations, and Sgt. Silva ensured the U.S. And its allied partners could share information on across multiple mediums. Sgt. Silva’s work often included complex math required to locate and sustain signal, while mobile. She also diagnosed, repaired and maintained delicate technology in rugged environment. She is fully trained and self-sufficient with this complex satellite equipment.

Debrah Fine, Ph.D.

Associate Director, Learning Lab | Vertex

Deb was born and raised in California, and originally wanted to become a professional ballet dancer. After graduating from Los Angeles County High School for the Arts, Deb attended UCLA and fell in love with virology and science education and pursued both during her Ph.D. program at Harvard University where she taught undergraduate courses and did virology research. After nearly a decade teaching biology, chemistry, and environmental science at the middle, high school, and collegiate level, Deb joined Vertex in June 2020 to lead the San Diego Learning Lab to inspire the next generation of STEM professionals.

Adriana Gamboa

Director Research and Development | Quidel Corporation

Director of Research and Development with over 25 years of experience in the biotech industry in various fields. Responsible for developing and bringing to market diagnostic solutions that can lead to improved patient outcomes. Committee Member of Quidel Woman’s Leadership Network. Mother of 2 amazing girls: A 21 year-old in Loyola University studying to get her degree in Biochemistry and a 9 year-old in elementary school.

Jimmesha Lenhoff

Product Manager, Global Fixed Broadband | Viasat

Jimmesha Lenhoff is originally from Overland Park KS and is a graduate from the University of New Mexico.  She lives in Denver, Colorado with her husband Scott and 4 year old son Sage.  She loves fashion, exercise, being outdoors, and traveling.  Jimmesha is most looking forward to an upcoming trip this summer to Tuscany, Italy!

Doreen Pippen

Vice President of Corporate Marketing | Maravai LifeSciences

Doreen Pippen joined Maravai LifeSciences as Vice President, Marketing in January 2021 and has extensive experience in market development, product management, strategy and marketing leadership for scientific consumables and instrument services. She was most recently Senior Vice President of Business Development and Product Leader at Science and Medicine Group. She also held several management roles at Thermo Fisher Scientific in customer loyalty, global service and support, as well as market development and product management for the Protein Analysis, Epigenetics and qPCR portfolios. Ms. Pippen holds an MBA from National University and a B.A. in biology from the University of San Diego.

Isabel Delaney

Principal Engineer for Testing and Certification Engineering | Collins Aerospace, a Raytheon Technologies subsidiary

Isabel Delaney is originally from Nova Scotia, Canada, and developed a love of all things nerdy and engineering-related at a young age thanks to her older brother and late nights watching Star Trek TNG. She is a UCSD grad with a B.S. in Structural Engineering, specializing in aerospace structures and composites. As an undergrad, she worked in a composites lab on campus getting hands-on experience manufacturing composite structures, which made her an ideal candidate for her first job at SpaceX after graduation. Eventually, she wanted to return to sunny San Diego and began working at Collins Aerospace where she is currently a Principal Engineer for the Testing and Certification Engineering team.

Shaye Exner

Executive Director Event/Sponsorships | Biocom California

As Executive Director of Events & Corporate Sponsorships, Shaye directs all sales efforts related to Biocom’s 150+ annual events and conferences and oversees the statewide event strategy for the organization, creating value for members in all Biocom California regions. Shaye ensures corporate sponsors & partners receive valuable exposure to further their ability to drive business development and see a tangible return on their investments. Shaye has a strong background in content development and provides valuable guidance to members/sponsors looking to gain exposure to the California life science community through event programming. She oversees multiple advisory committees and is a part of the Biocom Senior leadership team. Shaye also serves on the Board of Directors for Athena & The Boz Institute. Shaye graduated from the University of Buffalo (SUNY) with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology and began her career as a
counselor of emotionally disturbed children, working for Catholic Charities, before moving to California to focus on life science. Personal interests include tennis/hiking, all things Disney, and binge-watching Netflix.

Tracey Cooper

Senior Manager, Diversity & Inclusion | Illumina

Tracey Cooper is the Senior Manager, Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) at Illumina, working under the Global Head of Diversity. In her current role, she is responsible for the Employee Resource Group (ERG) program, D&I  Ambassador program, and contributes to the inclusion consulting, training, and reporting offered through the DEI team. Throughout her 10 years of professional experience at companies including MetLife and Vanguard, Tracey held various roles in Corporate Strategy, Sales, Continuous Improvement, and Project Management. She has a passion for developing talent and championing diversity, both of which she gets to do
in her current role. She firmly believes that inclusion success depends on a mutual agreement to practice more empathy and respect, acknowledging that way we work together is just as important as getting the work done.

Penny Grandon

Director of Network Facility Operations, California | Cox Communications

Penny Grandon, a native of Phoenix, Arizona is a successful accomplished Operational Leader with extensive telecommunications experience and people management skills.   A Cox Communications employee for 25 years and in the industry for 33 years. Cox Communications provides leading-edge technology solutions and products for business and residential customers. As the Director of Network Facility Operations in California, Penny is responsible for leading an organization consisting of four (4) managers, (4) supervisors, and 60 front line employees supporting all Cox Business and Residential telecommunications products and critical facilities offered within 16 locations across the California Region.

Colonel Julie A. Balten

Commander, Los Angeles District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Colonel Julie A. Balten is the 63rd commander of the Los Angeles District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. With more than 25 years of active service, she leads 715 military and civilian personnel operating in a 226,000-square-mile area of California, Arizona, Nevada and Utah. She is responsible for a $750 million annual budget for planning, engineering, construction, asset management, regulatory, emergency management and environmental services for three Army and eight Air Force installations, inter-agency and international customers, and the nation’s civil water resources infrastructure in the Southwest, and a current value of assets worth $240 million.

About This ProgramWoman teaching science

This program provides space for middle school and high school girls and boys to be inspired by a host of women who have moved the needle in STEAM. This quarterly program is hosted directly in Title 1 schools or at an offsite location to which we bus students. Audience members are invited to listen to a panel of women leaders in STEAM, from CEOs of biotechnology companies, to award-winning engineers, and beyond. The program also includes an interactive component, unique to the featured company. Women Who Inspire sends an inclusive message about what makes a successful STEAM professional, exposes students to careers and career paths they may not have known existed and empowers them to envision themselves in these roles, and helps students recognize career-relevant STEAM skills. 

Thank you to the following sponsors for making our Women Who Inspire series possible:

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