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Alumnae Spotlight: Isabelle De Leon '09

Isabelle De Leon '09 graduated from the University of Maryland with a Bachelor's of Music in Jazz Performance (with a concentration on drums), and also with all the pre-med requirements. Her journey has been unique and twisting, and at times challenging. But today, she has discovered how to live her passion as a working musician, writing and playing with a group called Prinze George while also working as Marketing and Events Director at 7DrumCity, a drum lesson and rehearsal studio in D.C.

She spoke with us about herself, her journey, her advice and also why music is so important especially during times like these.

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U.S. Navy Explosive Ordnance Disposal Officer Mikey Bilotta '09

More than 100 years before women were granted the right to vote in the United States, the Visitation Sisters saw the profound value in educating young women—not just in sewing and linguistics, but also in subjects seen as the domain of men, like science and math. The Sisters were trailblazers in this way. They recognized their students' capabilities long before society did.

Today, women are inarguably just as competent as men, yet many fields are still dominated by men. Like the Sisters more than 200 years ago, the women who pursue careers in these male-dominated professions are trailblazers themselves, fighting stereotypes as they work hard to achieve personal success.

Here, we profile six of these inspiring alums. Each has her own unique story, but all share a common theme: Visitation instilled in them a confidence, an intense work ethic, and a belief deep down in their guts that they could achieve and excel in any field.

And they have. Mikey is one of these women.

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Sous Chef Tala Hairston DiPasquale '02

Tala Hairston DiPasquale '02 never applied for a job at the National Museum of African American History and Culture—so you can imagine how surprised she was when out of the blue, she received an invitation to become a sous chef at its signature restaurant, Sweet Home Café. At the time, she was managing a National Gallery eatery run by the same food service company, and a colleague secretly put her up for the new post because of her outstanding work ethic and performance.

"I was shocked," Tala says.

Of course she accepted the offer. "Being picked as one of the first employees at the museum is an honor," she says, especially as a woman of color. "I am proud to go to work each day.... My family and friends love that I work at the museum and brag about me all the time."

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Secret Service Agent Amy Szestak '97

Amy Szestak '97 isn't always comfortable in her shoes. Or her suit. It's hard to find women's clothes that are elegant yet support long, physically active workdays. And don't get her started on bulletproof vests. "If I had all the money in the world, I would have one custom-made," she says.

But Amy has never questioned the fit of her incredible 14-year career in the United States Secret Service. She absolutely loves her job.

"It's just always something I was drawn to," she says. "I always felt in my gut that I needed to do this."

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Google Engineer Susan Rajnic Paperini '93

"Your career," Susan Rajnic Paperini '93 says, "is a jungle gym, not a ladder. That is true."

Susan has worked for big companies with people reporting to her, she has worked for small companies with no one reporting to her, she has worked in China, and in London, she has worked as a network administrator, built entire IT systems for companies, and most recently, she has worked for Google as a developer. What has been consistent in her career is the small number of women working alongside her.

And Susan is working to change that.

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Mars, Inc Senior Consultant Liz Lacovara '85

When Liz Lacovara '85 graduated from Harvard in the late '80s with a degree in history, the style was big shoulder pads and male-dominated board rooms. Liz interviewed for a job at a bank in New York City and it was during the third round of interviews that the company's culture was truly revealed: Tell me a dirty joke, the interviewers challenged Liz.

"Either it was to put me off my game or to see if I could survive in that environment," Liz says. "I got the job—but I didn't take it because I knew I didn't want to work in a place like that."

Early in her career, Liz realized that she had standards and that it was important for her to work for a company whose values lined up with hers. She took a job with a different firm in management consulting and was transferred to the UK. There, she was one of three women out of 150 men. In one memorable performance review, Liz was told, "No one will ever take you seriously because you smile too much and have too many teeth." Liz was unclear what that meant but the words stuck with her.

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Veterinarian Katherine Albro Houpt '56

"What's a nice lady like you doing in this profession?" someone once asked Katherine Albro Houpt '56, one of the first female veterinarians in the United States.

It was the 1947 movie "Stallion Road" that inspired 9-year-old Katherine to want to become a veterinarian. At Visitation, she excelled in math and wanted to learn trigonometry, but there was no trig class. There was however one Visitation Sister, Sr. Mary de Sales McNabb, who knew such advanced math. Every morning at 5 a.m., Sister would meet Katherine to teach her trig.

In 1958, Katherine was accepted to the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, one of five women in a class of 45. When she was to receive an award for the best grades in the College of Agriculture, her boyfriend at the time refused to attend the ceremony. "I didn't marry him," she says.

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