Meet Five Incredible Women Making History in Our Community
Women have played a vital role in the success of our families, our economy, and our communities throughout history, and continue to do so today. In 1987, a declaration by Congress made March Women’s History Month.
We sat down with five Utah women making history right now — Deneece Huftalin, Deneiva Knight, Jenny Mayer-Glenn, Rachel Stone, and Ze Min Xiao — to talk about their accomplishments, inspirations, and advice for future generations.
Deneece G. Huftalin
President, Salt Lake Community College
Deneece Huftalin, president of Salt Lake Community College since 2014, works with senior leaders and SLCC’s Board of Trustees to identify strategic goals and move the college forward in fulfilling the mission of increasing access to and success in higher education for those living in Salt Lake County.
Huftalin is proud of earning her doctorate and serving as president – as she says, “Going back to school later in life with two small kids was challenging and at times stressful. While I loved learning again, balancing that with being a partner, mo.m, senior leader, volunteer, etc. was difficult!”
Inspired by her formative time as an undergraduate student where she met “people who make things happen…people who create new ideas, who create art, who create joy, who pay attention to needs and act to serve. People who have the courage to take on difficult issues in the name of humanity; people who live life with zeal, passion, curiosity, and intent,” Deneece knew working and leading on a college campus would be fulfilling work.
As for advice for those starting their careers, Deneece says “First of all, finish the certificate or degree that is needed in your line of work. Second, say yes to opportunities that you are interested in even if you’re unsure of how you will do it. Third, make sure you know how to write well! Fourth, build trusted relationships and nurture them. And fifth, pursue life as a ‘tempered radical.’ Have bold change in mind but approach it strategically and in small doses.”
External Affairs Director, Comcast
Deneiva Knight says she loves her role as External Affairs Director at Comcast because she gets to focus on “creating opportunities for people to love us.” She goes on to explain that because she has “the privilege to work for a company that is dedicated to serving the community” her day-to-day activities involve “connecting with so many different types of people throughout the state and funding unique initiatives that support unrepresented communities and Utah’s growth and economy.”
Inspired by her mother and the unapologetic approach of the next generation when eradicating racism and speaking their minds, Knight is a passionate advocate for mentoring. She says, “I did not know too many people — really, I did not know anyone — who looked like me as I was growing in my career. I understand representation plays a role in one’s success. I strive to be what I did not have in my own life.”
When asked what advice she would give to women starting their careers, she says, “I would tell them to listen to themselves above anything else. I would tell them to stand tall and be brave even when it is scary. I would remind them that their truth is their superpower. To seek support and mentorship from trusted sources and not to allow anyone to make them feel as if they are not welcome or supposed to be there.”
Director, University of Neighborhood Partners
Jenny Mayer-Glenn is Special Assistant to the President for Campus-Community Partnerships and Director of University Neighborhood Partners (UNP), a department of the University of Utah. She describes her role as one where she helps bring partners to the table to share ideas, identify common goals, and create their own initiatives, making a point to proactively include representatives of communities and voices that have historically been unheard in the decision-making that affects them.
After teaching ESL at an elementary school and seeing the need for more Special Education expertise, Mayer-Glenn earned her license and started working with district psychologists on processes that would better serve multilingual students in the community. While making a difference for others, she was inspired herself by mentors and co-workers in community advocacy spaces. Jenny says, “I was mentored by two people who also inspired me, Archie Archuleta and Frank Cordova. They taught me that as community members, we need to hold public institutions accountable for racial equity.” She’s embraced this philosophy, telling us “I look to people like Senator Luz Escamilla and Representative Angela Romero and former representative Rebecca Chavez-Houck who are working hard to bring the voice of marginalized communities to the Utah State Legislature.”
When asked if she has advice for young women and girls beginning their careers, she offers these words, “Believe in yourself as an individual and find others who are passionate about what you are passionate about. Support each other and bring your voices together where you see injustice or things that are not fair. Your perspective and voice matter.
Chief Data Officer, Utah Governor’s Office of Management and Budget
Rachel Stone is the Chief Data Officer at the Utah Governor’s Office of Management and Budget. What does that mean? Stone says “When a big project comes up that involves multiple agencies working together, their data needs to work together too. I get involved and try to help our agencies think as a group…so organizations can deliver services to their customers or constituents.”
Drawn to government service and interested in data and technology, Stone focused her education on learning about how governments in the 21st century were going to use the tools available to them to create a more representative and democratic society. After being hired at the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget, the role of Chief Data Officer allowed her to combine her passion for serving constituents with her skills at operationalizing data – Stone now focuses on creating a government that renders better service and provides a better experience for the community it serves. And, in her words, is “proud of our ability to do coordinated case management… We were able to get the major social services programs in the state sharing information with each other in a very secure and appropriate manner to help their clients.”
Stone offers this advice to women and girls interested in a career in data, “It’s there for the taking. It’s just important to follow your passion if you have a passion. Being a woman is definitely something to be proud of, but it doesn’t have to be relevant and that can be a good thing.”
Ze Min Xiao
Director, Mayor’s Office for New Americans
Ze Min Xiao, whose friends call her Zee, serves as Director of the Mayor’s Office for New Americans at Salt Lake County. Zee describes her work as “maximizing the potential of new Americans” and
goes on to explain that new Americans refers to “anyone who’s born outside the united states — including immigrants and refugees as well as international students and those who are here with various work visas.” An immigrant herself, Zee brings an important perspective to the work, and over the years has learned that “it’s okay to hold on to your uniqueness and the differences that you bring to a community.” Her work focuses on removing barriers and helping community newcomers access the resources they need to succeed – by helping them connect she strives for a more vibrant county, an inclusive environment, and ultimately a more successful community.
Her advice to newcomers to the community, to their careers, and to the country is the same, and comes from her grandma, “Just be yourself. Strive for what is important to you. We live in a society where we are able to do that, and as long as you believe in yourself I think that anything is possible.”
This year in particular it’s important to recognize the contributions of women both past and present. The pandemic has taken an especially severe toll on women, requiring many to assume additional roles like homeschool teacher and full-time childcare provider while also continuing to seek or maintain employment outside the home. The result is that more women than ever are leaving their jobs to act as full-time homemakers. While the pandemic is forcing us to re-evaluate the role of women as parents and providers, it has also given us a chance to celebrate women who are making history.
By Jessica Gezon, Sr. Content Manager, United Way of Salt Lake