Seven of Omaha’s community leaders Zoomed in for our final installment of Kaleidoscope 2021. For our second Leadership Symposium, our virtual visitors spoke with the sophomores and seniors about their personal leadership styles.
We are so grateful to our visitors for joining us!
Rachel Fox is the founder and Executive Director of You Go Girl Omaha. In addition to owning Catapult Consulting Solutions, Rachel serves as a freelance instructor at the Metro Community College of Omaha, where she facilitates coding clubs and courses. She is also the president of Fox Flooring, a local flooring and remodeling company which she co-operates with her husband Brent.
In 2018, she founded You Go Girl, a non-profit organization dedicated to ending the cycle of self-doubt and low self-esteem in young women and girls by creating a vision for who they can be. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Multidisciplinary Studies from the University of Nebraska Omaha and is pursuing a master’s in Leadership at Oral Roberts University.
In 2019, she was named the Greater Omaha Chamber Young Professionals Changemaker, was a 2020 TOYO Recipient, and received the Leadership Award from the Leadership Africa Summit in 2019. She was also a top finalist for the Mrs. Nebraska pageant in 2019 and 2020.
Theresa Franco ’74, Vice President of Operations at Nebraska Medicine, is a member of Mercy’s Board and is the first-ever recipient of the Distinguished Woman of Mercy Alumna Award.
Her work responsibilities include inpatient operations of the Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center, Pharmacy, Radiology, Interventional Radiology, radiation therapy and cancer ambulatory operations.
Franco, a native of Omaha, Nebraska, received a Nursing degree from Creighton University and a master’s degree from the University of Texas in Austin. Upon her return to Omaha, the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) hired her to work in Cancer Care Services, where she would later become its executive director. Under her leadership, the small bone marrow transplant program grew to become the Lied Transplant Center. She would later serve as vice president of Cancer Services and Radiology at Nebraska Medicine.
She has published, presented nationally and internationally on a variety of cancer program topics, and has served on several advisory boards to improve cancer care delivery. A member of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) Best Practices Committee since its inception and Franco also serves on its board.
She has received numerous awards including the Creighton University School of Nursing Alumni Merit Award, Leadership Development Award, University of Nebraska Medical Center, Carol M. Wilson Award for Quality in Nursing, and “Caring Kind Employee of the Year,” Nebraska Hospital Association.
Leah Georges, Ph.D., M.L.S., is an Assistant Professor in Creighton University’s Doctoral Program in Interdisciplinary Leadership.
As a member of the Association of Leadership Educators, Leah advises students and leadership educators in teaching and advising best practices, leadership theory and policy reform. She conducts research and presents to local and national audiences in the areas of millennial leadership and generations at work, the power of effective followership, and emotional and legal decision making.
As a graduate of Leadership Omaha Class 38, Leah is also actively involved in the Omaha community through several nonprofit organizations. She serves as President of the Nebraska Innocence Project, an organization dedicated to improving the criminal justice system through education and reform.
She holds a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Creighton University, a Master of Legal Studies degree from the University of Nebraska College of Law, and a Ph.D. in Social Psychology from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Colette O’Meara McKinney, Ed.D. is Associate Dean for Student Affairs at Creighton’s School of Dentistry. Prior to her current role, she served as Associate Vice President in the Office of the President and within the Division of Technology at the university. Her career has spanned roles in journalism, video production, academic technology and strategic planning. She served as an adjunct instructor teaching both educational technology and ethics at Creighton for over 10 years.
O’Meara-McKinney earned her bachelor’s in Mass Communications from the University of South Dakota in 1989 and a master’s in Educational Technology from the University of Missouri in 2003. She completed her doctorate in Interdisciplinary Leadership Studies in May of 2020. She is also a recipient of the Mary Lucretia and Sarah Emily Creighton Award and was co-chair for the Opus Prize, which was sponsored by Creighton in 2016.
Carolina Padilla, Executive Director of the Intercultural Senior Center, has been with that organization for more than 11 years. In that capacity, she is responsible for the overall operation of the Center which helps immigrants through networking, social activities, health and wellness support and much more.
She graduated from the Universidad Rafael Landívar in Guatemala with a degree in Science Communications.
Katty Petak, M.A., is the Senior Director of Alumnae Relations at College of Saint Mary (CSM) where she has worked since 2001. Prior to her current role, Mrs. Petak served as Director of Student Leadership & Organizations (2001-2003), Assistant Dean of Students (2003-2015) and Associate Dean of Students (20015-2020). She is also a Mercy parent.
Some of Mrs. Petak’s contributions to college include: Serving on the CSM task force that recommended the Common Reading and developed the Statement of Open Discourse, helping develop CSM’s retention efforts focused on Latina students and the establishment of the annual Latina Summer Academy for area high school youth, strengthening the college’s multicultural programming emphasis and facilitating the establishment of several culturally-based student organizations, and developing two of the signature leadership programs at CSM, “Leadership Launch” for first and second year students and “Step It Up” for upper-class students. She is currently establishing an alumnae mentoring program where current CSM senior students will be paired with an alumna of the university.
In addition to her work at CSM, Mrs. Petak has been involved with Heartland Latino Leadership Scholarship Committee, the Multicultural Coalition, the Barrientos Scholarship Foundation, the Conference for Inclusive Communities and she served as President of the Nebraska Women in Higher Education Leadership organization. Recently Ms. Petak served on the planning committee for “El Camino Latino Virtual Conference” for high school seniors.
A native of Chile, Petak moved to Nebraska as an exchange student during her senior year of high school. While attending University of Nebraska at Kearney for her undergraduate degrees in Teaching, Translation and Interpretation, she became very active in campus life. She received a master’s in Higher Education and Administration from Michigan State University and was the director of three residence halls at the University of Arizona before moving back to Nebraska.
Ellie Rohr ‘04 is the Senior investigator in the Office of Equity and Inclusion at Creighton University. She has been with Creighton since 2019. Before coming to Creighton, Ellie served as one of the first Associate Public Guardians for Nebraska’s new Office of Public Guardian and worked with the Nebraska Public Service Commission.
Ellie received bachelor’s degrees in Secondary Education and Speech Communications from the University of Nebraska Omaha. She coached Speech and taught at Mercy before returning to graduate school. Ellie received a Juris Doctorate from the University of Nebraska College of Law in 2014.
Even though she knew transferring in the middle of her sophomore year to Mercy might be stressful, Olivia Greene ’14 believes it is one of the best decisions she ever made. According to Olivia,” Mercy allowed me to be myself, to take my studies seriously while enjoying the process along the way.”
Olivia met Calla Kessler ’14 through Saint Margaret Mary’s track team when they were in 8th grade.
“Calla would talk about the enriching teacher-student experience and how at home she felt at Mercy. I shadowed Calla in the beginning of sophomore year and felt welcomed by teachers, staff and fellow students. I transferred and was immediately brought into the community. Hannah Vankat '14 specifically reached out and offered her friendship and guidance in acclimating to Mercy.“
While at Mercy, Olivia was active in Show Choir and found it was one of the most fun and rewarding experiences she ever had. She also made many life-long friends.
“The Show Choir team and Mrs. Pat Yunker, our teacher, were dedicated to understanding music theory, performance logistics and creativity. Today I continue to sing and immerse myself in the creative arts, always harking back to those times.”
The singer also loved her English classes and credits Ms. Mandi Marcuccio and Mrs. Cathy Kessler with having a lasting impact on her writing journey.
“They taught students to be analytical, open-minded and creative in the way you analyze literature.”
There were other Mercy teachers that affected the way she thinks and her perception of the world.
“I am grateful to Mrs. Vankat for highlighting the beauty of all types of religion in the World Religion class and the challenging, yet approachable way Ms. Newville and Ms. Walsh taught Biology and Chemistry.”
After graduating from Mercy, Olivia attended Saint Louis University and earned a degree in English with a concentration in Creative Writing and Gender Studies. She stayed in Saint Louis and became a Sustainability Manager at a small business.
“My high school and college education reinforced how important it is to have conversations. My understanding of environmentalism and animal rights grew at this time and I began to write about the way those topics intertwine and are a crucial part of the conversation.”
Currently, living in Salt Lake City, Utah, the Mercy grad is a Lead Generation Specialist for a medical device company that specializes in insulin management. She also writes for the “Salt Lake City Underground ” magazine (SLUG) for the Arts and Lifestyle section.
“This role is particular exciting to me because it reinforces the importance of understanding the diversity and beauty in the human experience and how that diversity gets people to where they are today. Writing about people’s small businesses, art shows and creative endeavors is linked to the way I was able to express my creativity at Mercy and appreciate it in others.”
Mercy Senior Cree Howard is one of 40 students to be part of Marquette University’s Urban Scholars Program for the fall of 2021. The Program offers full-tuition renewable scholarships to high-achieving students with a history of leadership and service.
Howard has been Class Treasurer her junior and senior year, a Student Council representative, President of the Golden Girls (spirit club) this year and was the Junior Varsity Cheer Captain her junior year. She is also active in other clubs including the Social Justice Club, Abriendo Puertas, worked on the school’s newspaper, was the talent Show Director her sophomore year and played on the basketball team as freshman. She has volunteered as a Biology Tutor, at a daycare and with Lolo’s Angel’s.
In college, Cree plans to study Pre-Law with a focus on Criminal Justice.
Mercy High School is a 2021 Casey’s Cash for Classrooms grant recipient. The school will receive $5,000 to support student mental health services by enhancing technology and equipment to provide services virtually. With the advent of COVID-19, and the challenges the pandemic presents, the need for these services has increased.
“We are so grateful to receive a Cash for Classrooms grant and are excited to complete this important project that will improve our students’ ability to address and overcome mental health challenges,” said Nate Driml, Vice President for Advancement at Mercy.
“The past year has been unlike any other for schools, and our Cash for Classrooms grants will help schools through this difficult time as well as to improve the learning environment for the future. Casey’s is here for good and that means supporting students, teachers and families in our local communities,” said Katie Petru, Director of Community at Casey’s.
The project, which involves outfitting designated session spaces with technology and equipment, should be completed by the spring.
In the spirit of Mercy’s FIESTA 2021: Saints & Superheroes, hundreds of loyal supporters, families, alumnae and friends exemplified those roles in making the first-ever virtual FIESTA a great success. The inspirational online event on February 20, 2021, raised more than $350,000 for the school’s Negotiated Tuition Program, which provides tuition assistance to families who otherwise may not be able to attend Mercy. Close to $2 million in tuition assistance is distributed annually thanks to generous donors and fundraising events like FIESTA.
Highlights of the event include:
• Former school principal Sr. Corrine Connelly, RSM, ’58, received the Cor Misericordiae Award, the highest honor the school bestows. During her tenure, Sr. Corrine increased enrollment, invested in building and site upgrades, began a student recruitment program, and assisted with the first FIESTA, then named Twelfth Night, among many other accomplishments. She has been on Mercy’s Board for 20 years and has been a volunteer at the school since 2004.
• Student Council President Carolyn Klein ’21 thanked donors and shared how Mercy has personally impacted her as a person of faith, a leader and a soon-to-be college student studying Communications: “Mercy creates a home and a family. Being in an all-girls, diverse and empowering environment makes us all feel on top of the world every day.”
• During the “Raise the Paddle” segment, participants made gifts in honor of Sr. Corrine. Gene Wilczewski, Sr. Corrine’s old high school friend, generously provided a $25,000 matching grant to jumpstart the effort. Over $90,000 was brought in to support tuition assistance.
• Auction items included travel adventures, sports packages, dining experiences, gift baskets and certificates, collectibles and more. Participants also bought chances in a $10,000 raffle drawing.
• The FIESTA 2021 Chairs were Mercy parents Eric and Nicole Liebig Lakeman ’92. They were assisted by a large cadre of volunteers including parents, students and alumnae.
• Mercy is grateful to the hundreds of businesses and individuals who provided sponsorships, underwriting support and purchased advertising.
Next year’s FIESTA will be held on February 19, 2022.