5 female leaders making Rollins a better place

Graphic by Anastasia Rooke

As March is Women’s History Month, we look to the women of Rollins College who balance roles as professors, committee members, mothers, leaders, and students; women who inspire each other and the next generation of women. 

Every year, The Sandspur presents different women who embody these qualities. This year, they are Dr. Joan Davison, professor of political science; Dr. Mamta Accapadi, vice president for Student Affairs; Dr. Meghan Harte Weyant, assistant vice president for Student Affairs and dean of students; and students Kenzie Helmick (‘19) and Nagina Chaudhry (‘19).

Dr. Joan Davidson

Dr. Joan Davison graduated first in her class from Wheeling Jesuit University in West Virginia, where she was a three-time team captain for women’s basketball. Since then, she has been inducted into her collegiate Hall of Fame, the first woman at her college to achieve that honor. 

Davison has juggled various positions at Rollins for over 20 years. Her current roles include professor of political science, director of the international relations major, faculty athletics representative, member of the Faculty Evaluation Committee (FEC), and co-coordinator of the Catholic Campus Ministry. 

Besides her duties at Rollins, Davison is tackling two personal projects: how public space in the former republics of Yugoslavia promotes inclusive citizenship or, alternatively, exclusive nationalism. Her second project focuses on the leaders of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and her research will become a chapter in a book on comparative leadership in an age of populists. 

Her current determination is inspired by women past and present. For Davison, the term “influential women” is not taken lightly. 

“Influential individuals ought to accept the responsibility to identify and acknowledge problems, and to seek ethical solutions through a collaborative process,” she said. 

“Influence also demands that an individual be aware of their own position, not only in words but through modeling.” Her inspirations are Billie Jean King, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sojourner Truth, and, locally, Ann Kendrick at the Hope Community Center in Apopka, Fla. 

“These women actually have accepted risks, not primarily for their own advancement, but for the advancement of others: men and women, people of various ethnicities, races, and gender identities,” she said. 

Davison has watched her own students contribute to social justice throughout the globe. “I am motivated by the belief in my students and the knowledge that a faculty member’s legacy is the good which her students bring to the world,” she said. 

She has opened doors for students at each college she has worked at, motivating them to pursue their own dreams and leave their own legacies.  

“I am focused upon student well-being and challenging students to find all the wonderful secrets of Rollins College, using their courses and co-curriculars to benefit as much as possible from their time at Rollins,” she said. 

Each woman in our list was asked to name another influential woman at Rollins, and Davison named Micki Meyer, Vice President for Student Affairs and Lord Family Assistant. “Her vision includes connecting academics and co-curricular activities, while adjusting to new educational environments,” she said. 

Dr. Meghan Harte Weyant

Dr. Meghan Harte Weyant advocates for Rollins students, whether through collaborating with different offices, working with student clubs and organizations, supporting athletic teams, or residing in Sutton Apartments with her family.

What keeps Weyant moving at lightning speed around the campus everyday is the mission of Rollins. “I believe that our mission is our greatest strength and our community is our greatest resource. Every day on campus, I am inspired and motivated by being at Rollins and impacting the lives of students,” she said.

Weyant’s hope is to support students and their dreams. Her own childhood dream of becoming an architect has been realized at Rollins. “A major part of my job is designing systems and structures that support students,” she said.

She also said she is inspired by women who “use their voices to uplift others and challenge power structures, and… dare to live with courage and love.” 

Weyant is inspired by different women, whether they are leaders or followers, mothers or CEOs, or both. 

One woman at Rollins who inspires Weyant through her combined strength in leadership and listening is Dr. Jenny Cavenaugh, dean of faculty and Winifred M. Warden endowed chair of Theatre and Dance. “She has a capacity to make people feel both seen and heard. She inspires me as a mother, a scholar, a friend, and a mentor,” she said. “I adore her.” 

Dr. Mamta Accapadi

Dr. Mamta Accapadi uses her platform at Rollins to bring her mentor’s phrase, “it is my job to believe in other people’s children,” into practice. 

“This phrase transcends the tasks of our work to the value of it. It is not just about programs and processes, but the emotion and energy behind it,” said Accapadi. 

Her love of teaching started with tutoring her peers in middle school. This eventually brought her to Rollins, where she is committed every day to spreading joy through her work. 

To Accapadi, every woman is influential and can impact someone’s life, even if she does not know whose life she is changing. 

One moment that has had a profound influence on Accapadi occurred when she was working on her PhD in her mid-20s. A man was staring at her in a cafe while she was sitting with a friend. After a few uncomfortable moments, he approached her table and asked, “Is your name Mamta? You don’t know me, but you came up to me at my freshman orientation at the University of Texas and said, ‘What are you doing right now? Come to this pre-law workshop?’ I want you to know that I am in law school at [the] University of Texas now.”

This is just one example in Accapadi’s life that has shown her the true power of human connection. “You never know how things affect people and how you are affected by people. This is the most powerful gift we have to offer other people and change lives in ways we never dreamed of.” 

Her own personal experience as an invisible college student that fell through the cracks motivates her every day at work. “When I went to school, no one noticed. I do not want any other student to feel that way,” she said. 

Accapadi is inspired by her mother’s journey and sacrifices, like working triple shifts, which she did to get Accapadi to where she is today. Accapadi wants to channel this energy and use it to pave the way for her daughter and other women coming after her. 

While professors and faculty members are very influential on campus, students, too, have their own places and voices at Rollins. 

Kenzie Helmich (’19)

Kenzie Helmick (‘19) has made her voice known both at Rollins and abroad. Her mission to push her own boundaries has resulted in either growth and improvement or learning a new lesson. 

At Rollins, Helmick is the editor-in-chief of The Independent magazine; a co-president of Voices for Women in charge of community outreach and activism; a student ambassador for the Democracy Project; and a participant in student-faculty collaborative research.

Helmick classifies herself as an “in-your-face, overt, brazen, bad-ass-bitch,” but she believes there are many different definitions of who and what an influential woman is. “I think an influential woman means just being, or at least trying to be, a good person,” she said.

Helmick uses research, publication, and education to bring her one step closer to her goal of changing the world. “My goal is to lead a career—and life—guided by principles of justice, inclusion, and advocacy,” she said.

As an Alfond Scholar, one of few students selected to receive a full-ride academic scholarship, Helmick said she feels an obligation to address and support changes on-campus toward accessibility and gender equity.

“The entirety of my time at Rollins has been shaped and inspired by the hard work, intelligence, and dedication of countless women on campus who have (either knowingly or unknowingly) left a remarkable influence,” Helmick said. 

“Though it’d be impossible to count and name all of them, they include students such as Meredith Ewen (‘19), Caitlin Robison (‘20), Amanda Grace (‘19), Kalli Joslin (‘19), Addison Cursey (‘19), Madeleine Scott (‘19), SJ Renfroe (‘18), and Hannah Powell (‘18), and professors such as Dr. McLaren, Dr. Dennis, Dr. Ebin, and Dr. Moon Ryan.” 

Nagina Chaudry (’19)

Nagina Chaudhry (‘19) juggles her positions as student service coordinator for the Center for Leadership & Community Engagement (CLCE), ambassador for the Democracy Project, event coordinator for the Business Leadership Council, and events chair for DESI, all while leading the Student Government Association (SGA) as its president.

For Chaudhry, if she can empower and influence just one person through her actions, which in turn carries a ripple effect, then she will have achieved her objective as an influential woman. 

Her strength of competition and fear of failure motivate her in all facets of life, whether in relationships, service events, or academics. Chaudhry wants to earn respect and succeed in everything she pursues. 

Chaudhry’s passion for involvement began at a young age. Her mother never limited her to one activity; she used to paint, dance, participate in fashion shows, act on stage, and play piano for audiences. 

At Rollins, Chaudhry wants to act as a helping hand and give back to the community. “For my last few months at Rollins, I hope to continue those relationships [I have built] and leave Rollins with a powerful network of people who have helped me grow into the individual I am today.”

In her role as SGA President, Chaudhry met Doragnes Bradshaw (‘18HH), communications manager at the Office of Admissions, who is currently pursuing her MBA at Crummer. Bradshaw has made an ever-lasting imprint on Chaudhry’s life. 

“The guidance [Bradshaw] has provided me through her own experiences and the support she shows me, even after graduating and in her very busy life, is a gift I am not sure I deserve.”

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