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Women Who Rock


SD METRO is proud to introduce 20 Women Who Rock, a group of outstanding professionals who have made a name for themselves in their careers and are making significant contributions to our community. All of the women here were nominated by our readers. While all of the other nominations were of people who have made impressive job and community contributions, we believe our final choices are particularly noteworthy. We would like to thank everyone who took part in the nomination process.

Didi Discar

Didi Discar is the driving force behind Carling Communications, a health care  communications advertising agency which she founded in May 2010. Discar has been instrumental in building the pharmaceutical  marketing industry in San Diego by being managing partner at Med Access for eight years and now as key principal for Carling Communications Inc. Carling is a young company, yet has quickly evolved into one of the fastest growing health care marketing agencies in Southern California. It was recently chosen as the agency of record by ThromboGenics Inc., a Leuven, Belgium-based global biopharmaceutical company. “This is a tremendous win for Carling Communications, as it positions our company as a global marketing services provider, and allows us to expand our services across multiple cultures.” Discar said. Carling’s clients include biotech firms, pharmaceutical, and medical device companies throughout the globe. Carling has 22 employees and is based in Liberty Station in Point Loma. Having been in the health care industry for 19 years, Discar has worked with a broad spectrum of companies spanning from Fortune 500 to specialty biotechnology  companies. She launched her health care career in 1993 with Wyeth-Ayerst (now Pfizer) after graduating from the University of Southern California with a bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering. Her career led her in many marketing leadership roles, including launching global brand RESTASIS while at Allergan. In 2003, she went on to support multiple health care brands on the services and consulting side of the industry. She grew up in Bonita and is a graduate of Bonita Vista High School. Outside of her professional life, Didi is active in supporting Filipino women’s community by hosting workshops with the Maria Clara de Pilipinas Sorority to speak to the women about upholding themselves in a professional community while remaining true to their ethnicity. She is married to Paul Schmeling and is the proud mother of a 14-year-old daughter, Mikaela.

Sarita Fuentes

Sarita Fuentes, a San Diego native, didn’t choose the easy path in life. She was a high school dropout and a single mother of two children, Damian and Paula. However, Fuentes dreamed of becoming a principal. She persevered and within six years, earned her high school diploma, associate’s degree from Southwestern College, bachelor’s degree and bilingual teaching credential from San Diego State University and a master’s degree from Point Loma Nazarene College. For the past 17 years, Fuentes has built a commendable career in education, focused on giving back to the San Diego community. She began her career as a teacher for the Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) program and progressed to master teacher, assistant principal, principal, director of instructional support and finally principal and CEO of the Monarch School Project. At Monarch School, Fuentes has raised the bar for academic excellence with academic performance index (API) test scores increasing from 488 to a current score of 614 in high school and 728 in elementary school, while creating a warm and nurturing environment for children impacted by homelessness. She is a firm believer that all students are capable of achieving success if provided with rigorous curriculum, a safe environment and a strong support system. Throughout her career, Fuentes has received numerous honors for her hard work and dedication, including: finalist for San Diego Magazine’s 2010 Woman of the Year award, featured leader  in CNN’s 2010 “Leader with Heart” series, 2009 Local Heroes Award by Union Bank, among many others.

Carol Wallace

Carol Wallace is president and CEO of the San Diego Convention Center Corp., where she has led the 2.6 million-square-foot bayside facility for nearly 20 years. She is responsible for the overall management, marketing and operation of the facility, oversees a full-time and part-time staff of more than 550 and an annual budget that exceeds $32 million. Under her leadership, the San Diego Convention Center has become one of the most successful facilities in the nation. When she came to San Diego in 1991, she played a pivotal leadership role, convincing key constituents to expand the San Diego Convention Center, resulting in an expansion opening in 2001. The expansion has exceeded all expectations, and she is currently working with San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders and community stakeholders on efforts to expand again. Wallace’s hard work and dedication have earned her numerous industry and community accolades. She was recently selected as the North American representative on the AIPC International Association of Congress Centres board of directors, and was named one of the Most Influential African-Americans in the Meetings/Tourism Industry by Black Meetings and Tourism for the second year in a row. She is the past president of the International Association of Venue Managers (IAVM), and in 2004 she received its highest honor, the Charles A. McElravy Award, for her exceptional leadership and extraordinary career-long accomplishments. Wallace is a graduate of Ohio State University, is married and the mother of three adult children.

Anette Asher

Anette Asher joined the Life Science Information Technology (LSIT) Global Institute in September 2005 as CEO and member of the board of directors. In December 2010 LSIT merged with the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) where Asher directs all the life sciences efforts for HIMSS as director of life sciences information systems.   She leads the now named LSIT Committee within HIMSS in the development of Good Informatics Practices (GIP), an aggregation of best practices, standards, regulations and tools to facilitate the deployment of better, faster and more affordable IT systems within life science and health care organizations. Asher directs the focus of volunteers to develop the GIP Guidance Document as a clear “playbook,” one that will enable CIOs in the health and life sciences to bring greater focus on return on investment for the company. Previously, Asher was director of programs for the CONNECT organization. Later she joined the San Diego Supercomputer Center at UCSD as head of industry relations for the life sciences community. Asher has been a board member of the Sharp HealthCare Foundation for over 14 years where she currently serves as chairperson of the board and committee chair for special projects funding. She is a director on the board of directors for the Sharp HealthCare System. Asher is founder or co-founder of five organizations in San Diego: the Executive Women’s Council, CAP on Campus, Club 1200 investments, Senior Human Resources Executives and the San Diego Business Advisory Board at the UCSD Rady School of Management.

April Bolduc

April Bolduc is a communications manager for San Diego Gas & Electric and manages the media relations efforts and employee communications for the smart meter, smart grid, microgrid, Sustainable Communities Program, and community relations projects. Prior to this position, Bolduc managed the public relations for a range of global media issues for Sempra Energy, SDG&E’s parent company, and oversaw the executive media training program. Prior to joining Sempra Energy, Bolduc was a public relations senior account executive for The Grove Agency, a full-service marketing communications firm, for 10 years. In addition to her public relations role there, she was responsible for Website development for her clients as well as the firm’s special event planning. Prior to joining The Grove Agency, she was affiliated with the Atlanta and Chicago bureaus of CNN. Bolduc is a graduate of UCSD with a bachelor’s degree in communication. She received specialized certificates in copyediting and news feature writing from UCSD and one from San Diego State University in meeting planning and special events. Bolduc is president of the Public Relations Society of America’s San Diego and Imperial Counties chapter. She is on the board of directors for Combined Health Agencies, the marketing committee for the Timken Museum’s Art of Fashion and the advisory committee for the Sempra Energy Employee Political Action Committee. Bolduc was the co-chair of the San Diego host committee for the Public Relations Society of America 2009 International Conference.

Thella Bowens

Thella F. Bowens was appointed president/CEO of the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority, the owner and operator of San Diego International Airport, in March 2003. Bowens is responsible for management oversight of the Authority, the Authority’s $145 million annual operating budget, a $335 million capital budget and 380 employees. She also oversees the Authority’s $1.2 billion Terminal Development Program. Prior to 2003, when the San Diego Unified Port District operated the airport, Bowens was the port’s senior director of aviation for seven years. From September 2001 through December 2002, simultaneous with her position at the port, she served as interim executive director/president of the Authority, which was created by state legislation.  In that capacity, she performed the task of planning and implementing the transfer of the airport to its role as an independent entity. She has acquired 30-plus years of experience in public administration, with the last 23 years in the aviation field. In addition to her professional associations, Bowens is the first vice chair of the Board of Airports Council International–North America and will become chair in October. She is a member of the boards of the American Association of Airport Executives Policy Review Committee and the San Diego World Trade Center, among others. Bowens holds a bachelor’s degree from Barnard College of Columbia University and has done graduate work at the University of North Texas and University of Missouri-Kansas City.

Cheryl Kilmer

Cheryl Kilmer is founder and CEO of Training, Education and Research Institute (TERI), a nonprofit organization that serves to make a positive difference in the lives of individuals with developmental disabilities. The agency’s goal has been to raise the quality of life and supports available to a population that has been traditionally underserved. Kilmer founded the nonprofit in 1980mand has been the CEO throughout its history. Based in San Diego, TERI serves over 600 children and adults with developmental disabilities and their families; employs 400+ professional and paraprofessional staff; and maintains a $17 million annual operating budget. Twice nominated for Maria Shriver’s prestigious Minerva Award, and the 2010 “Women Who Move the City” Award, Kilmer has been repeatedly recognized and honored for her considerable contributions. Since the age of 17, Kilmer has committed herself to making a positive difference in the lives of those with developmental disabilities, thus beginning a lifelong journey that has benefited thousands of individuals and their families.

Deirdre Maloney

Deirdre Maloney runs Momentum San Diego, which helps nonprofit organizations meet their missions through better business. Through presentations and instruction, as well as customized services like strategic planning, board development and executive coaching, Maloney helps organizations make and keep their momentum for optimal success. Clients include the San Diego Foundation, United Way of San Diego County, I Love a Clean San Diego, Chicano Federation of San Diego County and the Jewish Community Foundation. In addition to her work through Momentum San Diego, Maloney teaches marketing for the University of San Diego’s School of Leadership and Education Sciences. She is also a member of Women Give San Diego and the San Diego Rotary, and recently received the 2011 Rising Star Award from the National Association of Women Business Owners. Maloney’s writings and articles have appeared in a number of print publications and her blog on leadership has grown steadily in popularity. Her book, “The Mission Myth,” is due out in September.

Linda Lang

Linda A. Lang serves as chairman of the board and chief executive officer for Jack in the Box Inc., a position that she has held since October 2005. Since February 2010, she has also been working as president of the company. Jack in the Box is based in San Diego and is a restaurant company that operates and franchises Jack in the Box restaurants, one of the nation’s largest hamburger chains, with more than 2,200 restaurants in 19 states. Prior to her current role, Lang was president, chief operating officer and director of the company from November 2003 to October 2005. Prior to that, Lang was executive vice president from July 2002 to November 2003, senior vice president, marketing from May 2001 to July 2002, vice president and regional vice president, Southern California region from April 2000 to May 2001, vice president, marketing from March 1999 to April 2000 and vice president, products, promotions and consumer research from February 1996 until March 1999. Lang has 18 years of experience with the company in various marketing, finance and operations positions. Lang also serves as a director of WD-40 Co.

Yolanda Walther-Meade

Yolanda S. Walther-Meade has made an impact in San Diego, serving as a community catalyst, convener of philanthropists and civic engagement. Separate from her role as marketing/media maven for the Latino market, she gives her time and talent to an array of San Diego nonprofits which have included La Cuna, San Diego Museum of Art, the Club de Ninos y Ninas de Tijuana (Boys and Girls Club), and LEAD San Diego, among others. She has marshaled resources to benefit organizations including the American Heart Association, MADD San Diego and Francis Parker School. In 2010, Walther-Meade closed out a nine-year run chairing the San Diego Natural History Museum’s Dos Aguilas Gala, and was honored for raising close to $1 million for the museum’s programs. In 2011, she was selected as one of 150 community leaders to kickstart the San Diego Regional Vision Initiative at the San Diego Foundation. Walther-Meade’s major project to close out the year involves spearheading the March of Dimes inaugural Salud! Signature Chefs Auction in San Diego to benefit cutting-edge research that contributes to healthy babies, and reducing impacts upon the health care system. Her recognitions include the San Diego Natural History Museum Dos Aguilas Honoree 2011; the Emerging Star Award from the San Diego Performing Arts League; Project Concern International’s International Community Leadership Award and many others. Walther-Meade has instilled in her 13-year-old son, Carlos, and 11-year-old daughter, Andie, the passion for civic engagement and they routinely collaborate as volunteers on her projects.

Janice Brown

Janice Brown is more than the founder and CEO of Brown Law Group, a leading San Diego business litigation boutique firm that specializes in all aspects of employment law and business litigation. She is a mentor, an innovator, a woman of color.and a person empowered “beyond all measure” to succeed as an attorney, a mediator, a leader of field of law and as an individual dedicated to moral and ethical advocacy. Brown’s ability to mediate complex legal issues in the areas of employment law and general civil litigation has made her an invaluable resource to her clients and a model attorney for her associates and legal professionals throughout the industry. Her skills have not gone unnoticed. Her many awards and recognitions include the Department of Justice — Trial Lawyer of the Year; California Association of Black Lawyers — Lawyer of the Year; San Diego County Bar Association — Diversity Professional of the Year; and Southern California Super Lawyer 2007-2011. Brown earned her law degree from Gonzaga Law School in 1981. She was recently named to the board of directors of the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corp. and was honored by Gonzaga University Alumni Association With its 2010 Distinguished Alumni Merit Award.

Anna-Marie Rooney

Anna-Marie Rooney is responsible for the strategic vision, and for the creation and implementation of the marketing, branding and communication needs for The San Diego Foundation. The foundation is the leading broad-purpose nonprofit dedicated to increasing philanthropy, with the goal of improving the quality of life throughout the region. Rooney joined the foundation in 2007. She oversees the planning, development and management of its eight regional charitable foundations. Located countywide, they are comprised of local champions dedicated to addressing community needs and issues. Previously, Rooney served as national director of marketing for KB Home in Los Angeles, and as public relations manager for GUESS Jeans Inc.’s worldwide headquarters. Her career began in Denver, Colo., as director of marketing for HealthSouth Rehabilitation Center and as development director for the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation. Rooney received her bachelor’s degree in mass communications and in speech communications with an emphasis in marketing and public speaking from the University of Denver. She is a member of Athena San Diego, San Diego Grantmakers’ Marketing and Communications Steering Committee, UCSD’s Marketing Certificate Advisory Board, and a member of the national advisory committee for marketing professionals for the Council on Foundations. She has also been a judge for the past two years for The San Diego Business Journal’s Women Who Mean Business awards.

Rana Sampson

Rana Sampson is the senior director of development for the San Diego Center for Children, a 124-year old nonprofit that helps children thrive whose trauma, abuse or mental health challenges delay their ability to succeed. The center is the oldest children’s charity in San Diego and provides critically needed services for special needs children. Prior to her work at the center, Sampson was an international crime consultant. Her work took her throughout the United States and other countries. She spent more than 25 years working with police, city administrators, schools, universities, and community groups on policing strategies and crime reduction. She is the author of numerous U.S. Department of Justice publications on reducing specific crime and safety problems,such as domestic violence, bullying in schools, acquaintance rape of college students and drug dealing in privately owned apartment complexes. Sampson is a founding member of the Center for Problem-Oriented Policing, the national “go to” center for crime reduction strategies ( Early in her career, she was a patrol officer, undercover narcotics officer and patrol sergeant with the New York City Police Department and was awarded the National Improvement of Justice Award for her work. Sampson is active in the San Diego community and is involved with a number of volunteer efforts in support of children as well as the arts. She has a bachelor’s degree from Barnard College, Columbia University and a law degree from Harvard Law School.

Mary Ann Barnes

Mary Ann Barnes is senior vice president and executive director for Kaiser Permanente Health Plan and Hospitals in San Diego, including Kaiser Permanente’s 392-bed acute care hospital, 21 physician office/ambulatory care centers, five contracting hospitals and 13 skilled nursing facilities.  More than 7,400 employees and 1,200 physicians care for more than 500,000 Kaiser Permanente members throughout San Diego County. As the senior executive for Kaiser Permanente in San Diego, Barnes’ responsibilities include oversight of health care delivery, financial operations, business strategy,and all health plan and hospital support functions. Prior to her current role, Barnes served as the senior vice president and area manager of Kaiser Permanente’s Santa Clara Service Area and she led the opening of the new Santa Clara Medical Center in August 2007. She joined Kaiser Permanente in 1974 as a staff nurse in San Diego and has been holding positions as a member of the leadership team since that time, including medical Group Administrator for the Los Angeles Medical Center, Medical group administrator for the West Los Angeles Medical Center, and hospital administrator of Kaiser Permanente’s 251-bed general, acute care hospital in Harbor City, among others. She earned her bachelor’s degree in nursing from Arizona State University and her master’s degree in administration from San Diego State University. She attended the Harvard Business School Executive Leadership Program 2008 and Stanford University’s Executive Business Program.  Barnes is a board member of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, and sits on its Chairman’s Management Council.

Sue Botos

Sue Botos, vice president of community relations for the San Diego Padres, is in her 13th season with the ballclub – her 13th season making a tremendous impact on the San Diego community. She currently oversees all aspects of the club’s community outreach, corporate and player philanthropy, Latino affairs, military support, event and individual fundraising and charitable giving. Since joining the Padres in 1999, Botos has played an important role in positioning the club and its players as active participants in the community. She has been instrumental in the establishment and ongoing efforts of the FriarFit health and fitness initiative (bringing healthy concessions options into the ballpark), the Cindy Matters Fund (through which the Padres assist children and families battling life-threatening illnesses), Padres Scholars ( the first college scholarship program in Major League Baseball), and the Little Padres Parks program (which has built or refurbished 42 youth baseball and softball fields on both sides of the border). On a personal level, Botos serves on the board for STAR/PAL and the Miracle League of San Diego, and is a member of the San Diego County Obesity Initiative’s Leadership Council.

Michelle Renee Barnes

Michelle Renee Barnes is a successful entrepreneur, author, speaker, activist and founder of Rock to Stop Violence. Her story is one of a mother’s love, courage, determination, and resiliency. At age 15, Barnes left an emotionally and physically abusive situation and became a homeless runaway. Determined to succeed, she eventually climbed the corporate ladder to become an assistant vice president/executive banker by the time she was 30. Her career ambitions were shattered when three masked gunmen broke the door to her home, held her and her child hostage for 14 hours, taped explosives to their bodies and forced Barnes to rob a bank. During those14 hours, she knew it was time to heal her life. After the violent attack, Barnes chose to follow her dream of becoming an entrepreneur. At age 35, she returned to college at the University of Alaska in Anchorage and enrolled in communications courses and created her nonprofit organization focused on positive change. Barnes’ debut memoir, “Held Hostage,” is now a Lifetime world premiere movie, a project on which she served as creative consultant and associate producer. Barnes and her daughter are honorees on the Chicago Survivor Wall alongside such individuals as Oprah Winfrey and Maya Angelou. Barnes is currently working on her sophomore book, “Hostage No More.” She has been seen on “Good Morning America,” CBS, E! and Fox, and was recently a contributor to The New York Times and Washington Post.  She is an MSN Hometown Hero and 2010 Women Changing the World honoree.

Laura Mustari

Laura Mustari, CEO of Home Start Inc., has been an asset to the San Diego nonprofit community for over 25 years. Home Start Inc. is a child abuse prevention agency that has been in San Diego for nearly 40 years. During a time when the agency was in dire need for leadership, guidance and someone who could roll up their sleeves and transform the organization, Mustari was selected by the executive board to be CEO. Drawing from her extensive background at various agencies, most notably, the YMCA, Mustari made tremendous headway within the first year. She re-established relationships with key city and county leaders; increased evidence-based programs and cut excess costs from the budget. Additionally, she increased the size and professionalism of the board while also engaging a new donor base. Through those efforts, Home Start was able to open a maternal group home for young and at-risk women under the Maternity Shelter Program. The agency is thriving under Mustari’s leadership and continues to help strengthen San Diego’s families that are at greatest risk. Mustari’s extensive experience includes clinical social work, management of youth development and transitional living programs for young persons transitioning from the foster care system, and executive leadership. She has been recognized on more than one occasion as one of the “Women Who Mean Business” in the San Diego Business Journal and is a 2004 LEAD San Diego graduate.

Amy Fitzpatrick

Amy Fitzpatrick is executive director of the San Diego Volunteer Lawyer Program (SDVLP), ensuring that women and children who are victims of domestic abuse get the legal protection they need, that homeless individuals get the assistance they desperately require,and that families get a helping hand to navigate through the often overwhelming Family Court, among other duties. Each year SDVLP helps more than 6,000 of the county’s most vulnerable neighbors. Through the work of Fitzpatrick and her team, SDVLP impacts San Diego by ensuring that those who otherwise would go without legal representation receive competent, caring legal counsel. Fitzpatrick oversees a staff of 19 and hundreds of volunteer lawyers who spend thousands of hours annually assisting foster children, the elderly, immigrants, HIV/AIDS victims, families and the homeless. She personally oversees SDVLP’s budget of $1.2 million, yet through her efforts the organization provides more than $5.5 million worth of legal services annually, all at no charge to SDVLP’s “clients.”  Fitzpatrick joined SDVLP in 2002 as a staff attorney and rose to the role of executive director in 2005.  Despite economic challenges that have confronted nonprofits in recent years, Fitzpatrick continues to keep SDVLP on course as the largest provider of pro bono legal services in San Diego County. She works long hours running SDVLP, recruiting lawyers and law firms to volunteer, and representing the organization in the community at evening events and programs. Her commitment to legal representation as a basic right for all is undeniable.

Heather Finley

Heather Finlay is the CEO of the YWCA of San Diego County, a nonprofit organization that breaks the cycle of domestic violence and homelessness by helping families to overcome the trauma that they have experienced and build happy, successful lives. Through guidance and support, women and children discover their self worth and their ability to accomplish their goals. The comprehensive programs of the YWCA help over 4,000 people each year. Before her involvement in the YWCA, Finlay was a real estate developer responsible for the design and construction of projects totaling nearly $1 billion. She was the first female partner for JPI, one of the largest multifamily developers in the United States, and she encouraged women to choose development for their careers. In 2006, Finlay volunteered to help the YWCA develop and construct Becky’s House II, a multi- million-dollar, 14-unit transitional housing community for victims of domestic violence and their families. She joined the YWCA board of directors that same year and served on the executive and real estate committees. Finlay transitioned to the CEO of the YWCA in 2009. She also volunteers for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, an organization that funds research to find a cure for Type 1 diabetes. Finlay received a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Texas in Dallas.

Kris Michell

Kris Michell, the president of the Downtown San Diego Partnership, oversees the day-to-day operations of the 300+ membership organization. As president, Michell is responsible for implementing the board’s Strategic Plan for Downtown and overseeing the $6 million Clean and Safe program, a 24/7 operation of maintenance and safety services. Prior to her selection as president, she served as chief of staff to Mayor Jerry Sanders, where she ran the day-to-day operations of the mayor’s office and was responsible for implementing the mayor’s ambitious agenda for city government. Prior to her role in the mayor’s office, Michell served in many prominent community positions, including, chief of staff to Mayor Susan Golding, vice president of the Sickels Group, vice president at Marsh Risk and Insurance Services, vice president of governmental relations for the San Diego Padres and community affairs director of the Building Industry Association. Michell has served as a volunteer member for a variety of organizations, including the San Diego Foundation Regional Vision Group, San Diego County Taxpayers Association, San Diego Regional EDC, San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, San Diego Hotel-Motel Association and the United Way of San Diego.A native San Diegan, she earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from San Diego State University.

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Voice Your Opinion

We Want Your Opinions on San Diego’s Big Issues In the coming months, Probosky Research (one of California’s leading opinion research firms) will continue its partnership with SD METRO to survey San Diego residents about topics of interest to our readers. We’d like to throw open the door for suggestions for topics. What do you want to know? What do you think you know, but aren’t sure? What are you certain you know, but want to prove it beyond doubt? Ideally, we’d like to see questions that have to do with public policy.

Some areas may include Mayor Filner’s first 100 days job performance, should the city be responsible for economic growth and the creation of new jobs, how important are infrastructure improvements to our daily lives (streets and bridges, etc.), how important is water independence, how satisfied are residents with public transit or how do city residents value Balboa Park and other open spaces? Do you believe the City Council should revive the Plaza de Panama plan for Balboa Park?

You can email Probolsky Research directly with your ideas: