Alumnae Profiles

Chapin alumnae excel in a variety of ways. Click on the names below to read about some extraordinary Chapin women who have become leaders in their fields.

Jessye Lapenn '89

Deputy Chief of Mission, U.S. Embassy in Kigali, Rwanda

For Jessye Lapenn, Class of 1989, an interest in making the world a better place started early in life. She started Chapin's Amnesty International Club in 1987, she said, to great support from the Chapin community. "A commitment to service is very much a Chapin value," Ms. Lapenn said. "And it is one that has grown at the School."

Ms. Lapenn added that Chapin's supportive environment drove her to take risks throughout her college years at Harvard, graduate years at Cambridge in England and into her post-graduate career with the U.S. State Department. "At Chapin, risk is a good thing. You take risks for a purpose, not as goals on their own, but as being worthwhile for service or for a greater good. My own career has been very much about taking risks," she said.

In her work as the Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Kigali, Rwanda, for the past four years, Ms. Lapenn described having to think about how she could help the different U.S. agencies in Rwanda work together. She cited her willingness to take risks in that work as being an action that also provided professional growth. This summer, Ms. Lapenn will return to Africa to be the Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in South Africa, a significant challenge given the range and scale of U.S. interests in that country.

Throughout the twenty-one years that Ms. Lapenn has been a Foreign Service Officer, she says that she has been most interested in contributing to the greater good in terms of impact. She asks herself: "How can I personally impact the world? How can I get things done? Sometimes it's making good things happen and sometimes it's preventing bad things, such as atrocities or conflict, from happening."

A "freewriting" exercise given by Mrs. Putnam at Chapin stuck with Ms. Lapenn. "Now [freewriting] is more common," she said. "At the time, it seemed unusual, creative and challenging. When you just sit down and write, you free your mind in a valuable way."

When asked what advice she would give to young alumnae when approaching considering their own careers, Ms. Lapenn said: "It's absolutely important to take risks. Does a particular opportunity speak to you? Do you feel like you'll be proud of yourself? When people are young, they have much more flexibility and there's a lot more room for taking risks." She added, "I want to continue to do work that my son can be proud of."

  • Alumnae Profiles
  • FOREIGN SERVICE
Krista Powers Harvey '02

Majority Staff Director, House Committee on Homeland Security

Krista Powers Harvey: Keeping America Safe

When Krista Powers Harvey ’02 was a student at Chapin, her classmates predicted that she would be a United States Senator in 20 years. They weren’t too far off. She currently serves as the Majority Staff Director for the Subcommittee on Transportation Security of the House Committee on Homeland Security, in the United States House of Representatives. Ms. Harvey previously served on two presidential campaigns, as Assistant Director of Federal Affairs at the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, and as a Legislative Assistant for U.S. Senator Jeffrey S. Chiesa.

“Look to your right and left,” Ms. Harvey said to the Upper School students during the 14th annual Nicky Chapin Lecture in 2016. “You ladies will be the next generation of Chapin leaders, and we look forward to the day that you are speaking to our own daughters about your many accomplishments.”

Ms. Harvey, who visited Chapin to share her political experience and discuss how Congress keeps America safe, credits Chapin for teaching her how to gather facts, ask questions, present with confidence and persuade, all skills she continues to use every day.

The students were enthralled as the Chapin alumna discussed how her committee upholds its duty to ensure our safety and prevent future tragedies like 9/11. Ms. Harvey stated the importance of congressional oversight and how it maintains checks and balances in our government through congressional hearings, legislation and investigations. “Security keeps me up at night. Our work can have life-saving implications. I am very passionate about what I do,” she explained. “I'm also probably the only person who watches CSPAN for fun when I get home at night,” she added with a laugh.

“You should never feel shy about asking too many questions, or being the person who keeps digging after others have walked away. Be persistent,” Ms. Harvey declared.

Thoughtful questions were plentiful. How, for example, was Ms. Harvey able to come back from a drop in confidence? “You have to keep fighting,” she replied. “The setback isn’t what defines you; it’s what you do tomorrow.” She was also asked how she is treated as a woman in government. “It can be frustrating but you have to be tough. You can’t always control how you are treated. You can only control what you do.”

Ms. Harvey ended with some words of wisdom on confidence:

“No matter what you choose to do in life, if you don’t have confidence in yourself, it will be hard to succeed at anything. Confidence requires maintenance. When you leave Chapin, you need to surround yourself with people who inspire you to achieve your goals and overcome roadblocks. As our beloved Mrs. Berendsen once said, ‘Stand up and be counted.’”

  • Alumnae Profiles
  • Government
Wanda Holland Greene '85

Head of School at The Hamlin School

Q & A with Wanda Holland Greene, Head of School at The Hamlin School

Wanda Holland Greene ’85 is the Head of School at The Hamlin School in San Francisco, a position she has held since 2008. She is also a current trustee at Columbia University and Head-Royce School, an advisor to Common Sense Media and a Pahara-Aspen Education Fellow at The Aspen Institute. Earlier in her career, Ms. Holland Greene taught at Chapin and served as the School’s first Director of Student Life. She was also a senior administrator at The Park School and a teacher at The Columbia Greenhouse Nursery School. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Columbia University and a master’s degree in curriculum design and instruction from Columbia’s Teachers College.

In what ways did your Chapin years inform your sense of yourself and the world?

At Chapin, I learned that being a strong woman was an asset and that being a smart, confident and empathic leader was a requirement. My self-efficacy, sense of purpose and proclivity for civic engagement were shaped at Chapin.

Chapin’s school-wide theme this year is “Our Future, Our Voices.” What does this mean to you, personally and professionally?

As the head of a girls school [The Hamlin School in San Francisco], this theme resonates with me deeply. To me, it means that strong female voices are essential for the success and stability of our country and the world. If women's voices are silenced, there will be a tragic loss of human capital, and the future will be bleak for everyone. I also like the emphasis on the collective “our,” which means that we are often stronger when standing together.

What advice would you have for Chapin students today?

I have seven pieces of advice:

1. Love yourself. Be proud of where you come from. Don’t cloak your identity to make others comfortable.

2. Work hard. The path to success is paved with sweat and grit. (But don’t forget to get enough sleep!)

3. Challenge and interrupt racism, sexism, homophobia, anti-Semitism and any kind of injustice. Stand up.

4. Examine your own power and privilege, and understand where you stand relative to others. Be empathic.

5. Discern the truth. Don’t settle for superficial statistics and data. Go deep and discover what is real.

6. Resist the addiction to social media. Remember to embrace solitude and in-person conversations.

7. Take risks. Do something that scares you.

According to the School mission, Chapin prepares young women “to thrive and lead in a global society.” Does this statement resonate with you? How?

The statement does indeed resonate with me. I am thriving and leading in a global society, so I am living the mission! I wish I could say that thriving and leading is without complexity or challenge. In every industry, including education, women are underrepresented in leadership positions. Chapin women need to defy the odds, challenge the status quo and walk boldly forward. Fortiter et recte!

 

  • Alumnae Profiles
  • Education
Lynden Miller '56

New York City public garden designer

Lynden Miller '56 has often quoted her motto – "Make it gorgeous and keep it that way" – and professed her deeply held belief that "people from all backgrounds will love and respect a place when it is alive with plants, well-designed and well-kept." In 1982, she rescued and restored the Conservatory Garden in Central Park. Since then, she has designed over 30 other gardens and parks in all five boroughs of New York. "The unspoken message in public gardens," she said, "is that we did this for you and you're worth it – now help us take care of it. And that's what people do."

Before becoming a public garden designer, Ms. Miller was a painter for eighteen years. "Because I was a painter," she said. "I can visualize in my mind what [the garden] is going to look like. I use line, texture, color, form, repetition— I call it painting with plants." She added that in planning her gardens, she takes into account various elements such as the garden's location, the needs and wishes of the public, and the effects of weather changes over the course of the year. "I use plants that are sustainable and maintainable. Over time, they grow and develop, and I try to make public space look good throughout the year. In the 97th Street Park Avenue Mall, for example, I chose the plants because I knew that they would be tough, have good foliage, bloom in different times of year, and be easy to maintain".

Often, Ms. Miller also confronts issues of unequal funding and resources for gardens in different boroughs of the city. "My big campaign has been trying to get New York City officials to put up enough money for the Parks Department to maintain 1,700 parks all around the city," she explained. "Many of the Manhattan parks have been done with private money. When you go out into the outer boroughs, there's no maintenance, no money. That's wrong, but it's very hard to get the city government to see this as a priority."

One of Ms. Miller's most well documented and widely appreciated projects was the Daffodil Project, a "living memorial" created in honor of those who died during the September 11th attacks. "When 9/11 occurred, I got a fax from a Dutch bulb grower from whom I had bought a quarter of a million bulbs. He said, 'I'm so distressed, I wish there was something I could do.'" If you say something like that to me, I will think what you can do," she laughed. "So I asked if he had any extra bulbs. He wanted to send me tulips. I said, 'You can't send me tulips because the squirrels will eat them.' Within a week, he sent a million daffodil bulbs."

During the fall of 2001, collaboration with the NYC Parks Department resulted in the planting of these daffodils across the city by ten thousand volunteers. "I wanted them to be in places where they haven't seen a flower in years, to raise people's spirits," said Ms. Miller. She added that the project continues to this day with 6 million daffodils planted. New Yorkers for Parks, a parks advocacy organization, arranges for volunteers from all over the city to pick up the bulbs and helps them with plantings. "This connection with nature brings communities together and shows them the importance of their parks and open spaces," she said.

While Ms. Miller's Chapin days are now behind her, she credits her early education with instilling in her a strong sense of duty. "I was telling my own granddaughters the other day, that at Chapin, through Miss Stringfellow in particular, you were taught that women could make a difference, that it was important to be a woman. Essentially," she stated. "At Chapin, I was taught that it was important to do the right thing to make life better for others."
 

  • Alumnae Profiles
  • DESIGN
Amy Beatie '89

Executive Director, Colorado Water Trust

 

"The biggest thing that I've noticed over time is that most folks 'get it,'" said Amy Beatie '89, the Executive Director at the Colorado Water Trust since 2007. "It," she revealed, is "this incredible opportunity for cooperation and compromise that comes from businesses seeing that it's in their best interest to be sustainable."

Ms. Beatie was discussing her fascination with finding sustainable solutions for environmental protection efforts. In the past eight-plus years with the Colorado Water Trust, she has worked with local communities to restore and protect the state's rivers and aquatic habitat. Working for a nonprofit that safeguards rivers, Ms. Beatie said, was a natural extension of her interests and her career goals. "I spent my whole life [going to my family's summer house on a lake] in Maine. I'm a river rat. I fly fish, canoe and kayak. It was natural to combine my interest in being a river rat with my career. I have found that I'm not good at my job if I don't love what I'm doing. I am your quintessential community service person."

Speaking warmly of her time at Chapin, Ms. Beatie said that her dedication to service stemmed from her childhood. Both the summers spent with her family in Maine and her years at Chapin gave her "a chance to explore and believe in [herself]." She added: "Chapin nurtures."

Early on in Ms. Beatie's education, she said that she was most attracted to jobs that did not require her to sit behind a desk at all times. Later, when she attended law school at the University of Denver, Ms. Beatie said that she focused primarily on water law. As a newly-minted lawyer in 2000, she was introduced to the Colorado Water Trust through a partner at her then firm who helped found the organization. "I fell in love with what they were doing [there]," she said. Ms. Beatie followed the organization closely for the six-or-so years she was in private practice and when she learned of their need for a new Executive Director in 2007, she leapt at the chance.

Ms. Beatie hopes to continue as a leader in conservation in Colorado and beyond. "I want to use my talents to serve the greatest number of people possible," she said. When asked how Chapin community members can be more Brave for Our Earth, Ms. Beatie responded: "People need to know more about water. New Yorkers need to know about the issues that are facing the city. Learn, learn, learn, learn. Educate yourself about your city and about the world at large."

  • Alumnae Profiles
  • NONPROFIT
Dr. Alexa Staley '07

Physicist

Earth-Shattering Discovery - Alumna Alexa Staley Helps Prove Einstein's Theory of General Relativity

In 2016, LIGO (the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory) opened an unprecedented new window on the cosmos with its detection of gravitational waves, a confirmation of Albert Einstein's 1915 theory of general relativity. Chapin's own Alexa Staley '07 worked on the LIGO project for two years as a graduate student in physics at Columbia University. "We were deaf to the universe, and now we can listen," she said. "This is a whole new door of gravitational wave astronomy– with more detections, we can learn more things about the universe."

Upper School Science Teacher Prasad Akavoor agreed that the discovery was a momentous one. "This measurement of gravitational waves has evaded scientists for decades," he said. "The fact that a former Chapin student was involved in this incredible venture is definitely something we should all be proud of."

Dr. Staley first developed her interest in Einstein's theory during her years at Bowdoin, where, in her sophomore year, she took a course on general relativity and studied gravitational waves for the first time. When she went to graduate school to study physics, she received the opportunity to work in the LIGO lab through one of her professors. "I had to learn a lot while I was there," she said. "From working with lasers, optics, and modeling control loops, to some computer programming in order to automate the steps required to get the detector up and running."

Once the LIGO scientists made the discovery, Dr. Staley said that a large team of scientists had to review the findings before they went public. "We had to cross all of our T's and dot our I's to make sure that we were 100% confident in our findings. I think the hardest thing," she added, "was keeping it quiet. We knew about the event in September, but obviously we didn't make it public until February. I couldn't even tell my parents, and they'd always ask me things like, 'How's LIGO? Anything exciting going on?'"

At an Upper School News assembly, Dr. Staley spoke openly about the fact that – as in the case of Einstein himself – schoolwork didn't always come easily to her. "I grew up with a lot of learning disabilities," she said. With hard work, she persevered through Lower and Middle School and, by Upper School, developed her considerable strengths. In remembering Alexa Staley's time at the School, Mr. Akavoor emphasized her commitment to science, evident from an early age. "It would be no exaggeration to say that no physics problem was too difficult for Alexa. She had a passion for physics and a penchant for abstract thinking. Her problem solving techniques and critical thinking skills were exceptional."

When asked if she had any advice for budding scientists at Chapin, Dr. Staley said firmly, "Get involved. Stick with it. If you're passionate about it just stick through it. I think Chapin gives you great tools and a great foundation – you can really make an impact and change the world!" She added that, for women scientists, it was especially important to demonstrate persistence as long as they remained a minority in the field. "It's everyone's responsibility to change the balance – right now is a super exciting time."

*UPDATE: In 2017, Dr. Staley's team was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for its work on LIGO. "It's been an amazing few years for the LIGO collaboration. LIGO has made four gravitational wave detections of binary black hole mergers in the span of two years. The first detection occurred in 2015 only about 7 months after both detectors were simultaneously turned on. It is extremely exciting and well-deserved that Rai, Kip and Barry received the Nobel Prize in Physics, and is a reflection of everyone's hard work in the collaboration. I was beyond thrilled when I heard the news. I am so fortunate to have had the opportunity to work at LIGO and alongside such a fantastic team. It's been a great highlight of my career and I am so glad I was able to be a part of it all. LIGO has made physics history, and I can't express how happy I am for the collaboration and to have been involved," Dr. Staley shared. 

  • Alumnae Profiles
  • PHYSICS