Deeply Rooted in the Scripps Sisterhood

by Brenda Bolinger

Incipit Nova Mamas

Among Scripps women, there is a profound and abiding bond. To know a fellow Scripps alumna is to know a friend, and to know this friend means you are part of a sisterhood forever. This is more than an enchanting idea, more than a wished-for, wouldn’t-that-be-nice truth. It’s a fact that has changed the lives of Scripps alumnae and students in surprising and amazing ways, and it’s a reality full of possibility, where new horizons dwell, waiting to become manifest through careful cultivation of that connection.

With a desire to both help and be helped, some Scripps women have formed networking associations to build the connections through which goals are reached, questions are answered, and separateness becomes community. In other circumstances, a less formalized network has emerged through the simplicity of someone reaching out for help and another joyfully doing whatever she can to provide it.

“I love Scripps, I love Scrippsies, and I’m so grateful for everyone who talked with me that I want to pay it forward,” says Bri Buhaly ’13, a recruiting analyst with the Silicon Valley startup Medallia, Inc. Buhaly helps attract new employees to the company, and, with a smart, driven, and caring employee demographic, her radar is on high alert for Scripps comrades.

Buhaly is the third of four Scripps alumnae currently employed at Medallia, having reached out to Leslie Hartman ’10, the first alumna employed there, and Courtney Mayeda ’03, the second. Buhaly’s simple question, “Are you willing to chat with me?” ignited a series of events and eventually gained her a staff position. Buhaly then helped recent grad Lauren Prince ’14 come aboard. “There’s a combination of factors,” says Buhaly, “which make hiring Scrippsies desirable: the liberal arts education, critical-thinking skills, connections across different domains, and strong analytical skills.”

For Mayeda, manager of client services, the embrace that extends from one Scripps woman to another impacted her first as a student when she used the Scripps alumnae network, Life Connections, to secure several internships: “Alums were welcoming and willing to answer questions and help however they could.”

Mayeda appreciates the camaraderie and support among her Scripps colleagues. “There’s a Scripps bond and pride we definitely have,” Mayeda says. “It’s comforting to know they’re around, and they understand how special it is to be a Scrippsie.”

Beyond the mini-Scripps society formed at work, Mayeda enjoys social gatherings and networking opportunities with other alumnae in Northern California — book clubs, study abroad reunions, regional events with President Bettison-Varga, and more.

“It’s really helpful to bring together a wide range of classes, not just alumnae from the last five to 10 years, for networking,” Mayeda says.

Marga Rose Hancock ’69 understands this to be essential on such a deep level that she has devoted her life to bringing people together. “Scripps infected me with a commitment to the ideal of a community of women that I’ve striven to materialize in various ways over the years,” she says. “We have a lot of strengths to take from and give to each other, and it falls on us to take advantage of this opportunity.”

Hancock weaves connective threads throughout Scripps alumnae in numerous ways, including co-founding Camp Scripps, which reunites alumnae of all generations on the Scripps campus for several days of workshops and fellowship each summer so that alumnae can share “tales around evening campfires.” She also serves as regional associate in the Seattle area, helping organize a diverse slate of engaging events for alumnae, and she established the Scripps WeWA Alumnae Network, an online networking center comprised of nearly 600 alumnae in Western Washington.

Musing about her heartfelt mission to form bridges between people, Hancock says, “Within the virtual world that swirls around us, we strive to find a little human reality in it; we can use these virtual tools to make real connections.” And Hancock is especially sensitive to women being there for women.

“As women, we have some obstacles to overcome, and we can help each other do that,” she says.

In emphatic agreement with Hancock are alumnae Kayly Lembke ’10 and Julia Maxson ’05 who met each other through the OHSU (Oregon Health & Science University) Women in Science Organization. As an OHSU graduate student, Lembke helped launch the organization, which seeks to provide professional and personal support through workshops, panels, brown-bag lunch discussions, networking opportunities, and other programming to empower female scientists to understand and overcome challenges specific to women in the sciences.

Lembke experienced a discouraging start to graduate school when she had not yet found a forum to connect with other female graduate students.

Having found her community within the Women in Science circle, Lembke explores tough issues confronting women in the male-dominated field of science.

“This group is a great way to know that I’m not alone, and it’s very helpful and inspiring for getting through the school process and thinking about the direction of my career.”

Achieving a work-life balance is another topic of discussion within Women in Science. Fellow alumna Maxson helped bridge together graduate students and postdocs, bringing to Women in Science what they didn’t yet have: a scientist and mother who could offer firsthand insight into the complexities of having a child while navigating a career in science.

“It’s so important that young scientists feel supported. If it’s difficult to take maternity leave, you’re more likely to feel discouraged,” says Maxson, who recently left OHSU for the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, where she is a postdoctoral fellow.

Speaking more broadly about networking, Maxson says it is “essential to navigating this universe,” and perhaps especially in the scientific postdoc world where collaboration “drives all the things that make your research go.”

Maxson enjoyed the presence of two Scripps alumnae staff members and one student intern in her lab last summer.

“It was fun to have those connections, fun for me to see the student evolve into a Scrippsie and embody all those things that make Scripps women who they are: confident, going after your goals, growing in the way I did,” Maxson says. “If she ever needed anything or wanted someone to talk to about her career, I hope I’d be someone she’d come to.”

Also exploring matters surrounding achieving a work-life balance, and motherhood in particular, is a growing support network of Scripps alumnae moms — Incipit Nova Mamas. The online group — the brainchild of Yom Odamtten Fox ’04, Alex Hart Bente ’04, and Caroline Johnson Priselac ’04 — was initiated in the middle of the night, when the trio text-commiserated with one another: “It would be nice if we had a group — we could pool our resources and share with other moms,” says Fox.

Incipit Nova Mamas is on Facebook, where interested alumnae can join and seek understanding and help from other moms facing similar challenges. With little free time between them, connecting online offers a respite from the demands of motherhood and an opportunity to share with those who can truly relate. “It felt like a safe Scripps place, a place of common experience regardless of when we graduated,” says Fox.

“It’s a community of very strong and smart women who can freely express themselves. That comes from all of us going to Scripps, that shared experience…that’s what really makes this group work,” says Fox. “Someone will post an article related to Core, something that made them think about something related specifically to the Scripps campus.”

Beyond the variety of subjects explored by the Mamas — returning to work after maternity leave, formula versus breastfeeding, school districts, divorce, setting up a will, and everything in between — at the heart of their interaction is “women empowering women,” says Fox, as well as an at-yourfingertips means of building and maintaining the Scripps bond when time doesn’t permit getting together in person.

“You’ll get that phone call once in a while, someone talking about life at Scripps, but you’re so far removed from it on a daily basis and too busy thinking more about things like, ‘I gotta get my kid in a diaper’ or ‘Did I brush my teeth?'” says Fox. “You then realize you just can’t participate in that next level of involvement. But this online networking group offers another way to stay connected to the Scripps community.”

Nicole Burkholder Walsh ’00, a lawyer and mother of two, also values the relationships formed with fellow alumnae through Incipit Nova Mamas. The online platform provides her an opportunity to talk shop with other lawpracticing Scripps graduates while juggling her demanding work schedule that offers very little down time.

Walsh, along with Rachel Wilkes Barchie ’02, had previously co-founded Sistersin- Law, a group of Scripps alumnae actively or formerly practicing law. Participants were enthusiastic and eager to be of service to each other and to the younger Scripps generation, with several members traveling to Scripps to speak with students about law careers.

But sustaining regular gatherings and hitting the road to share their expertise proved challenging.

“We all wanted to meet, and we were all excited about the concept, but we’re lawyers, and that comes with very real time constraints,” says Walsh. “I’m a mom as well, and that has its own time constraints.”

Distance, more so than time, is the obstacle conquered through a tight network of Scripps women enjoyed by Ilona Zbirun-Nockles ’09 who lives in New York, nearly 3,000 miles away from the College. A large group of alumnae, with a core of about 25, consistently gather across New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut as part of the Scripps Tristate Regional Association.

“We’ve built a community together. If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t still be involved with Scripps because the College is too far away,” says Zbirun- Nockles. “Scripps women are part of my day-to-day in a new way,” she adds, noting that she has “gotten almost everything” through the Scripps network, including roommates, jobs, and, most important, her sanity. When life in New York didn’t go exactly as planned after graduation, “Scripps women helped me stay sane,” she says.

“Women who went to coed colleges don’t typically have that strong network with other women and, from what I hear, it’s a huge thing missing from their lives,” Zbirun-Nockles says. “Scripps alumnae have that support for four years, and then afterward, there’s this sense of sisterhood.”

Zbirun-Nockles helps plan a diverse slate of Tri-state activities, from informal social gatherings such as a monthly book club, to more formal events featuring visiting Scripps representatives — the president, board members, members of the Alumnae and Parent Engagement team — to networking opportunities intentionally designed to connect younger and older alumnae. For recent graduates embarking on new careers, the Tri-state group can be — and strives to be — a powerful force.

“Scripps alumnae genuinely want to know each other, and if we can help you, we will,” says Zbirun-Nockles, adding a note of caution regarding networking etiquette: “If you only come expecting an alumna to get you a job, you won’t get very far, but come seeking relationships; read a book with us, share a glass of wine, and naturally, that will lead to opportunities and connections.”

A mature understanding of the give-and- take of networking exists among an ambitious trio of current Scripps students who are career-focused and highly motivated to form authentic associations as they pursue their passions.

Senior Sarah Chung ’15, Alicen Lewis ’15, and Caroline Ebinger ’16 are leaders within the Scripps Professionals Network, a merging of three student groups they founded — Innovate@Scripps (Ebinger), Scripps Women in Technology (Lewis and Chung), and Scripps Women in Financing and Consulting (Chung).

This group builds on the road to careers in business and technology, each working collaboratively, and each profoundly valuing the affiliations they’ve made with alumnae along the way.

Having reached out to alumnae in the Silicon Valley before traveling there for a networking event, Chung was thrilled with the welcoming and eager-to-help reception.

“They were so friendly and wanted to help and meet up with me,” says Chung. “I feel like I have a lifelong bond with these alums. The community aspect of Scripps is important, and there is a pay-itforward mentality. Scripps women want to be resources for each other throughout their lives.”

It is precisely this message that Lewis also intends to instill and perpetuate among her classmates.

“I’m hoping to get that mindset going and have it carry to graduation and beyond. I want to build on that strength from generation to generation,” says Lewis.

“It’s the whole movement of ‘everyone should help everyone,'” Ebinger agrees.

Toward the ultimate goal of career opportunities and advancement for all, the tech, finance, and entrepreneurial student groups organize regular social and educational events such as skill building workshops on industry- specific subjects or career-building sites like LinkedIn, Weekly Tech Hangouts, mixers and coffee chats with seniors and alumnae, informative panels, guest speaker luncheons, and more.

Pursuing careers in male-dominated fields and entering a work culture where positions are rarely posted, where moving swiftly from opportunity to opportunity overrules longevity, and where submitting a résumé and application just isn’t enough anymore, Scripps students are engaging with — and relying on — each other and alumnae with increasing intensity. And, what they’re finding is not only a professional edge; they’re finding themselves more deeply rooted in the Scripps sisterhood.

With a common voice, Scripps women say the bond that exists within the sisterhood can be trusted. Regardless of age, distance, profession, or current status, you have a home in the growing and supportive Scripps network. With simple eloquence, Walsh sums it up: “It always goes back to that connection — Scripps is really all about connections.”


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