weVENTURE’s Women Who Rock 2021 Winners Announced

Annnual Honors Spotlight ‘Leadership in Action’

MELBOURNE, FLA. — weVENTURE Women’s Business Center at Florida Tech’s Bisk College of Business announced the 2021 Women Who Rock Awards winners during a live virtual event on Tuesday.

The winners were selected from a record 65 women and businesses nominated by their peers and the general public across five categories. They were announced during the annual celebration of outstanding female leaders and businesses who champion women in the workplace in honor of Women’s History Month.  

A selection committee chose the award winners. 

“We are honored to celebrate such hard-working, deserving women and local businesses who have persevered during an extremely challenging year and are wonderful examples of leadership in action,” said weVENTURE WBC Executive Director Kathryn Rudloff. “Through their commitment to helping others, each has demonstrated the heart of a servant leader and helped create a community where women are supported, encouraged and inspired.”

The 2021 winners are:

Female Small Business Owner of the Year

Kelley Higney, CEO and founder of The Bug Bite Thing. Higney describes herself as a mom on a mission to educate the world on a better way to alleviate the effects of bug bites and stings. The Bug Bite Thing is a chemical-free and eco-friendly solution that alleviates the stinging, itching and swelling caused by insect bites and stings. As seen on Shark Tank, The Bug Bite Thing uses suction to remove insect saliva/venom from under the skin. It is reusable, chemical-free and safe to use on children of all ages and adults. It is Amazon’s top-selling product for insect bite relief and has over 30,000 positive reviews. Higney and her mother Ellen, who serves as president, have built their business from the ground up in St. Lucie County and now ship their product around the world. 

Excellence in Mentorship

Rochelle Hood, CEO of Pink Consulting, a project management, process intelligence and customer experience consulting firm. Hood dedicates enormous amounts of time to mentoring other women in her roles with the Oceanside and Space Coast chapters of the American Business Women’s Association and weVENTURE WBC. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, she took on additional weVENTURE clients and led more than a dozen group training sessions to help female entrepreneurs pivot their businesses and update their marketing plans, allowing them to survive and even thrive.

One nominator noted, “Rochelle embodies a positive role model to many professional women because she walks the walk as a small-business owner herself, and because of her dedication in retaining objectivity and fairness when advising others.”  

Women in the Workplace Champion – Corporate

Lockheed Martin; award presented to Sarah Hiza, Ph.D., vice president, Fleet Ballistic Missile Programs, deputy general manager, Strategic & Missile Defense Systems. Lockheed Martin goes above and beyond in empowering and maximizing female talent, championing women in the workplace and creating a new model of excellence for ethical standards and commitment to creating equality for all employees.

The company’s Executive Inclusion Council, comprised of its senior leaders, reinforces diversity and inclusion strategies as imperative business drivers. By working with internal and external stakeholders, this council advocates for and supports diversity, inclusion and equality within their business areas and key functions.

Additionally, numerous business resource groups have been created to empower employees. These include Able Allies, the African American Council for Excellence, the Professional Asian American Network, the LGBT Professional Network, and the Women’s Impact Network.

Women in the Workplace Champion – Individual

Shalarie Highsmith, deputy chief of education and training, Department of Defense, Patrick Space Force Base, and adjunct professor at Eastern Florida State College. Highsmith excels in helping others reach their academic success and supporting their needs. She has helped process $1.3 million in school tuition and 1,725 enrollments and empowered 150 graduates to achieve their degree ambitions, all while serving our nation.  

Her nominator notes that Highsmith has been a champion of women, helping to create a safe environment for women in the workplace by volunteering to become a certified Sexual Assault Victim Advocate. She has provided care to personnel who have been directly affected by sexual assault crimes and helped develop and execute awareness programs to educate and coach airmen (military and civilians) on sexual assault prevention and healthy relationships, including implementation of a zero-tolerance policy to ensure personnel feel safe at work. 

Dr. Mary Helen McCay STEM Award

Kelli Hunsucker, Ph.D., assistant professor of oceanography at Florida Tech. Hunsucker’s research focuses on benthic organisms (i.e. algae, barnacles, oysters, mussels) and their settlement on manufactured structures, an occurrence known as biofouling.  However, she is equally well known for her creative outreach to engage students and local youth in marine science and engineering. 

She has directed Florida Tech’s Marine Science & Coastal Engineering Camp since 2013 and feels strongly about the importance of exposing students to hands-on engineering and discussing ways to integrate science into their projects. During the school year, Hunsucker leads a team of Florida Tech students on visits to local schools with the university’s Science Bus, a refurbished RV housing a wet lab bench, microscopes, computers and instrumentation. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, she pivoted, creating a semester-long project for her “Introduction to Oceanography” course in which students created ocean-related videos geared towards middle schoolers.

Her nominator notes that, “Dr. Hunsucker has done a tremendous amount to help create and foster the next generation of STEM professionals, including partnering with the Florida Department of Education to provide support  for minority, at-risk, and underprivileged students for cost-free camp attendance.” 

Zonta Yellow Rose for Excellence in Community Service

Tara Pagliarini, executive director, Family Promise of Brevard. Pagliarini is a relentless ambassador for struggling Brevard families, providing shelter and a hand up toward stable, long-term housing. With a master’s degree in social work and 15 years in management, her education, background and experience in collaboration with community stakeholders ensure that Brevard families receive creative, strength-based, multi-systemic approaches to ending their own homelessness. 

Her nominator notes, “The need increased dramatically during the pandemic, and Tara and her team adjusted to provide support and resources to keep families together.” 

Since emergency shelter options were disrupted, Tara and her staff responded quickly to provide this critical support through alternate locations where safety measures could be applied.

To learn more about weVENTURE or see all the women nominated in 2021, visit https://weventure.fit.edu/events/women-who-rock-awards/.

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