Women to Watch Awards Finalists – Rising Star
Meet the 2020 finalists
Pender County Coordinator,
As a first-generation college graduate, Jessica Aguilar became aware of the difficulties faced by many first-generation students. She determined to use her experience and regional resources to mentor and guide those students.
Aguilar primarily works with students who identify as Latino and families that come from immigrant backgrounds.
Throughout her time at UNCW she held work-study and intern positions with organizations such as Juntos 4-H and Centro Hispano, where she helped to foster a sense of belonging among Latino students and families. Her goal is to help the students she works with have an easier passage to attain their goals and to familiarize them with the resources available. The greater goal is for more students to complete their high-school education and continue through college.
Aguilar graduated from UNCW this year with a BS in social work and minor in nonprofit management and leadership. Since graduating she serves Juntos 4-H as its Pender County program coordinator. She also continues to volunteer as a one-on-one success coach and mentor. “Most of the work,” she says, “includes creating events to ensure students are receiving career exploration, life skills, public speaking skills, networking skills, and mentoring to achieve their goals and to believe they can accomplish them.”
When Julie Andrews mentors UNCW students, she can handily share life experiences that showcase how an education can lead you in many, possibly unexpected, directions.
As a communication studies major, she said she was drawn to the various facets such as public speaking, event coordination, interpersonal communication, integrated marketing communication, advertising, video production, and social media management.
What she did not expect was to apply all of those skill sets to a career in real estate.
“My first post-grad job was working in the marketing department of a local master-planned community, which first sparked my interest in real estate,” she says.
The fast pace and ever-changing market trends pushed her to grow, she said.
Part of that evolution has been her involvement with Cape Fear CREW (Commercial Real Estate Women), where she is currently serving as president of an organization dedicated to promoting leadership and growth for women. Collaborating with others in the community, she helped launch the Cape Fear CREW Awards of Excellence, the only commercial real estate award in the region.
She’s also a past-president for the UNCW Communication Studies Alumni Chapter and serves as its events team leader. She was on the organizing team for TEDxAirlie and served as event producer for the 2019 event held to a sold-out crowd in Thalian Hall.
U.S. International Ballet
From the age of three, dance became a driving passion for Aunika Browne.
“As I got older and started thinking about career options, I came to realize that the path towards my own happiness was most clearly aimed in the direction of dance,” she says.
Despite an illness that decimated her body and forced her out of college, Browne pushed forward and opened Studio A just four years ago; by the second year, she had more than sixty students.
Approached to take the mantle of U.S. International Ballet, she found investors and purchased the area’s only professional dance company. The ink was barely dry on the deal when COVID hit. Despite the quarantine, she continues to teach and interact with her students online, leading dance lessons, which allow the students to maintain performance level skills.
“I’ve learned that life throws curveballs,” Browne says. “I’ve accepted the hard times and have decided to celebrate the good times regardless. We may not be able to perform to a live audience, but we live-streamed out first full-length ballet this August.”
For now, her goal is to move forward. “After that,” she says, “I will be ready to take on the next challenge while continuing to cherish this passion I have turned into my career.”
Laboratory Manager of Pre-Analytical and Client Services,
An open house at UNC-Chapel Hill’s clinical laboratory science program introduced Astrid Keusseyan to the possibilities available in the field.
“I never knew the field existed before that event, but I found it to be the perfect marriage of science, technology, and health care,” she says. “I loved that I could play a daily role in impacting health care decisions for so many different people.”
Taking the potential for that impact personally, Keusseyan has taken on several roles at New Hanover Regional Medical Center, which earned her the 2019 Employee of the Year from among the system’s 7500 employees.
She also co-chairs Todos Unidos. “This role allows me to advocate for my community and help bring about tangible, positive change. I am so appreciative of the opportunity to create a more supportive and welcoming environment for Hispanic/Latinx patients, visitors, and employees.” She represents NHRMC and the College of American Pathologists (CAP) as a surveyor in quality-driven peer laboratory inspections. She compiles and serves as primary editor for Lab Links, NHRMC’s monthly laboratory newsletter
Her work carries into the community, where she volunteers in the Healthcare Explorers program, and she works closely with area schools and local nonprofits such as Cape Fear Museum, GLOW, Community Boys & Girls Club, Brunswick County Schools, and others.
Cape Fear Museum
Jorey’s Stories entertains preschoolers learning from home with tales of science and adventure. The five to twenty-minute videos are from the imagination of Jorey Stanley, educator at the Cape Fear Museum for the past two years. No longer able to do the in-person programming, she reimagined her weekly pop-up science program inspired by classics like Sesame Street, the ingenuity of social media content creators, and by a friend’s advice to “keep it light.” Conversationally bilingual, Stanley incorporates Spanish into her stories and brings in native speakers as guest readers.
“My hope is that these videos are fun for a variety of ages and that I can use my platform to show more of our community and the people that make it special,” she says.
Active on the Parents as Teachers Board and secretary of the UNCW African American Graduate Association, Stanley describes the museum as having many moving pieces that take a variety of talents to pull together.
“I admire that a lot,” Stanley says. “I also appreciate the interdisciplinary nature of working at a museum.”
Stanley’s degree is in environmental science with minors in history and Spanish, all of which she utilizes in her program planning. Her work has allowed the museum to engage a more diverse audience while maintaining a link to its core membership.
To view the Women to Watch Awards Finalists main page, click here.