We checked in with some of our 2020 Women to Watch to see what they’ve been up to.
Founder and linguist, Memra Language Services
Samantha Beaver’s Memra Language Services analyzes companies’ naturally occurring language processes, which could include conversations, meetings, Slack feeds or survey responses to help employers better understand how teams work together. Beaver says her projected 2021 revenue is higher than ever before, and her proprietary linguistic analysis software platform was finished in December 2020. She says launching LinguaZone, her new language immersion program, has been postponed until COVID restrictions are lifted. “… The virtual workplace has actually given companies more access to good language data. This means that interest and understanding of my work has grown, instead of diminished, as a result,” says Beaver.
Founder and executive director, Madison Reading Project and economic development director for the Village of Mount Horeb
Rowan Childs’ reading nonprofit provides books to kids and community organizations free of charge, as well as holds other literacy-related events. During the pandemic, MRP ceased taking book donations for three months.
“[However,] the need for books for children who had none or few and were stuck at home with only virtual learning, grew larger — and was more evident than ever before,” Childs says. Despite the pandemic, MRP gave out 70,000 books in 2020, exceeding their goal by 10,000.
In May 2020, Childs also accepted a position as economic development director for the Village of Mount Horeb.
Entrepreneur and co-owner of Raleigh’s Hillside Farm
For the past eight years, Lauren Rudersdorf has helmed Raleigh’s Hillside Farm along- side her husband, Kyle. In spring 2020, Rudersdorf left her “off-farm” job at Midwest Environmental Advocates to pursue her 2020 goals.
“I launched an online course to help farmers pivot towards CSA in a pandemic, launched a CBD oil business with hemp grown on our farm, joined the team of Edible Madison and started consulting for other small business owners,” she shares.
Founder, Stardust Creative
Chantel Soumis’ marketing agency specializes in personal branding and offers pro bono consulting for people with disabilities. At age 26, Soumis was diagnosed with MS and was unable to find work in a conventional sense — so she founded Stardust Creative.
The pandemic has offered opportunity for Soumis’ business. “Due to the increased need for digital differentiation as professionals seek new roles or grow their businesses virtually, I’ve been staying busy growing my brand agency,” she says.
She also began volunteering with the Wisconsin chapter of DisabilityIN to assist with content and social media support. Soumis says she continues to spread awareness of diversity and inclusion for the differently-abled community.
Dane County Board District 23 Supervisor and Representative of the 77th Assembly District Shelia Stubbs ran for reelection twice in 2020 — and maintained both her Board Supervisor and Assembly District seats.
In 2020, Stubbs says, “As a community leader, I attend many community events and make direct connections with the neighbors I represent. Due to the pandemic, these connections had to be made virtually, which left much to be desired.”
Much of Stubbs’ work centers around diversity and inclusion, so 2020 was a pivotal year for her. She led press conferences and participated in marches demanding racial equity and police reform.
“My fierce advocacy and criticism of the status quo led to my participation on the Speakers Task Force on Racial Disparities, where I serve as co-chair alongside Rep. Jim Steineke, the Republican Assembly majority leader. This bipartisan taskforce, which prioritizes community input, is set to introduce legislation that will reform policing practices in our state,” she says. “This next legislative session will be critical to seeing real change in our state. If we want to see racial equity become a reality, now is the time.”
On Jan. 18, 2021, Stubbs was awarded the 2021 City-County Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Humanitarian Awards for her public service work. This award honors “community members who reflect the values of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,” according to the press release.
Director of Wonderfully Made at Heartland Church and executive director of Night to Remember
For Melissa Shutwell, her personal experiences have propelled her into various roles all encompassed within the same mission of advocacy at Heartland Church and Night to Remember. She’s a mom of three, including a daughter with ADHD, sensory processing disorder and anxiety, and a son with Down syndrome.
“Sometimes I’m torn between just being a mom and all the stuff that I do, but I think it’s important [the kids] see that their mom is doing things for other people,” Shutwell told writer Candice Wagener in 2020. “It’s not just about us; we’re here to serve others.”
The Wonderfully Made ministry at Heartland Church in Sun Prairie focuses on making the church more welcoming to all abilities. Wagener noted in her 2020 piece that “In Dane County, 11% of the population has a disability — a figure not reflected in the church system. Families with differently-abled children try an average of six churches before finding one that fits. Many give up well before that.”
Wonderfully Made launched in late December 2019, and Shutwell’s goal was to serve 75 families by the end of 2020.
“Unfortunately, the ministry has been on pause since March  due to the pandemic, and will continue to be, until it is safe to meet again in person. Before March, we were serving 20-plus families each week, and even welcomed families back to church that hadn’t been able to attend in years,” Shutwell explains. “It has been discouraging to pause Wonderfully Made so soon after it launched — and I think it will be difficult to get the same momentum back once we are able to start back up again. But I am ready, and hope that time comes soon!”
She’s also executive director of Night to Remember, a prom-like experience for individuals with disabilities. Shutwell says they expected to serve over 400 guests and 150 parents in their respite space during the 2020 event, with 750-plus volunteers. But, the 2020 event also had to be cancelled, due to the pandemic. Instead, her team came up with a creative and safe alternative called A Day to Remember.
“With 11 party crews, 60 volunteers, 160 honored guests, 22 towns and over 300 miles covered in 5 hours’ time — we took the party to each of our guests. The party crews, made up of five to six people, wearing masks and socially distancing from our guests, showed up with a red carpet, a party box, music and fun. Each guest was made to feel celebrated in a unique and fun way, and the feedback was great. As much as I loved doing A Day to Remember, especially in a year when most things had to be canceled or done virtually, I really hope 2021 allows us to be back together in person again!” Shutwell says.
Founder, Culturescape Consulting
Heidi Duss’s passion for creating safe and equitable workplaces is just one reason she was a 2020 Woman to Watch. As Manager of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) at Summit Credit Union, her comprehensive yet personal approach gained her recognition as the 2019 Advocate of the Year by the Wisconsin LGBT Chamber. In November, Duss made the decision to continue her passion for entrepreneurialism and diversity, equity and inclusion outside the walls of Summit to help other companies make bold moves towards more inclusive cultures. As founder of Culturescape Consulting, she empowers organizations to think creatively and strategically, in order to engage with employees on a deeper level, creating a true sense of belonging and fostering happier, more productive teams for employees, no matter how they identify.
“Many organizations have ideas on why DEI is important, but they don’t know how to implement meaningful strategies for change. DEI is more than a one-time unconscious bias training and is not something you can just ‘check off your list’ — it’s a journey,” explains Duss. “I always tell people — DEI is messy, no one has all of the answers, and if you are not uncomfortable, you are not growing.”