Wisconsin women graduates lead

In 1869, six young women became the first female students to earn undergraduate degrees from UW-Madison.

Today, women make up over half of the student population, and they have brought their talents and ideas to all different fields and endeavors on campus.

In celebration of winter commencement and in anticipation to spring 2019 commencement, we spotlight a few women who reflect on their time as women at UW, emotions surrounding graduation and their hope for future and current Badgers who identify as female.

Name: Fernanda Martinez Rodriguez

Graduation: Spring 2019

Hometown: Queretaro, Mexico

Major: Art History, Religious Studies and Middle East Studies

Female Idol: Her grandmother, Maria de Lourdes Franco

When Fernanda Martinez Rodriguez arrived on campus she felt slightly out of place. “I wasn’t involved because I didn’t feel like I belonged on campus,” she explains. However, as a sophomore she found her place in Illumination, one of the six publications produced by the Wisconsin Union Directorate’s Publications Committee. Her role as digital editor quickly transitioned to Editor-in-Chief her junior year. Now, she serves as the director of the Publications Committee, providing support to the Editors-in-Chief. In Spring 2018, she received the Meyerhoff Undergraduate Excellence Award for her outstanding involvement within the Wisconsin Union.

“I always felt the Union was home; it always felt safe,” she says. Her current role has allowed her to expand her leadership skills as a voting member of Union Council — the decision-making board of the Wisconsin Union. Martinez Rodriguez was pivotal in the renaming of the current The Main Gallery and The Play Circle at Memorial Union. The change was made to confront the history of the spaces, and concerns about how the names were affecting its future.

“I like doing things that make a difference,” she says with a smile. Martinez Rodriguez acknowledges that other leaders and mentors at the Union have inspired her, especially her female advisors. As a woman, she notes that, “all the success you have is from hard work and carrying it out.” She explains that women have to work harder to prove their place, which is even more of a challenge for certain identities such as individuals of color, transgender or non-binary.

After graduation Martinez Rodriguez plans to take her passion for art into the field of law. She is currently applying to law school and wants to specialize in international law and hopes someday to work in art law. “I see myself arguing things over and over for the rest of my life,” she says with a laugh. She is certainly up for the test, noting she enjoys a challenge.

What advice would she give her freshman self? “Get involved in everything you can.”

Name: Kate Lennon

Graduation: Winter 2018

Hometown: Grafton, Wisconsin

Major: Neurobiology

Female Idol: Her mother Janis Lennon, author Rupi Kaur, and Becky Blank (she hopes to meet her in person very soon!)

Kate Lennon came to campus with her mind on engineering. She is strong in math and science, but realized engineering was not the path for her. So she switched to neurobiology and has not looked back.

The world of education has always been important to Lennon. She has volunteered with elementary school students through Badger Volunteers, her mother is a first grade teacher and she hopes to work later in life at a university, either teaching or in administration. “A college campus brings together a cool cohort of people,” she says, including great professors, and close friends and classmates. Lennon mentions she was blessed to have five female roommates over the course of her college career. “They are the most supportive people in my life,” she explains.

The friendships they have forged showcase the beauty of female friendship. Lennon reflects that the ability for women to connect on a deep level is a great thing. She believes men should be able to more freely express their sensitivity. However, women are just as resilient, if not more so than men, in her eyes. “Things are really going down a groundbreaking and powerful path [for women]…one that I want to see continue going forward,” she says.

Lennon encourages other female Badgers to have strength and be intelligent, “and use both in every way possible and in a positive way.” She will take her own advice as she graduates this winter. Her post graduation plans are not solidified, but she currently works as a student assistant at Epic Systems. A master’s degree in Nursing is something she has her sights set on, but she hopes to work in the health-care industry in some capacity for a few years before graduate school.

What advice would she give her freshman self? “Don’t be too hard on yourself, continue to work hard and follow a path to success even though your plans may change.”

Name: Kennedy Allison

Graduation: Spring 2019

Hometown: Madison, Wisconsin

Major: Psychology and Legal Studies with a certificate in Criminal Justice

Female Idols: Rihanna and Ariana Grande

Kennedy Allison keeps herself busy. When she is not in class, she is in the lab doing research. When she is not doing research, then she is at marching band practice. If she is not at practice, then you might find her working at Campus and Visitor Relations.

Allison has spent three years working in the Prejudice and Intergroup Relations lab doing research in psychology. She says that the Primary Investigator of her lab, along with other female professors, have inspired her to go further into research. When women get involved in research they are able to fill gaps since studies tend to revolve around a cis, straight, white and middle-class male narrative.  

This narrative is transferable, even existing in the marching band until the 1970s when women finally joined. “The women I know from the band are the strongest and most ambitious women I know,” she says. Allison has spent four years marching in the band, two of those years as assistant drum major and one year as a rank leader. “I am always taken by surprise when people don’t think I deserve the leadership position I have or don’t believe I have earned my spot in band,” she explains.

Allison says being a leader has taught her to not take herself too seriously and show her faults. “At times I think I need to try to handle everything on my own to prove that I am strong and that I belong here — especially as a black women in higher education — but it is important to remember that it takes a strong person to know their limits and ask for help,” she explains.

As for graduation, the feeling is, “bittersweet.” “There is so much in the world that I have yet to experience and I am excited and terrified to explore it,” she explains. Her post-grad plans include a gap year before graduate school, where she hopes to enroll in a dual PhD in psychology and JD program.

What advice would she give her freshman self? “Stop trying to do what you think other people want you to do and do what you are passionate about.”

Name: Joanna Pauline Millado Martinez

Graduation: Spring 2019

Hometown: Manila, Philippines and Alberta, Canada

Major: Human Development and Family Studies and Gerontology

Female Idol: UW-Madison Professor Kristy Burkholder and Beyonce

“Things do and will work out,” Joanna Martinez emphasizes. One of her biggest let-downs came at the end of her sophomore year, when she didn’t get into a program she wanted to. But the next day she went to Rio de Janeiro so she did not have time to process the rejection. Reality set in when she came home, but looking back she is now thankful. “The world has crashed on me so many times and I’m still here,” she remarks.

What she realized was that there is a lot more out there that she is passionate about. She has served as a peer mentor for ILS 138 in Chadbourne (her freshman dorm), is an intern in the Child Development Lab at SOHE, has been a HOPE Mentor for high school students through the Aspiring Nurses Association, and a volunteer for a variety of groups, including Badger Volunteers. Most of her time, though, has been dedicated to the Wisconsin Alumni Student Board (WASB). She currently serves as the director of diversity and inclusion. “I feel very proud to be a women on this campus, especially as a minority student,” she says. Creating welcoming and inclusive spaces for all is an important task and she carries it with her as a house fellow at Dejope.

The soon to be graduate gives her residents advice she tells herself — stay curious and do not be afraid of experiences. She also says to ask for help when you need it, a message especially for women. Martinez explains that more often than not, women are afraid or intimidated by each other when really they should support one another. “Be yourself and embrace your identity as a woman and those who identify as women,” she says.

And remember that trip to Rio? Well, Martinez wants to return after graduation to help work with underprivileged groups, using her skills as a leader and a healer.

What advice would she give her freshman self? “You keep doing you. You are so much more than you were in high school — you hold so much more courage and you are going to be where you want to be.” Also — “don’t lose that curiosity.”

Name: Kerianne Pawley

Graduation: Winter 2018

Hometown: Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin

Major: Finance, Marketing

Female Idol: Her mother, Ellen Pawley, Michelle Obama and Emma Watson

Kerianne Pawley comes from a family of female Badgers. Her mother graduated from UW in 1996 and her older sister, Katie Lennon attended as well, graduating in 2009. Now, Pawley will be the third female to earn her diploma from UW-Madison this winter. Her younger sister Maryellen still has to wait until May 2019 to become the fourth female in the family with a degree from UW-Madison.

“Empowered women empower women,” she says with a smile. It’s Pawley’s favorite quote because helping each other is always the better option for all compared to competition. It is a motto said often in the student organization she is a part of, Lean In @ UW, a supportive group of women that work on developing the tools and self-confidence needed in future careers. “Finding a lot of supportive women has pushed me to try things I wouldn’t normally have before,” she explains. Being a women, for her, is amazing because so many good friendships come out of it. That kind of mutual support and encouragement to try new things is something she admires.

And new things will certainly be on her agenda after graduation. Pawley has accepted a full-time position at Amazon as an operations financial analyst. The job is part of the company’s Operations Finance Rotational Program, meaning she will have a total of three location rotations in a span of two years. “There are a lot of emotions,” she says, “I’m happy to move forward, but sad to leave.”

Besides an internship-turned job at Amazon, summer internship at Kohler and study abroad experience in Spain, Pawley has spent most of her college career doing one thing — playing trumpet in the marching band. Pawley has marched five seasons in the band, serving her final year as a rank leader responsible for ten members. She will take her final bow in uniform during the bowl game which will occur after she crosses the stage to get her diploma December 16.

What advice would she give her freshman self? “Jump into things more — try new clubs and activities…it will be overwhelming but exciting.”

Name: Emma Allen

Graduation: Spring 2019

Hometown: Lake Bluff, Illinois

Major: Biology with a certificate in Global Health

Female Idol: Colleen Whitley, a fellow UW-Madison Senior

I have always known that whatever career path I chose, it had to involve helping people who can’t help themselves,” explains Emma Allen. Her love of health care blossomed with service trips to the Dominican Republic when she was in high school. Now reflecting on her college career, Allen has truly prepared herself well for a seat in medical school — after a well deserved gap year doing more research of course.

This summer, Allen performed research for a Maternal Fetal Medicine doctor at Northwestern Hospital. “Women’s health is my passion and my exposure to it this summer affirmed my dream of being a Maternal Fetal Medicine doctor myself,” she explains. Her work focuses on the effects of a perinatal collaborative care program on breastfeeding outcomes. Research findings show that women with mental health disorders are less likely to engage in breastfeeding, impacting the mother and infant. Her research team is charged with creating a new program that is more inclusive for all women. “My hope is that mental health disorders during pregnancy are de-stigmatized and women feel confident to seek help during this critical time in their life,” she says. Allen plans to continue her research at Northwestern during her gap year.

Previously, Allen has conducted research on campus with a Welton Honors Summer Research Apprenticeship and will be traveling to Las Vegas in February to present her research paper abstract on maternal mental health at the Society for Maternal and Fetal Medicine Pregnancy Conference. Outside of research, she volunteers at the American Family Children’s Hospital, is a member of Delta Gamma Fraternity and recently founded the Doctors Without Borders Student Chapter on campus.

The journey to get to where she is today was not easy. “What held me back, especially as a STEM major, was the fear of inadequacy,” she explains. She found that the solution, while not as simple or easy as it may sound, was to “just believe in yourself.”

What advice would she give her freshman self? “Surround yourself with people who bring you up.”

Name: Wendy Hoang

Graduation: Spring 2019

Hometown: Madison, Wisconsin

Major: Anthropology and Political Science with a certificate in Southeast Asian Studies

Female Idol: Assistant Vice Provost in the Division of Diversity, Equity and Educational Achievement, Gloria Hawkins

Not only is the university celebrating 150 years of women at UW, but the UW law school is also celebrating its 150th anniversary. Very fitting for Wendy Hoang who has her sights set on the school for her post-graduation plans.

The Chancellor’s Scholar hopes to one day practice immigration law, a dream sparked by her parents who navigated the process of immigration first hand arriving to the country as refugees. Her aunt, Jean Tran, also came to the U.S. in 1976 as a refugee with little English skills. The journey was long, but Tran built herself a successful and accomplished life and now runs her own business. “She’s one of the most hardworking and caring people I know,” says Hoang. “She taught me to value my education and how to save for my future.”

The importance of education is something Hoang practices and gives to others. As a Newman Civic Fellow, Hoang has expanded her high school outreach program, Spend a Day with a Badger, for Madison East High School students. Around 20 to 30 local students – specifically first-generation college students and students of color — visit the UW-Madison campus. The event has impacted many students. One in particular stands out to Hoang, who told her she applied to UW-Madison because she had such a great experience with the program.

Hoang’s efforts are helping to shape a more welcoming campus environment, but it’s only a step in the right direction. She hopes that these future Badgers will have more than what we currently have. “I want UW to be proud of all self-identifying women from all backgrounds,” she explains. “I want future women at UW to be confident in classrooms and on campus and not be fearful of ridicule or harassment.” The senior explains that we still have a ways to go when it comes to addressing racism, sexism and ableism, even more so when incidents involve students of color to feel unsafe.

Identifying as a women only stacks the obstacles higher. However, women have come a long way, and Hoang says that the feeling of being an accomplished woman is a great thing – “especially if I felt like there was pressure for me to fail.”

What advice would she give her freshman self? “Relax a little bit. I would also tell her that there are people on campus who care about you and there are resources to help with mental health. Self-care and mental health are so much more important than any exam.”

Article by Mara Matovich