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International Women's Day 2020

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International Women's Day 2020

Since the early 1900s, International Women's Day has been observed to celebrate the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women globally. There is no shortage of amazing women right here on the University of Oklahoma's campus – women who are lending a helping hand, breaking down barriers, solving real-world problems, and chasing their dreams. To celebrate #IWD2020, we wanted to share the stories of Lauren O'Breza, Kristina Lea, Cinthya Allen, and Elanie Steyn, just a few of the women who have left their marks at OU.

Lauren O’Breza

Senior | Entrepreneurship | Denver, Colorado

Lauren O'Breza

Lauren O’Breza was set on paving her own way. Although she grew up in Denver, her family is all from Norman, and several of them went to the University of Oklahoma. O’Breza was raised a Sooner fan, but she was set on stepping outside her comfort zone and picking a school away from family.

That all changed once O’Breza’s mom convinced her to take a campus tour and she fell in love with the campus. Her decision continued to feel like the correct one once she learned more about the quality of the entrepreneurship program at OU, especially that it was offered as a separate major instead of just a certificate.

“I was really drawn to the aspects of entrepreneurship and the autonomy that comes with that,” O’Breza explained. “I’ve always sort of been a leader, and I’ve always liked to pave my own path. I wanted something that would cultivate those qualities in me and help me grow in that.”

During her junior year in fall 2018, O’Breza participated in the First Fidelity Bank Integrated Business Core (IBC) program, which provides students with real-world experiences as they form companies and create and sell products. A key component of IBC is philanthropy with all profits donated to local organizations, and students also complete service hours.

O’Breza served as vice president of philanthropy for her group, which sold a Sooner Schooner blanket. The group chose to donate the profits to the Curbside Chronicle and complete volunteer hours at the Boys and Girls Club through Center for Children and Families, which O’Breza coordinated for 20 people.

Throughout the semester, O’Breza saw the impact the Boys and Girls Club has on local children and discovered a passion for service, so she decided to remain involved with the organization through the mentorship program. For the last year and a half, she has worked with two girls who are now in the second grade.

“I think something really cool about OU is that it’s a campus full of people who are dedicated to making life better and not just campus life, not just student life, not just the lives of the community but all of those kind of incorporated together."

- Lauren O'Breza

“I’ve really been able to connect with these two little girls and they are such a little bright spot in my life,” O’Breza shared. “For me, part of the reason I keep going back is because I can see how my presence really impacts them. I actually went to volunteer with them last week and I was asking them about their days, what they did at school, and I just kind of offhandedly said, ‘What’s the best part of your day?’ Both of them were like, ‘You being here.’”

O’Breza is set to graduate in May and will then move to Fort Worth, Texas, to work for a commercial real estate firm. She admitted that has made this final semester tough knowing she will be leaving the two of them soon.

On campus, O’Breza is a member of both a social sorority and a business fraternity and also participates in Campus Activities Council. Although her primary volunteer work is currently off campus, O’Breza mentioned that “it’s so easy and within reach to give back” on campus too through organizations like Big Event and others.

“I think that something really cool about OU is that it’s a campus full of people who are dedicated to making life better and not just campus life, not just student life, not just the lives of the community but all of those kind of incorporated together,” O’Breza stated. “That’s something that’s really special about OU, and it’s something I know that I didn’t really pick up on when I visited other college campuses. The sense of community here was something that was so different and so next level that it was I just felt like it was a really important place to be.”

Kristina Lea

Senior | Aerospace Engineering | Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Kristina Lea

At the advice of an influential high school math teacher, Kristina Lea attended Engineering Days at OU’s Gallogly College of Engineering. There, she realized the possibilities of engineering.

“I was like, ‘Oh, math can be used for something other than just pencil and paper,’ so it seemed a lot more attractive to be able to use knowledge to fix problems and also communicate about them in the world,” Lea explained. “That’s when I knew that I wanted to do engineering.”

Lea, who attended Classen School of Advanced Studies in Oklahoma City, currently serves as the program manager for OU’s Design/Build/Fly team, hosted by the American Institute for Aerospace and Aeronautics. Essentially, the competition is to design, build, and fly a radio-controlled plane, Lea explained. She joined the team as part of her aerospace capstone class and said she has learned a lot from the experience working with about 11 fellow seniors and other undergraduate students this semester.

“Having to manage a bunch of different parts like that and scheduling and budget and working with university financials, it’s been a little bit of an uphill climb, but I’ve got to say that I really feel like I’m in my stride and am really enjoying it,” Lea shared.

Last summer, Lea completed an internship with Able Aerospace Services in Mesa, Arizona.

After graduation, she will begin a job as a structural engineer for Boeing in Oklahoma City. Eventually, she hopes to move into a project manager type of role similar to what she is doing with the Design/Build/Fly team. This internship and hands-on experience has prepared Lea for her next step.

“Being able to work with people not only one on one but in a group as well and be able to communicate clearly, set expectations, and being able to measure progress and everything have been some of the most influential things I’ve been able to carry on,” she said.

Prior to attending OU, Lea participated in the AT&T Summer Bridge program, which is a month-long residential camp designed to help incoming engineering students bridge the gap between their high school and college experiences. Through this program, students earn course credit and also start to build relationships with fellow students and faculty and staff members. Lea said it was beneficial for her not only because she met her fiancé and some of her good friends there but also because it allowed her to work with a team in an engineering setting like that for the first time.

The Gallogly College of Engineering Diversity and Inclusion Program hosts AT&T Summer Bridge, and Lea has remained connected with the program since her freshman year. The group has felt like an on-campus family to Lea, helping her with scholarships and supporting her.

“The Diversity and Inclusion program is mostly catered to making sure that everyone is included and equitable in the Gallogly College of Engineering specifically,” Lea explained. “They just provide a really good shoulder to lean on, ear to listen, everything … It’s just a really good community to come in and rest while on campus.”

In her graduating class, Lea is only one of six female aerospace engineering majors, but she said OU is intentionally working to expand the population of women in their STEM fields. As a woman in engineering, Lea’s advice for other women interested in STEM is to work hard and believe in themselves, regardless of what others may say.

“Know that if you study and you apply yourself, and you know that you’re capable to do everything that you set your mind to regardless of what anybody else says, then you can prove them wrong.”

Cinthya Allen

Director of Corporate Relations | University Development 

Cinthya Allen

Building connections is a key part of Cinthya Allen’s life.

When Allen was 7 years old, she and her family moved from Chihuahua, Mexico, to Oklahoma City. Even though neither of her parents had attended OU, they both embraced the university and what it stood for, a connection that passed on to Allen. After graduating from Northeast Academy, Allen came to OU as a first-generation student and earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology.

At OU, Allen connected with student groups like the Hispanic American Student Association and encourages other first-generation students to seek out similar resources, whether those are discussions with counselors, after-school programs, school clubs, or other opportunities.

Allen worked for AT&T as a student, and her career grew from there. Her most recent role was as external affairs area manager, through which she led legislative work for a territory of the state and also coordinated community relations.

In August 2019, Allen returned to her alma mater as the director of corporate relations in University Development. She oversees corporate relations on all three of OU’s campuses and works not only with corporate partners but also members of the university’s community to learn about the needs and contributions of various programs like the Radar Innovation Lab and Stephenson Cancer Center, just to name a couple.

“I thought this was a really good opportunity for me to connect with my passion for the university, my ability to drive strategy and relationships, and really do that in a big picture kind of scope at the university level … There’s so much impact that we’re driving, not just to the state but globally,” Allen explained. “Being able to help grow those programs just gives me this true sense of this ability to help, to help the world really to become a better thing, and that’s what the University of Oklahoma’s doing by placing these leaders in industries.”

“Being able to help grow those programs just gives me this true sense of this ability to help, to help the world really to become a better thing, and that’s what the University of Oklahoma’s doing by placing these leaders in industries.”

- Cinthya Allen

Throughout her professional career, Allen has stayed connected with her community through organizations like Leadership Oklahoma, the Hispanic Organization on Corporate Responsibility, board engagement with the YWCA in Oklahoma City, and the Latino Community Development Agency. Recently, Allen was named to the Achievers Under 40 2020 class by The Journal Record for the state of Oklahoma.

As an OU student, Allen learned how to embrace opportunities and be engaged with her community. Now as a professional, she has realized just how much members of the OU Family truly care about each other, especially when it comes to helping students succeed.

“What I have been able to see more from this perspective is how really everyone on a faculty and staff level, and even student to student, everyone is interested in helping students at the university grow,” Allen said. “Everyone is interested in helping the students have more resources, helping them have more access, and helping them just really feel more prepared … Everyone is working every day to make sure that our students are prepared and that they’re equipped.”

Elanie Steyn

Associate Professor, Journalism Area Head | Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication

Elanie Steyn

When it comes to research, Elanie Steyn aims to help solve real problems.

Steyn, who has been at the University of Oklahoma since 2007, grew up in South Africa and earned a bachelor’s degree in communication before moving to London to complete a master’s degree at City University. After finishing another master’s and a Ph.D. at North-West University in Potchefstroom, South Africa, she interviewed with OU via Skype and accepted the job offer without ever being to Oklahoma and has been here ever since.

In her research, Steyn is drawn to topics that look at how different countries and people around the world use media and information. For her master’s thesis, Steyn focused on the way in which South African media covered the Olympic Games after the country was banned from participating for nearly 30 years. 

“I was fascinated to see how it’s the same event, but different countries’ media covered it in different ways and focused on different things based on where they were politically or how big they were in terms of the roles the played in the world or who owned the media organizations in the countries,” Steyn explained. “With all those different factors and how it looked at one thing but with different angles and sort of came up with a different story, I think that intrigued me to see how news and information flows through different countries and to different audiences.”

When Steyn arrive at OU, she became involved with the grants Gaylord College was doing with the U.S. Department of State. These grants worked with female journalists in South Asia and focused on leadership development. This group of journalists would come to Oklahoma for a few weeks and be shown different media organizations, and then Steyn and others would travel to Asia and do workshops for them.

Another project the college did was with community radio in Bangladesh as it hosted six journalists for five weeks. Steyn and her peers consulted this group on various aspects of radio in the United States and what could be applicable in their roles while also learning more about what they do and what could be applied to radio here as well.

“To take the practical aspect and to apply that to academic research and publish that somewhere has always been my goal,” said Steyn of her research interests.

In the past, Steyn has also incorporated the Diplomacy Lab, a course-sourcing project through the U.S. Department of State, into her classes. Through this, students work on research tied to foreign policy and help organizations solve problems. One of Steyn’s classes developed a social media strategy for more than 20 countries in Latin America and looked at how the embassies for these countries engaged with their social media audiences. 

“What I really like about that kind of teaching is that it is more than just me telling the students what they can read in a book … Plus they get to work with real clients to prepare them in a way for when they graduate and are done with life here on campus,” Steyn said.

This semester, Steyn is teaching a Women in Leadership course and a Ph.D. seminar class. She is actively involved with the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, helping to plan the annual regional conference that is hosted at Gaylord College, and is a founding member of the World Journalism Education Council.