Service Leadership Awards Honor Alumni, MBA Staff for Efforts to Improve their Communities
Leah Evert (MBA’19) channeled her cancer diagnosis into a foundation that supports cancer research. Jerome Smalls (B’19) started a social venture that empowers youth, particularly minorities from low-income backgrounds. Kerry Pace, associate dean of MBA programs, created new initiatives to promote wellness and inclusion in the MBA student body.
For their commitment to improving their communities, Evert, Smalls, and Pace have been selected as the recipients of the 2019 Georgetown McDonough Service Leadership Awards.
The awards, supported by a fund created by Timothy P. Tassopoulos (MBA’83), honor McDonough School of Business students, alumni, faculty, and staff who are exceptionally dedicated to principled leadership in service to business and society.
Supporting Cancer Research After Her Own Diagnosis
During the spring semester of her first year in the MBA Evening Program, Evert was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer. She was given a 22% five-year survival rate and a 4% 10-year survival rate.
“I received an outpouring of support, and so many of my friends and family members wanted to help me in some way,” said Evert, who had “absolutely fantastic” health care coverage as an active officer in the U.S. Army Reserves. “Since I felt pretty equipped to manage my health, I wanted to parlay that generosity into something that could benefit others.”
Evert co-founded the Willow Foundation to fund research on the benefits of complementary therapies such as diet and exercise in metastatic cancer patients.
“I know how empowering it is for patients who have been given dismal odds to have some small bit of control over their health,” said Evert, who also is a registered dietician and exercise physiologist. “There’s a ton of literature about how our food can prevent disease, but there’s very little research that shows how food, mindset, and exercise can play a role in actual cancer treatment.”
The foundation has funded two research projects so far and is accepting applications for additional grants. Through a Willow Foundation grant, a team at the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center at Jefferson Hospital determined that anti-inflammatory nutrients such as magnesium and vitamin D can slow tumor growth in metastatic organoids and that just a few days of calorie restriction in a patient’s diet may reduce tumor activity. Additionally, the Lee Jones Lab at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center is conducting a study that could determine whether participation in exercise alters the progression of disease in women with newly diagnosed metastatic breast cancer.
Motivating Youth Through Mentorship and Stories
During his four years on the Hilltop, Smalls spent a substantial amount of time venturing off the Hilltop. He led the Male Development Association, an organization dedicated to providing mentorship and promoting positive character development and academic achievement among young, male students from Washington, D.C.’s most underserved communities. He served as a McDonough student leader for Lemonade Day, which promotes financial literacy skills and entrepreneurship to D.C. children by supporting them to set up their own lemonade stands throughout the city.
And he started his own organization, a social venture called SmallTalk LLC, that works to empower students to find their voice and share their stories. (He also published a book on the subject.) Through SmallTalk, Smalls has visited local schools, hosted workshops, and launched a video series for educators.
“I love being able to help youth of all ages and backgrounds find their voice and grow confident in that voice,” Smalls said. “A young person with knowledge of self can be the most powerful force on earth, and it’s going to take young people who have a sense of self to address our most pressing issues today.”
Smalls’ commitment to mentoring children stemmed from his sense of privilege as a Georgetown student.
“As a student of color from a low-income background, I realized how much of an anomaly it was for a student like myself to make it to a top-tier college like Georgetown,” he said. “I knew that my friends had just as much intuition, wit, creativity, and intellectual capacity as I did, yet I was here, and they were still subjected to the hardship, trauma, poverty, and oppression that plagues our community. With my new level of access and opportunity, I felt — and will forever feel — obligated to give back to the ones who could be just as successful as me if given the same attention, investment, and opportunity.”
Promoting Community and Wellness in the MBA Program
A few years ago, the MBA Program Office began a new effort to recognize and help alleviate the stress and pressure that many MBA students feel. Chocolate bars with personalized notes and bulldog toys were reminders that the program cares. But as larger issues of diversity, inclusion, and community began to dominate headlines as well as conversations about work and school life, the program knew it needed to do more to support its students and uphold its Jesuit values.
“Unfortunately, chocolate is not the answer for meaningful change in a world that is increasingly divisive,” said Pace. “We started looking for ways to ensure our students recognized the value of diversity and inclusion, the unintended consequences of implicit biases that we all have, and the impact of insensitive comments and ‘harmless’ jokes.”
Pace brought in notable trainers to recognize and challenge implicit biases, incorporated diversity and inclusion awareness sessions into new student orientation and the Leading Teams for Performance and Impact core course, and delivered a workshop with Georgetown’s Health Education Services on active bystander training specifically around sexual misconduct, sexual harassment, and power dynamics. Pace also worked with the school’s Jesuit Initiatives group to organize an Ignatian retreat for 40 MBAs in the spring, and additional retreats are in the works.
“The initiatives and programming that I have either created or been involved in are just a start,” said Pace, who emphasized the support she received from students and her colleagues in the MBA Program Office. “I feel passionately that our MBA students deserve the support, awareness, and opportunity to reflect on these values. I am proud to be part of a community that promotes wellness as a whole, rather than just a student’s academic or career pursuits.”