by John Kenyon

CORRIDOR – If there is any one lesson to take away from the this year’s Women of Influence class, it is that large challenges can be addressed when met head-on by the work of passionate individuals.

Look at any of the nine women recognized in the 2011 class, and you’ll find someone who is bringing her talents and skills to bear on some of the significant problems faced by the community – and the world.

For example, Jane Paulsen, a professor of psychiatry, neurology, psychology and neuorosciences with University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, is a leader in the field of research to cure Huntington’s disease, a destructive neurodegenerative disorder.

At the other end of the Corridor, Gail Naughton, president and CEO of the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library in Cedar Rapids, is leading a $25 million project to move and expand the museum after the devastating 2008 flood.

They are joined by seven other women who are exerting their influence in a wide variety of areas to improve the Corridor.

As in the previous six years, the Women of Influence selection process began with reader-submitted nominations, which included supporting details, resumes and other materials to be considered. Packets for each of these women were forwarded to a selection committee made up of last year’s Women of Influence honorees, who made the final decision on the nine chosen for this year’s awards.

This year’s class draws more from the private sector, with six of the women working for businesses rather than public entities. The geographic split was fairly balanced. Five of the women work in Johnson County, four in Linn County.

They will be honored at the annual Women of Influence awards banquet from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. March 10 at the Highlander in Iowa City.
These women are being singled out for their contributions, but to a person, they are humble, deflecting praise onto others.

Sue Evans, for example, has been busy outside her work as chief operating officer with MidWestOne Bank to help lead the Go Red for Women effort locally. When asked about that, she talks more about others involved.

“When you go to build a committee, you just find committed people as well and turn the heat up and watch them get on fire and go,” she said. “That’s how I think it works out the best, and if it’s not working, then you just don’t have the right people helping.”

They also earn the title of Woman of Influence. Each does more than simply contribute her own efforts to the cause, but rather, leverages their influence to get others involved, making their own efforts several-fold more potent.

“I just think that, overall, a community is greater when it has a diverse group of individuals providing ideas and perspectives and services – and I’m not just talking about women,” said Lynch Dallas PC attorney Amy Reasner. “It’s about people who are minorities and who are of different religious backgrounds. I think it makes us all more creative and productive if we hear from a wide variety of individuals who have ideas of how to change our communities for the better and how to grow for the future.”