The Women of Mason

There are over 15,000 women living in Mason. Some are business owners, some are lawyers, some are doctors, some are stay-at-home moms. In March, a month dedicated to women, we wanted to highlight just some of the contributions these women are making throughout the city of Mason.

Meet the women of Mason.

Nikki Foster

Lily Geiser | Staff Writer

Nikki Foster is an Air Force veteran and mother of two living in Mason. In 2018, she ran for the local Ohio House of Representatives seat against incumbent Paul Zeltwanger. She said that she and her husband were motivated to get more involved in local politics in part due to the 2016 election outcome.

“In 2017, when President Obama was leaving office, my husband and I looked at each other on the sofa and said, ‘So now what?’” Foster said. “Now that he’s leaving, what are we going to do? And we said, maybe it’s time to step up and be part of the change. And so I did a lot of training in 2017 with some nonprofits, and with all that training, I stepped up and told some party leadership that I was interested in running someday. And they said, ‘Well, how about 2018?’”

Besides the leadership training Foster received at organizations such as the New Leadership Project and VoteRunLead, she said that she also benefited from the positions she had in the Air Force. After going on to the Air Force Academy when she graduated high school, Foster felt she was well-prepared to take on a different form of public service.

“It seemed like a natural fit to step up and show that I was capable of running a campaign and motivating folks to get involved,” Foster said. “At the end of my career, I was in charge of over 160 airman, getting them to and from deployed locations and then all over the Pacific and Europe. It makes you comfortable working with and dealing with other people, but then also makes you comfortable in crisis situations. In some ways, I had dealt with other challenges that were equally difficult or more difficult than when running for office.”

Despite having lost her 2018 run, Foster has not given up on running for public office. She has stayed involved in Moms Demand Action, and wishes to remain a part of the local political landscape.

“By staying involved, I’ve been able to continue to listen to the folks here in Mason and throughout the county and Cincinnati to see what type of leadership role might be best for me next,” Foster said. “So doing a lot of talking, having conversations with people and seeing what’s next. So I’m thinking something in 2020.”

Foster said she believes it is particularly important for young people to remain involved in politics as well. She said that in order to ensure that their values are represented, they have to take action.

“My message to (young people), especially to young women, is to be involved,” Foster said. “Whatever cause they care about, whatever values resonate with them, be engaged. A lot of young people might assume that the rights they see in their day to day life are always going to be there, but if advocates aren’t fighting for them, then some of those rights might easily be taken away. If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.”

Bonnie Emmer

Lily Geiser | Staff Writer

Bonnie Emmer is a microbiologist at AstraZeneca. She said that she found her passion for microbiology in high school, after taking a biotechnology course.

“They go through the different kinds of things you would encounter in a biotechnology major in college,” Emmer said. “One of the sections was a microbiology section, and I was interested. I just always liked bacteria and learning about them. We I started looking for a job, I went to seek out something that was microbiology based.”

Despite pursuing a career in science, Emmer said she is also involved heavily in theater. She is a board member on the local theater group Mason Community Players, and said that she is able to spend time on the things she enjoys outside of her professional life.

“I’m someone who’s interested in both STEM and the arts,” Emmer said. “My first passion was theater and the arts, (and) most of my free time is taken up by the arts. You sort of make time for the things that are important to you. It’s all about work life balance.”

Emmer works in a STEM field, which is heavily dominated by men (despite having made gains in the life sciences workforce since the 1990s, women are still in the minority). Despite this, she said that her workplace has remarkable gender diversity for the field, and she believes the trend will continue to push more women into the sciences.

“My boss and my boss’s boss are both female, and most of the people in my department are female, which is really nice,” Emmer said. “We have women in places of high power. I think the world is changing. We are seeing more women in STEM, and I think it’s only going to keep getting better.”

Dr. Lizzie Ngwenya-Scoburgh

Lily Geiser | Staff Writer

Lizzie Ngwenya-Scoburgh is an Associate Professor at University of Cincinnati, primarily at the Blue Ash center. Although she started her career in the business sector, in human resources, she said that she decided to switch to teaching after reading the self-help book What Color is Your Parachute.

“This book helps you literally write a list of what you like to do, and what you don’t like to do,” Ngwenya-Scoburgh said. “And when I looked at my list, it entailed things like, I like to learn new things, I love to read, and I like to work with people. I like change and constantly learning – I felt like I was a lifelong learner. And at the end of the list, it dawned on me, that I love to teach. I realized maybe if I taught at a university, that would be a good thing (for me).”

Before moving to the United States, Ngwenya-Scoburgh lived in South Africa during apartheid, the legal separation of races in the country. She was recently invited to speak at the Freedom Center to speak about her experiences, as well as the concept of ubuntu, a South African philosophy that centers around an individual’s connection to others.

“So the Freedom Center, they decided to invite people to have conversations on the culture of South Africa, and the concept of ubuntu philosophy,” Ngwenya-Scoburgh said. “Because I teach business, I said to them I can talk about it from a personal perspective growing up in South Africa, and also how to relate it to businesses as well. I had this conversation with one of the historians there, and we had people who came and listened to us, young and old people, a very diverse group of people. So it was a good thing to share my culture.”

Ngwenya-Scoburgh said she has found that enjoying her job has made all the difference in her life. She encourages others to also look for the things they are passionate about when choosing a career.

“My advice is do what you love,” Ngwenya-Scoburgh said. “For young people, sometimes they may want to create in dance or music and parents become afraid and say, ‘What kind of job are you going to get with this, there’s no money.’ But if a kid is really good in dance, is really good in music, you need to listen to that. Follow your passion, and you’ll be amazed how opportunities start to work out for you.”

Connie Yingling

Lily Geiser | Staff Writer

Connie Yingling has been member of the Mason School Board for nearly twenty years. During her tenure, she served as President, Vice President, and oversaw many changes to the Mason community. She said that she was first motivated to run due to her desire to give back to the community.

“I was most familiar with (the) schools,” Yingling said. “I had two kids and I had volunteered in classrooms, and I had tutored at risk kids and really enjoyed it. So my familiarity in local community service was schools. And I think the schools are one of the most critical pieces of any community. It really gives us its personality, it gives us its value.”

Yingling said that over her tenure on the School Board, she has seen the community change in drastic ways. Despite this, she believes that the school district has remained one of the best in the country, in part due to the people involved in it.

“The year I decided to run the very first time back in 1999, I was asked to be on the Future Facilities Committee,” Yingling said. “That was back when this community was making a decision — do we want one high school or do we want two high schools. And that group helped the district decide, yeah, we’re going to do one high school. Watching that grow, watching the buildings go up, watching the community triple in size and still being able to have, I believe, the most talented people in education — I think that has been one of the most remarkable things that I have seen because the quality (of education) didn’t suffer. In fact, it got better.”

It was Yingling’s interest in helping her town that first led her to join the School Board. She said that everyone should try to give back to their community to repay the things their community gives to them.

“I am a believer that if you are a part of a community, that you a responsibility to make that community its best,” Yingling said. “We live in a great community. We have great neighbors, our schools are good, we have great coverage in our emergency services. And I just think it’s all of our responsibility to give back and take care of what we have.”

Aanchal Srivastava

Ria Parikh | Staff Writer

Aanchal Srivastava is a choreographer and dance teacher at the Satrangi School of Fusion. Srivastava began classical dance training at the age of three, and has continued to train in and eventually teach various styles such as Bollywood, hip-hop, and contemporary. Srivastava said that it was not until she was ten years old that she decided after a big performance that she wanted to continue dancing.

“When I first started training, it was a really big struggle because I absolutely hated it and I really wanted to quit dancing” Srivastava said. “But my parents forced it. But then my first stage performance after training–I think I was ten–the rush I felt on stage is when I decided I really wanted to keep dancing, and teaching made me want to keep dancing.”

At her dance school, Srivastava teaches her students year-round, training them for various performances and competitions, such as annual festivals weddings. Srivastava said her favorite part about teach is watching her students grow not only as dancers, but also as people.

“A lot of kids I teach right now, I’ve been teaching for four or five years, at least,” Srivastava said. “Where they start and where they are when it comes to confidence, when it comes to attitude, when it comes to personality, they’ve grown a lot. Now they’re not afraid to tell me, ‘Hey, I don’t get this,’ or ‘Hey, can you clarify this?’. Before, no one would ask me any questions and be very confused, and I wouldn’t know about it until weeks later. Definitely that strength and that confidence I love seeing because I feel like I’m making a difference.”

In order to make dance a valuable experience for women, Srivastava said she strives to embed themes that build confidence.

“Dance sometimes can be a double-edged sword for women,” Srivastava said. “Because it’s kind of a thing where you’re like, ‘Women just dance, that’s what they do’. But I think a great way to push it is to have a message behind it and use it to build confidence. Using the dance skills, and using what you have to be able to perform in front of so many people, that then later on in life is very helpful.”

The summer after she graduated college, Srivastava competed on Dance India Dance, an international dance competition that took place in India. Srivastava said the experience opened her eyes to everything she had yet to learn.

“Dance India Dance was a scary experience at first, but it really opened my eyes to other dancers,” Srivastava said. “This world is full of such good dancers, and the training they gave me I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere else. It made me a stronger dancer, it made me a stronger person, and it taught me how to talk, because I had to talk on TV a lot. I was pretty young, I had just graduated from college, and I thought I was a great dancer. I went up there, no. Not at all. That experience humbles you and it also encourages you to be open minded that no matter how old you are, you can teach and you can be taught.”

Karli Dyer

Ria Parikh | Staff Writer

Police Officer Karli Dyer has been working for 13 years and is currently Mason’s Campus Safety Officer. Dyer said she first wanted to be a police officer when she had positive, comforting experiences with police officers when she was growing up.

“I would have to credit a lot of that (to) my childhood,” Dyer said. “I grew up in a not-so-fun homelife. I had some contacts with law enforcement officers, and the feeling that I was left with, I wanted to give that feeling back to someone–that assurance and that overall comfort knowing that things were going to be okay. I wanted to make sure I gave that back in some way.”

Dyer said that her initial nerves about being in a male-dominated field transformed to comfort as she began to form familial bonds and relationships with her colleagues.

“Being a feel in a male-dominated (field)–and it’s still very male dominated–I was nervous to begin with,” Dyer said. “You could feel the doubt in a lot of people outside of law enforcement’s mind when I said I wanted to be a police officer. But as I grew up and developed and started working with the City of Mason, it became a family. I work with a bunch of big brothers and I love it.”

Although standards for women in her field were lower, Dyer said that part of removing feelings of inferiority for her was refusing to comply to the lower standards put in place by society.

“I looked at it as a challenge,” Dyer said. “I didn’t look at it as a he’s male, I’m female kind of thing. It was more of ‘I want to be just as good, and I can be just as good’. There are testing requirements with physical ability that they had two different standards. The females were lower than the males and I’m like, ‘Absolutely not. If I want to go into this world, I’m going to test at the male standard. That’s what they expect (of) the males, then that should be what they expect of me’. And I did–I went in and I tested as I was at the same exact level as everybody else.”

Jennifer Benson

Ria Parikh | Staff Writer

Jennifer Benson is an Ohio Certified Prevention Consultant and volunteer Girl Scout Leader and Girl Scout Service Manager. As a consultant, Benson works with communities to assist with drug and alcohol prevention. In Girl Scouts, Benson leads two girl scout troops through fundraising and service projects and she coordinates events that are open to all Girl Scouts in the region.

Benson said that as a consultant, she enjoys making a visible difference and strengthening the community’s views on drugs and alcohol

“I see the impact,” Benson said. “I see how the communities can come together and really make a difference with alcohol and drugs and to me, it’s fun. I get paid for having fun.”

As a girl scout leader, Benson has taken two troops through the process of receiving Bronze and Silver awards, both of which are awards that girls can earn by working to improve a specific issue in the community.

“For both troops we have done the bronze and silver award,” Benson said. “They did projects in the community for animals, and the food pantry. I’ve always tried to encourage leadership in them, by (having them) do it themselves. I try not to do too much.”

Benson said the most rewarding part of leading a girl scout troop is watching her girls grow into motivated, confident leaders.
“I’ve seen girls that I’ve been with for a long time. At first, they may be scared or nervous about doing something, and next thing I know, they’re out there meeting groups and working to sell those cookies or whatever it might be. It’s kind of cool to see a difference.”

Priya Sangtani

Ria Parikh | Staff Writer

Priya Sangtani has been a realtor for 13 years. Sangtani works for Comey and Shepherd and specializes in selling homes in Mason.

Sangtani said her desire to into real estate came from her recognition of her skill in sales and her decision to take that skill a step further.

“I thought that I was very good in sales,” Sangtani said. “I used to work for Dillards and for 4-5 years. That’s when I realized that I’m very good in sales. I was one of the top sales people over there and I thought, ‘If I’m really good at selling, why not come into real estate, try my luck and see how it goes?’”

Sangtani said she sponsors cultural events in the community to build business and meet new people.

“Normally, they approach you, and say, ‘We are having having this event for this date. Would you like to sponsor?’, “ Sangtani said. “If you sponsor, they have your banner or and an ad in the newspaper. It just helps to have your name out, so people know you and that’s how you get your business sometimes. “Getting out there was (about) flexibility, initially. Then later on it worked best for me, so that’s how I just started.””

Sangtani said the most rewarding part of her job as a realtor is to make a positive difference in the lives of the people she meets.

“It’s a happy moment for everybody,” Sangtani said. “Buying and selling homes is always a happy moment and people are excited. There are a lot of emotions involved with buying and homes and first-time home buyers are always very happy to get into their first home. Even for the selling, there is always a downsize or upsize, or even if they are relocating, they are always happy to move out of town and for their betterment.”

Lori O’Connel

Ria Parikh | Staff Writer

Lori O’Connell is the owner of Vera Nova Dance and Theater Boutique. O’Connell decided to open up the store after she realized that she wanted to keep busy after kids became old enough to take care of themselves.

“I was a stay-at-home mom all my life, and I decided when my kids got older, in high school and my older daughter just graduated college, that I needed something to do with my life. That’s when I thought that running a small dance studio would be perfect, and that’s when I contacted Capezio and he got me hooked up with this. I realized that no working for 20 years, I didn’t want to go back to pushing paper.”

After years of working in business, O’Connell said her biggest piece of advice for aspiring businesswomen is to work alone and not in partnership.

“I wouldn’t go into a partnership. Try to, if you can, do it on your own. Look into everything you would need as far as your startup money and ask so many questions. You need a good accountant, you need good advisors. Basically, I would say, know your costs upfront, but if you have the backing and good people around you, I would say for sure, you don’t have a partner.”

O’Connell said the most rewarding part of working with children is watching them experience dance costumes for the first time.

“I see their smiles when they try on their new little outfits for the first time. Their first ballet shoes, and their first little tutus. It’s just priceless, and they are so excited. This is my first time running a retail store, and I thought, ‘Oh, I’ll try,’ and I just fell in love with it. I’m a people person.”P

Photos by Lily Geiser and Ria Parikh, contributed by Nikki Foster’s Campaign “Friends of NIkki Foster,” UC Blue Ash, and