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2024 Fierce Award Winners  

2024 Fierce Award Winners  

by Jennifer Kennedy 

Back by popular demand – it is The Fierce Awards. Since 2015 Guide to Greater Gainesville has had the privilege of honoring strong, ambitious and successful women in the community. On May 30th Costello Communications and Marketing, along with title sponsor Charles Perry Partners, Inc., celebrated the 2024 Fierce Class with an inspiring event at Granville Plantation.  

Guide and HOME Magazine are proud to share the extraordinary stories of these 25 exceptional females whose resilience empowers those around them. Each one provides valuable lessons in overcoming adversity. 

Their fierce contributions span nonprofit organizations, healthcare settings, educational institutions and corporations. These exemplary leaders enhance the Greater Gainesville community with their passion, determination and strength.  

Dr. Abigail Dee Antigua  

Advanced Clinical Pharmacist and Residency Program Director, HCA Florida North Florida Hospital & Area Developer, KidStrong  

Abigail Antigua’s fierce journey started when she immigrated from the Philippines at the age of 15. She encountered the tremendous challenge of adapting to a new culture and educational environment without her support system. The ambitious teenager embraced each setback as an opportunity for personal growth. 

She earned a college scholarship and compressed eight years of education into six. That experience shaped her definition of fierce. 

“Fierce is someone that combines resilience, innovation, an open mind and hard work to excel and make a significant impact in their chosen field or endeavor,” she said. 

Dr. Antigua plays a crucial role on the HCA Florida North Florida Hospital’s healthcare team and was recognized with their North Star Award for going above and beyond in patient care. She is an advanced clinical pharmacist who provides specialized care to critically ill individuals with severe cardiac disease. She has been instrumental in the development of a highly regarded cardiothoracic program that has earned recognition from prestigious Society of Thoracic Surgeons (STS), HCA Healthcare and Alachua County. 

Dr. Antigua also serves as the hospital’s pharmacy residency program director, where she guides residents through an accredited pharmacy practice program. The leadership role allows the mother of three to shape the future of the profession and contribute to growth in the field. 

In 2020, Dr. Antigua and her husband started KidStrong, a science-based training program designed to help parents raise strong, confident, high-character kids. Today, they have successfully established four locations from Gainesville to Jacksonville that develop fierce qualities in the next generation. 

Alison Ungaro 

Founder and Executive Director, Created Gainesville 

Alison Ungaro’s definition of fierce centers around hope, optimism, determination and courage. She envisions it as a teachable spirit that never settles on “arriving,” but is always looking for ways to become better and more of what the world needs.  

“Fierce is compassionate, kind, strong, vulnerable, bold and open to constructive criticism,” she said. “This journey is best shared with others while offering an open heart and hand.”  

For the past twelve years Ungaro has embodied these traits by turning her passion for human trafficking prevention and survivor care into a nonprofit. Created Gainesville was started to support people that have been sexually exploited or trafficked. Since 2012, they have reached over 3,000 women and 7,000 youth, given over 175 awareness presentations and held 18 prevention classes.  

The founder strives to guide victims to not let the past call the shots for the future, but to allow it to teach and serve as a marker of progress and transformation. Her goal is to make an impact with those that are most at risk of being missed, marginalized, oppressed, misidentified and underrepresented. 

Ungaro works hard to balance life with her husband and five children with her mission of helping people. Raising her family and striving each day to be her best self for them is her greatest accomplishment. She hopes to inspire others to know that “love” is a powerfully fierce weapon to work with and that you can be brave, driven, creative, opinionated and still loving.  

Andrea McClintic 

Claims Center Manager, Enterprise Mobility 

The fierce qualities of fire, tenacity and confidence are always in motion throughout Andrea McClintic’s busy life. As a business executive and dedicated community leader, she has learned to align her time and energy with organizations she believes in.  

In addition to her role as claims center manager for Enterprise Mobility, she is vice president of Buchholz Girls Lacrosse Boosters and serves on the boards of both the United Way of North Central Florida and Danscompany of Gainesville. She has been involved with Gainesville Striders, Girl Scouts and American Heart Association, as well as school field trips and classes. McClintic believes in teaching her children that volunteerism is a vital part of a fulfilled life and making a difference, even in a small way, is important. The mother of three loves the people she has met in her 14 years of community involvement. 

Her current goals are to continue doing things that make her happy and try to leave the world a better place that she found it.  She strives to use her strengths to support her family and show her daughters that they can define their lives in their own way.  

“I am a fierce woman because I live my life authentically as me. I am comfortable in my own skin and with quirks that make me, me,” McClintic said. “I am brave and silly, a great problem solver, a good friend and a person that works to make the organizations I am involved with efficient and effective.”  

Angela Tharpe 

Chief of Staff/Director of the Collier Family Office, The Collier Companies 

Angela N. Tharpe believes she is a living testament to the power of resilience, determination and God’s grace. Despite facing numerous challenges, she has emerged victorious, driven by an unwavering desire to inspire, encourage and empower others. 

From overcoming the struggles associated with poverty, an alcoholic father and sexual abuse, to navigating through personal hardships such as pregnancy during college, bankruptcy, addiction, divorce and the tragic loss of a sibling, Angela’s journey is a testament to the human spirit’s capacity to triumph and redefine oneself by anchoring on the pursuit to live a purposeful life. 

Rather than letting setbacks define her, Angela views them as opportunities for growth and learning. Each obstacle she encountered served as a steppingstone, propelling her towards greater heights. 

As she puts it, “It all made me stronger and grateful that God allowed me to experience those things to speak hope and encouragement to others.” Through her weekly motivational videos, Thoughtful Thursdays, Angela spreads a message of perseverance and resilience, encouraging others to educate and equipe themselves with new tools to overcome their challenges. 

In her professional life, Angela serves as the Chief of Staff and Director for The Collier Companies Family Office, where she oversees strategic operations for more than 12,000 apartment homes. In her role, she focuses on fostering accountability, stewardship and financial oversight of the company’s resources, talent and communities. 

Beyond her career, Angela is deeply involved in giving back to her community. She serves on the board of the Gainesville Housing Authority and the University of Florida Bergstrom Center of Real Estate Board. She also mentors students in the Master of Real Estate program and law school, sharing her wisdom and experiences to guide the next generation of leaders. 

Angela Tharpe’s journey is a testament to the transformative power of perseverance, faith and determination. Through her words and actions, she continues to inspire others to overcome their obstacles and reach for their dreams, both personally and professionally. 

Dr. Bea Awoniyi 

Assistant Vice President, Santa Fe College  

For Dr. Bea Awoniyi, fierce means being able to stick with a goal even in the face of opposition and adversity. She believes challenges have the potential to strengthen us and help us achieve a higher level of change. The Ronald E. Blosser Dedication Service Award winner is tenacious about making the environment more inclusive and the world a better place. 

As a teacher in Nigeria, Awoniyi fought to help a disabled child named Jamal receive an education when the rest of the village opposed. The rewarding experience paved the way for a successful career as a disability services professional and accessibility advocate. 

As the assistant vice president for student affairs and the college ombuds, Awoniyi views herself as the care ambassador for Santa Fe College. She works hard to establish a welcoming and accepting atmosphere for students, help them adjust to college life and celebrate their achievements. The mother of three leads by example with open communication, honesty and trust. 

A Nigerian American, she is proud of her ability to integrate into a new culture. Awoniyi is the first person in her family to earn a PhD. She feels her greatest accomplishments are a 40-year marriage and grown children that are contributing members of the community.  

“I see each waking moment as an opportunity to make an impact and remind myself how lucky I am, so that I can understand the perspectives of those not as fortunate.” Dr. Awoniyi said, “I found my calling by being a fierce woman.” 

Christine Caven 

Director of Business Development and Communications, PS27 Ventures  

Christine Caven tackles challenges with creativity and innovation. Whether she is telling her company’s story to key audiences or volunteering in the startup community, she leads with action. 

As the director of business development and communications for the venture capital firm PS27 Ventures, one of her roles includes serving as the media advisor to their portfolio companies. Her successes include helping them pitch on Shark Tank, present on Good Morning America, showcase products on The View and secure features in publications like Forbes, Tech Crunch and Entrepreneur magazine. 

She is a co-founder of the PS27 Female Founders Forum, which has become the largest celebration of International Women’s Day in Florida. This program has female leaders take the stage to share their successes and challenges as founders and CEOs. Founders also have the opportunity to pitch their businesses on stage in front of a live audience. This year will be their 10th annual event highlighting successful female founders and celebrating women’s progress. 

Caven often returns to her alma mater to share her transformational leadership journey with University of North Florida students. She is fiercely passionate about setting the stage for other women. One of her favorite parts of her job is mentoring interns and leading the entrepreneurship in residence program. 

“Passing the torch to the next generation of women in finance is important to me.” Caven said, “My dream is to live in a world where there are as many women at the decision-making table as men in all areas of business.” 

Cynthia Curry 

City Manager, City of Gainesville  

Cynthia W. Curry is a driven producer of great work and generous deeds. Growing up she wanted to pursue a career in government to lead people and improve communities. Curry started out in elementary school (1965) as one of the first black students to integrate Putnam County, Florida public schools. In high school, as student government president, she fueled her interest in public service and never stopped seeking opportunities that allowed her to accomplish that goal. 

Curry was the first black female assistant county manager in Miami-Dade County, Florida. She was appointed Hurricane Andrew Recovery Administrator and State Oversite Board Member for the City of Miami by the late Governor Lawton Chiles. 

Curry was also the first female president and female recipient of the National Forum of Black Public Administrators Marks of Excellence Award for establishing a professional development program with colleges and universities and a mentor program for young aspiring public administrators. She has served as Senior Vice-President at both Florida International University and Florida Memorial University in Miami, Florida. She is recognized across the county as a high performing, impactful leader. 

Today, Curry is the City of Gainesville’s lead executive, appointed by the city commission. As city manager, she is responsible for implementing policy, programs and services for nearly 1,500 community builders, serving a population of more than 145,000. 

She credits her success to being unafraid to challenge the status quo, unaccepting of failure and maintaining relentless goal-oriented energy that drives positive change. 

The females in her family were instrumental in shaping her pattern of fierceness and she is passionate about nurturing young women to shed phantom self-doubt and allow their talents to shine. 

“I am unapologetically me,” Curry said. “I encourage others to drop the insecurities that inhibit authentic expression of purpose. If you are intelligent, articulate and skilled in some special way, don’t melt into something else.” 

Dayna Miller 

Director of Government Affairs, Waste Pro of Florida, Inc. and City Commissioner, City of Alachua  

As director of government affairs for Waste Pro in North Florida and a current city commissioner for the City of Alachua, Dayna Miller is committed to community involvement and outreach. 

She began her career in the environmental industry in commercial and construction sales before being promoted to become the first regional director of government affairs for Waste Pro. Through hard work and determination, Miller has built a successful career in a male-dominated field, with her professional achievements exemplifying the new and different ideas women bring to the industry. 

Miller’s career with Waste Pro is not the first time her grit and determination have led her to success. When she became a mother at a young age, she missed out on the traditional college experience, instead learning from the school of life. “Every time a mountain was placed in my path, I found any means possible to get to the other side.” Miller said, “If going over it or under it doesn’t work, try blasting a tunnel through it.” 

Miller’s career accomplishments are matched by her record of civic engagement. She credits an early experience as United States Senate Page for Connecticut Senator Lowell Weicker as sparking her political aspirations. Today, in addition to her role as city commissioner for the City of Alachua, Miller is also district deputy for Northeast Florida Elks, a board member for Recycle Florida Today, president-elect for Kiwanis of Sante Fe, and founding board member for the non-profit Josh’s Place. She previously served as president of the Gainesville Elks Lodge and the Alachua Lions Club. 

Miller believes being “fierce” means being willing to stand strong in your own principles. She encourages others to be bold and unapologetic for what they believe in. 

Debbie Frederick 

Chief Operating Officer, University Air Center 

Debbie Frederick has seen more than her share of challenges but refuses to be a victim or let disappointments define her. Those tough experiences helped her realize her strength and shaped the fierce person she is today. 

Frederick embraces living in gratitude and knows that mindset gives the toughest trials tangible meaning. The empathy she has gained always pushes her to seek ways to lift others up. 

Frederick is the lead advisor for Chi Omega at University of Florida where she guides and mentors 287 college women. Her responsibilities include helping the sorority leaders learn to problem solve and negotiate. Her most fulfilling role there is supporting these young women as they figure out their true value. 

She is heavily involved in Golden Retriever Rescue of Mid-Florida, spending three years on their leadership team and fostering more than 20 dogs. Frederick works with mill surrenders, behavior challenges, assists with transports and recently joined the Hearts of Gold therapy dog team. She loves seeing animals that come from sadness get the life of love and safety they deserve. 

As chief operating officer of University Air Center, Frederick adopts the “leading-without-power” mindset. She prefers to position herself on the bottom of an inverted pyramid, working to support her team. 

Making an impact, both personally and professionally, is her primary driver. 

“My heart is full when I promote a protégé or see a rescue dog’s tail wagging with confidence or offer someone in need a shoulder to cry on,” she said. “Fierce is getting up when you fall and helping others when they stumble.” 

Heather Parker 

Executive Director, Tyler’s Hope for a Dystonia Cure 

Heather Parker defines fierce as the ability to navigate the world with authenticity, despite your past. She knows firsthand, it means possessing strength and resilience regardless of outside energy. 

Growing up with a difficult home life, she needed a strong will to thrive in the face of adversity. Parker decided to create her own story. She dedicated herself to academics and escaped to extracurricular activities, earning a scholarship to her first-choice college. Her childhood trauma created scars that strengthened her. 

Parker’s children, James and Cameron, gave her a sense of purpose that she had never experienced. She is proud to watch them grow into healthy, confident teenagers that are who they are because of their parents– not in spite of them. 

After volunteering with the nonprofit for ten years, the former teacher was named executive director for Tyler’s Hope for a Dystonia Cure. The foundation, established in honor of Rick and Michelle Staab’s children, Tyler and Samantha, is committed to discovering effective treatment and advancing research for a cure. 

Her responsibilities include overseeing strategic planning, day-to-day operations, crisis management, board member and researcher/clinician relations, legal compliance, fundraising, advocacy and growth. 

Parker has tremendous admiration for the foundation’s board and views herself as the conductor leading a harmonious and impactful organizational performance. 

“Each area of the organization is part of the symphony.” She said, “It requires leadership and patience to effectively integrate each section but, when done right, we can make beautiful music.”  

Jane Kupfer 

Director of Shelter Services, GRACE Marketplace  

Jane Kupfer has always held a desire to make a lasting impact on the world, envisioning a society and community where everyone can thrive. Inspired by one of her role models, Dorothy Day—a journalist and political activist renowned for her advocacy for the poor — Jane transitioned from a corporate career to the nonprofit sector, driven by a commitment to end homelessness and contribute to a cause greater than herself. 

Kupfer serves as the director of shelter services at GRACE Marketplace, one of the largest low-barrier shelters in the country. In her role at GRACE, she oversees the daily operations of the GRACE Campus and Emergency Shelter. She spearheads initiatives aimed at enhancing efficiency and wellbeing for dozens of staff members who report to her. Kupfer’s job is focused on streamlining access to vital resources and ensuring the GRACE Campus is a safe and welcoming environment for the hundreds of people experiencing homelessness who rely on its services each day. Her passion is rooted in the belief that every individual deserves respect and dignity, and she endeavors to foster personal connections with shelter guests, taking the time to listen to their stories and address their needs on a human level. 

As a native of Gainesville, Kupfer considers it both a privilege and a calling to serve some of the most vulnerable members of her community. Balancing her professional responsibilities with the adventures of being a single mom to her 7-year-old daughter, Kupfer is raising a FIERCE little girl who is strong, bold, confident and curious. She imparts to her daughter—and to all young women—the importance of embracing their inner strength and passions. 

“Remember who you are, how strong you are and what you are capable of,” she said. “When women recognize that our passions are the key to finding our purpose, and what ultimately makes us feel alive, they become unstoppable.” 

Jessica Vander Biezen 

Director of Planning and Design, Sante Fe College 

For Jessica Vander Biezen, every setback is a learning opportunity. Failure has taught her to expand her perspective, get creative and explore other possibilities. Over the years, she has been blessed with amazing mentors who provided guidance and support on her professional journey. 

“We all come across challenges that can deflate you, shake you and make you doubt your abilities,” Vander Biezen said. “Being adaptive and resilient, knowing your strengths and finding creative solutions to those challenges is key.” 

Her goal is to be a lifelong learner. Seventeen years after receiving her bachelor’s degree, Vander Biezen returned to UF to earn her master’s in higher education to learn how to improve the student experience on campus. Later, even though she was a seasoned design professional, she sat for her NCIDQ exam to become a registered interior designer. 

Her role as an adjunct professor with the UF Interior Design department allowed her to share her diverse work experience and industry knowledge. She currently serves on the University of Florida DCP Interior Design Advocacy Board, whose mission is to provide scholarship, mentoring, professional development and networking. 

Vander Biezen has recently left the private sector to become the new Director of Planning and Design at Santa Fe College. She oversees a department responsible for engaging with the college community and developing projects to support strategic initiatives enhancing student success and promoting institutional excellence. 

She hopes to have an impact by bringing creative flair and strategic vision to transform college spaces into vibrant hubs of inspiration. She is committed to crafting environments that foster community, learning and personal growth. The fierce qualities of inner fire and determination motivate her to keep going. 

Mary Mele 

Owner & Creative Director, IndepenDANCE Studio 

Mary Mele turned her childhood dream into fruition by opening IndepenDANCE. She oversees the business and serves as a dance class teacher, coach and choreographer for their competitive team. Mele describes her role as second mom, friend, therapist, graphic designer, janitor, personal shopper, hair and makeup stylist, booboo healer, cheerleader and tough-love giver. 

In 2020, during the pandemic shutdown, she faced the possibility of losing her studio. Mele used her creativity and determination to shift her end-of-year recital model into an outdoor festival. The innovative plan provided joy for children during an uncertain time. Mele presented the successful outcome at the International Dance Entrepreneurs Association Dancelife Conference.  

She is grateful for the unique opportunity to help develop valuable qualities in hundreds of children each week as they study an artform that is extremely athletic. Mele is not only teaching dance, but the skills of teamwork, communication, socialization, self-awareness and vulnerability while developing artistic ability, physical strength and stamina. “My life’s work is to inspire and help other young people to grow up to be their own version of fierce,” she said. 

The University of Florida graduate feels raising children into successful adults is the most important work in life and is honored to be part of the dance studio families’ village. She hopes parents find the support she offers helpful on their journey.  

 “I believe in supporting and investing in the Greater Gainesville community. The business owners and leaders are beyond inspiring, and I am honored and proud to be among such fierceness.” 

Michele Lee 

Chief Executive Officer, Optimal Station 

Michele Lee believes you must have faith, compassion and empathy in order to be a formidable force of positive influence and leadership. She feels strength is learned from overcoming challenges that foster a resilient spirit with each hurdle.  

As the chief executive officer of Optimal Station, Lee’s responsibility is to provide vision and set strategic direction, while implementing a positive working environment for her team. She is committed to leading the smart vending machine supply company through innovation, driving adaptability and growth in the industry. Her people-first perspective has set her organization apart from the rest in the industry.  

Launching the first-of-its-kind Good Life Station amidst the challenges of a declining economic environment was a huge risk. The commitment to create a solution to bring the community together and draw visitors has kept the visionary motivated despite obstacles.  

Lee’s relentless pursuit of excellence, ability to turn challenges into opportunities, commitment to empowering others and impactful contributions to the community have defined her career. She is dedicated to demonstrating through action the courage it takes to be fierce. She mentors and provides support to other women so they can pursue their ambitions and overcome challenges. 

“This path is illuminated by the flames of determination, sparking creativity and innovation,” she said. “In this journey, weaknesses are not just overcome, but transformed into the very strengths that define and empower us, creating a tapestry of experiences that is both uniquely ours and universally inspiring.” 

Michele Lieberman 

County Manager, Alachua County 

In 2018, Michele Lieberman stepped away from two decades of practicing law in general and local government to accept the position of county manager. The dramatic professional change meant she needed to quickly develop a new skill set, while overseeing county operations and over 1,000 employees. In her new role, she was also responsible for implementing the Board of County Commissioners policies and maintaining and ensuring the overall health, safety and welfare of 280,000 citizens. 

Lieberman fiercely assumed the work ethic and confidence needed to serve as chief executive officer of Alachua County. While she had previously been involved in multiple organizations and leadership roles as an attorney, she made the shift from attorney to manager by getting involved in many professional county leadership organizations that perfectly paralleled her new role. She served as president of the Florida Association of County Managers (FACM) and is currently the president-elect of Women of NACO.  

Lieberman is proud of all that has been accomplished in the past six years. She feels she is successful because her team, from assistant managers to laborers, are dedicated public servants who give their all each day for their community.  

The Stetson University College of Law graduate leads through trust and empowerment. She believes every event in a person’s life impacts their path and that weaknesses discovered are learning opportunities on the journey. 

“Obstacles will arise, but what defines you is how you respond and overcome them,” Lieberman said. “Giving people the latitude to make decisions, trusting their abilities and allowing them to make mistakes and learn from them, are the seeds of success.” 

Monica Vosilla  

Senior Director for Digital Strategy and Operations, University of Florida Advancement 

In 2016, Monica Vosilla was offered an inaugural marketing manager position with UF Health Communications. After much discernment with her friends and family, she left Kansas City where she had been raised, educated and nurtured. The decision to take the leap and start a new chapter, where she did not know anyone, was both exciting and frightening. The move proved to be the twist she needed to reset her path. 

Vosilla found a sweet spot between the art and science of communication that has helped her navigate from student recruitment to enrollment to management to fundraising. With the increasing responsibilities, the ability to learn has kept her motivated.  

Today, she is the director of digital communications for UF Advancement, where she oversees email campaigns and website projects that support philanthropic and alumni engagement.  

Vosilla is also currently enrolled in the business analytics graduate program at UF. Her goal is not necessarily to earn another master’s degree, but to approach analytics more critically. The challenging and humbling course load includes all the classes she wanted to avoid in her earlier educational years. 

She calls the setbacks and weaknesses she has faced “tough teachers that help us learn humility and wisdom.” The new mother believes fierceness is the drive to elevate goodness in every situation.  

“There are so many twists and turns in life,” Vosilla said. “Some are good, others serve as lessons that add character and shape your definitions of happiness and success.” 

Nina Grayson 

President and Founder, Girls Can Do IT Too, Inc. 

Nina Grayson defines fierce as an unyielding strength and determination, combined with a passionate and empowered spirit. She feels it is embracing your authenticity, standing tall in the face of challenges and expressing your unique qualities with boldness and confidence. Grayson views a fierce woman as someone who fearlessly pursues her goals, advocates for herself and others, while radiating a powerful energy that inspires. 

Grayson served in the military in Afghanistan. She, along with other female comrades in the platoon, faced the challenge of dispelling stereotypes and proving their capabilities to their male counterparts. They performed their duties with excellence, often exceeding expectations. Through perseverance and competence, they earned the respect of their peers. 

As a young girl, Grayson encountered trauma that led to unforeseen challenges and significant setbacks. She sought mentorship, engaged in continuous learning and embraced feedback as valuable methods for improvement. She gained confidence and felt equipped with the tools needed to face future challenges.  

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Today, Grayson is the visionary leader behind a nonprofit dedicated to supporting and empowering girls who have endured trauma. Through Girls Can Do IT Too, she is committed to fostering resilience and positive transformation in young lives.  

“I am passionate about being a voice for the voiceless, particularly for those who find it difficult, or are afraid to speak up for themselves,” she said. “My primary goal is to advocate for their rights and empower them to find their own voices in a world that often silences them.” 

Sarah Ingley 

Owner, Gainesville Dance Academy and Circulation Supervisor, Santa Fe College Lawrence W. Tyree Library 

As a young mother, Sarah Ingley felt she had a lot to prove. This compelled and strengthened her to learn as much as possible about parenting. Her role as a mother gave her purpose and confidence. She discovered she could rise to the circumstance and be competent at something difficult and meaningful. 

As her son grew, so did her ambitions. While working full time as a single parent, Ingley graduated from University of Florida with highest honors and earned the full teaching certificates in ballet pedagogy from American Ballet Theatre. 

Her professional credits include being lead dancer in “Christmas With the Celts” on national tours and in Las Vegas, dancing for former U.S. President Carter at a Carter Center event, in Lincoln Center’s Dance on Camera Festival, in a Disney/Telemundo New Year’s Eve special, on Royal Caribbean and Carnival Cruise ships and at Busch Gardens. She was also a writer for nearly 15 years. 

Today, she fosters a love for dance in others at her world-class Irish dance academy, all while working full time in library operations at Santa Fe College. In both roles, Ingley emphasizes community involvement and outreach. 

“A fierce mindset and action can transform an individual’s life,” Ingley said. “I can’t wait to experience what my future fierce self will see, do, learn and share.” 

In August she enters the Institute for Women’s Entrepreneurship at Cornell University 

Shannon Miller 

Owner, The Miller Elder Law Firm 

Shannon Miller was instrumental in creating laws, educating and informing seniors across the state and the United States about stopping financial exploitation. Now her focus shifts to “aging better.” 

Shannon and her team continue to learn, grow and create new pathways to aging gracefully, “fiercely.” 

As the founder and visionary of The Miller Elder Law Firm, this prominent elder law attorney has a vision for aging and living life more fully as we age. She is fiercely dedicated to supporting the community and her clients as they navigate illness and end-of-life with dignity, comfort and freedom from unnecessary suffering. 

Her role extends outside of North Central Florida as she advocates for issues that affect vulnerable adults across the state. The vice chair of the elder law section of the Florida Bar was instrumental in creating state laws against exploitation, some of the best in the country. She speaks publicly across the United States to attorneys and judges to help them understand how they can build better laws to protect the elderly. 

“I am laser-focused on our purpose of improving the lives of people as they age,” Miller said. “I am passionate about growing, expanding and making life better for our seniors.” 

Shannon Reintgen 

Partner, Koss Olinger  

Shannon Reintgen defines fierceness as the quiet strength to persevere, regardless of life’s challenges. To her, it embodies the courage to advance her career while still unwaveringly prioritizing family. 

In 2022, while pregnant with her second child, Shannon faced a daunting challenge when her husband relocated to Alabama for a year-long fellowship. Determined to achieve her goal of becoming a partner, she made the difficult decision to remain in Gainesville. Balancing her full-time career with the demands of caring for a newborn and toddler, she emerged from the experience stronger and more resilient. Shannon regards motherhood as the most demanding yet rewarding role she has ever had. 

As a partner at Koss Olinger, Shannon helps guide the firm’s vision through strategic planning. In her advisory role with families, she specializes in integrating financial, estate and investment planning to provide tailored strategies that safeguard and enhance client wealth across generations. 

Recently, Shannon was part of a team that helped revitalize the North Central Florida Estate Planning Council, and currently serves as its president. Her leadership is characterized by a service mindset, always prioritizing people. As a mother of three, she strives to lead with compassion, collaboration and a commitment to advocating for and uplifting those around her. 

Shannon is dedicated to championing other women, mentoring them within the financial services industry and fostering their development as leaders through organizations like the Junior League of Gainesville. 

“I am a fierce woman by being authentic and true to myself,” Shannon states. 

Michelle (Shelley) Vickers 

Client and Community Relations, Scherer Construction  

Michelle “Shelley” Vickers is a dynamic leader in the construction industry, making significant strides in Alachua and its surrounding areas. With early exposure to the field through her contractor father, Shelley’s career began at a lumber yard and evolved through roles in HVAC coordination, utility customer service, electrical operations and construction management. Now, as the head of client and community relations and marketing at Scherer Construction, she sets new standards in the industry with her straightforward, confident and continuous learning approach. 

Shelley’s commitment extends beyond her professional life. She serves on the boards of the Alachua Chamber of Commerce, Builders Association of North Central Florida, Junior Achievement of Alachua County and the Gainesville Area Women’s Network. Her partnerships with the University of Florida, the City of Gainesville and Take Stock in Children highlight her dedication to community service. She is also a community advocate for many other local organizations. As a key event coordinator, Shelley’s networking skills and approachable demeanor make her a pillar of the community. 

Her most profound and personal impact, however, is reflected in her role as a mother. A single mom, Shelley takes great pride in her daughter’s emerging leadership and community involvement, influenced heavily by her own dedication to community service. Each day, she explains the ‘why’ behind her actions to her daughter, fostering a sense of purpose and responsibility. Witnessing her daughter step out of her comfort zone and actively contribute to the community, Shelley feels a profound sense of accomplishment. 

Shelley’s intense, passionate leadership style, always accompanied by a smile, inspires other women in her community to lead and give back. Her dedication to both her profession and community exemplifies how one can create lasting impacts, making her a true role model, showing others to embrace their own fierceness. 

Stevie Doyle 

Executive Director, Alachua Habitat for Humanity 

Stevie Doyle’s journey as a fierce woman underscores the belief that consistent acts of kindness, fueled by faith and integrity, can collectively create a ripple effect of positive changes in the world. She works hard to create a life that aligns with her values, while encouraging others to do the same. 

During her tenure with the American Cancer Society, Doyle identified a crucial need for a fundraising event dedicated to Breast Cancer Awareness and played a key role in the inaugural Rose Gala.   

As the executive director of Alachua Habitat for Humanity, her leadership style does not shy away from taking risks, making tough decisions and standing up for what is right– even when it is not the easiest path. She has an unwavering passion for the families the nonprofit serves. 

Dolye is proud of her organization’s commitment to making a tangible impact on affordable housing in the community. She watches these families undergo a profound and lasting transformation through home ownership. The impact ripples through generations, underscoring the enduring significance of their work. 

“We foster a sense of stability, hope and empowerment,” Doyle said. “Together we are not just building homes, we are promoting positive changes that will reverberate through the community for years to come.” 

Her advice to other women starting their careers is to embrace boldness, fearlessly take on new challenges and never lose the innate desire to make a positive impact on the lives of others.  

Dr. Taryn Rivera Buckley 

Director, North Florida AIDS Education and Training Center 

Crossing the graduation stage as she earned her PhD in health and human performance is a moment Taryn Rivera Buckley will never forget. The journey to her advanced degree was filled with challenges. She worked full time at Girls Place, taught classes at the University of Florida and balanced life with a toddler at home. Her family, along with a bus of girls from her workplace’s after school and athletics program, celebrated the achievement alongside her. 

Ten years later, she remains busy with her career and commitment to youth leadership. 

Buckley is the director of the North Florida AIDS Education and Training Center, whose purpose is to train healthcare providers that treat people with HIV/AIDS. She is also an adjunct lecturer for UF and vice president of the board of directors for Family Promise. 

Buckley is active in the Junior League of Gainesville, where she has been a member for more than ten years. Her fondest role has been mentoring and training the organization’s new members.  

The mother of two volunteers with Food4Kids Backpack program, coaches her son’s soccer team and referees middle and high school soccer games. In her free time, she has committed to running half marathons in each state, already checking 34 off her list. 

Buckley believes the best leaders are conduits of change that listen to the thoughts, ideas and feelings of those around them. 

She said, “A fierce woman is a combination of determination, passion and empathy. 

Taylor Williams 

Creative Director, Guts and Glory GNV and Manager of Corporate Training, The Haskell Company 

Taylor Williams embraces aging because she believes time and experience provide valuable insight. As she matures, she has a heightened ability to see all aspects of strength, including accepting weaknesses and failures.  

Williams feels her setbacks have been her greatest propellers to understanding herself and others. Her challenges have built her into someone who is resilient and can sympathize with others’ hardships and self-doubts. As a result, Williams leads with empathy. 

As the Manager of Corporate Training for The Haskell Company, she researches, designs and implements training programs around communication, leadership skills, innovation and collaboration. Emotional intelligence and connection are central to her role and are the focus of her passions in teaching others. 

Williams started Guts & Glory GNV live storytelling shows as a place for members of the community to share true, personal, comedic stories and find their voices. As creative director, she empowers people to tell their stories with confidence and see their value.  

“I want women to know that we all experience life as messy. Perfection or some linear solution is rarely the reality,” she said. “If we bring our authentic selves to life, that is where the magic lies.” 

Williams feels fortunate to coach others to connect with the best version of themselves. 

Her feelings extend beyond her work to her most rewarding role, as a mom. Williams’ goal is to empower her children to live their lives for themselves, celebrate who they are and find their own way. 

Dr. Tracy Leibach 

Professional School Counselor, Archer Elementary School and President/CEO, Cooper’s Corner Productions 

When Tracy Leibach was an adolescent, she was viscously attacked in the face by a dog. As she endured numerous surgeries and treatments, she went from a confident young woman with a robust self-esteem to someone who was humbled and haunted by life. She had to learn how to become a resilient, gritty teenager to overcome the trauma. 

Today, many look to Leibach for advice on some of life’s most difficult challenges. She provides resources for education, parenting, behavior and social/emotional life skills. 

The University of Florida graduate is a nationally certified professional counselor for Archer Elementary School and champion advocate for children and families. In addition to counseling students, she leads the school’s multi-tiered system of support teams, designed to intervene for students facing academic, behavioral and emotional disabilities. Leibach creates character education videos designed to teach ideals such as good citizenship, safety, respect, responsibility and cooperation.   

During the pandemic, Leibach started Cooper’s Corner Productions to serve as an educational resource for children and their parents. The puppet shows and related content she created were designed to help families adjust to their new normal. She was hired by DLUX Entertainment as their mental health consultant to contribute to their production “The Quarantine Time Machine.” Currently, as a life skills coach, Leibach creates instructional materials and courses on topics like resilience-building, emotion regulation, stress and anxiety reduction, internet safety, anti-bullying and test-taking strategies. 

“I am honored to influence those around me with positive strategies that help our community function at a high level,” she said. 

Leibach strives to make an impact as the Mr. Rogers of this era – someone who fiercely cares for and empowers children. 

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