Fierce Women of Greater Gainesville

Be the Exception: Fierce women transforming the business climate in the Greater Gainesville community

“A strong women looks at a challenge dead in the eye, and gives it a wink” -Gina Carey




The Fierce Awards, presented by Scorpio, honor inspirational women who have changed the landscape of the Greater Gainesville region. The 2023 Fierce Award winners include entrepreneurs, attorneys, cancer survivors, executives, educational leaders, faith leaders and brokers. Through their work, GG is a better place.


Amber Miller – Executive/CEO, United Way

Amber Miller leads United Way of North Central Florida with honesty, integrity and empathy. A “practitioner of careful consideration” and a champion of self-awareness,

she is never afraid to step up to a challenge. This tenacious courage is what she calls –– and is –– fierce.


Brande Smith – Attorney, Office of the General Counsel, University of Florida

As Senior Counsel for the University of Florida, Brande Smith serves as legal counsel and advisor for many people and departments. She also trains, mentors and supervises teenagers, law students and young professionals. Her strength of conviction and perseverance is what makes her fierce.



Carrie Gratto – LMHC/Owner, Sojourn Counseling Session

Carrie Gratto is a therapist who owns and operates Sojourn Counseling. She started Sojourn in 2011 out of a desire to provide support and counsel to those in need in her community. She believes being fierce is facing challenges and pursuing goals with conviction, not giving in and standing strong in the face of adversity.


Christina Ramos – Executive Director & Administrator, Touching Hearts at Home

Christina Ramos serves as the executive director and administrator of Touching Hearts at Home. Christina is the first woman in her Cuban family to graduate from college. She earned her master’s degree from the University of Florida and was inducted into its Hall of Fame. She believes that being fierce is a state of mind and knowing that you are only as strong as your thoughts, attitudes and beliefs.


Dr. Melissa Cere – Owner, Physical Therapist, Kinetix Physical Therapy

Dr. Melissa Cere earned her Doctor of Physical Therapy degree in 2008 and while pregnant, opened Kinetix Physical Therapy alongside her husband and co-owner. In 2015, she launched a nonprofit ministry called Widowhood Workshop, where encouragement and support are offered to those who are dealing with life after loss. She sees fierceness as a resiliency to stay true to oneself –– no matter the challenges faced.


Dr. Miranda Whitmer – Dermatologist and ASMS-trained Mohs surgeon, Forefront Dermatology

Dr. Miranda Whitmer manages a busy medical practice and has been recognized numerous times as the area’s best dermatologist. She came from very modest beginnings and overcame great adversity in high school, proving that being stubborn is an asset. For her, the word fierce means being relentless and refusing to give up on a goal, as well as having a passion for life.



Erin Porter – Manager of Marketing and Public Relations, Gainesville Regional Airport

As public relations and marketing manager for the Gainesville Regional Airport, Erin Porter makes an impact by staying positive and truthful. She worked for Sir Richard Branson and did media relations for the National Park Service’s Centennial of Flight Celebration at the Wright Brothers National Memorial. She leads fiercely by reframing challenges in a positive light and is dedicated to showcasing the elements of her community.


Jennifer Lester – Partner, Avera & Smith LLP

Jennifer Lester, partner at Avera & Smith, built her practice from the ground up after an unfulfilling time representing large insurance companies. She is also fierce outside of the courtroom. She insisted on an aggressive approach to her breast cancer diagnosis in 2015 and was proven right. She believes that passion translates into fierceness.



Kayla Turner – Property Manager, Contemporary Management

Kayla Turner leads a team as they maintain and improve the assets of owners and investors, managing several luxury apartment communities in Gainesville. She believes being fierce is being on fire for life. She was fierce when she battled breast cancer at the age of 30 and went to work throughout her chemo treatments.



Lacey Jones – Associate Vice President for Marketing and Communications, InfoTech

Lacey Jones leads two teams at InfoTech. She reinvigorated the marketing team and helped to create Infotech’s first internal communications program. She believes being fierce is knowing your influence and making an intentional decision to use it for good.



Melissa Long – Executive Director of Human Resources, UF IFAS

Melissa Long leads the Human Resources team at University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS). She enjoys cultivating growth on her team and serves as a mentor to many colleagues within advancement and across campus. She believes to be fierce is to be steadfast, true to yourself and to make an impact wherever you go by building and lifting others up.


Minde Prince O’Sullivan – President, Rex & Brody Foundation

After the tragic death of her two sons, Minde Prince O’Sullivan turned her grief and sorrow into something good. She established the Rex and Brody Foundation, supporting local youth sports organizations and athletes. She also lobbied state congress for a bill to prohibit the public from accessing the autopsy reports of minors killed through domestic violence. For her, being fierce is making a conscious, daily decision to be better, stronger and more supportive.



Monica McMillen – Attorney, Law Offices of Monica McMillen, P.A.

Monica McMillen is determined to walk through the toughest seasons of life with her clients and to celebrate their triumphs in and out of the courtroom. She believes that a fierce woman is one who balances her boldness, intellect and intensity while gracefully remaining steadfast in her objectives.


Ronna Jackson – Chaplain, Blessing Bucket Event Coordinator

Ronna Jackson lost her son in combat and made a promise to take care of his brothers and sisters in arms. As the event coordinator for Blessing Bucket, she is responsible for the annual event dedicated to helping homeless and transitioning veterans. She believes fierce is showing great energy or enthusiasm to everyone you meet and making a difference in their lives.


Sarah Cain – Principal, Sarah Cain Design

For Sarah Cain, failure is not an option. She pushes and challenges herself constantly. She is a design studio founder and member of the Board of Advocates for the School of Interior Design at UF. For her, fierce means creating your own path, listening to your own voice, defining your journey and providing opportunities so that others may pursue their own dreams.

See Also


Shannon Sumerlin – Director of Development, University of Florida

Shannon Sumerlin is the director of development of UF Law and leads a team that focuses on engaging and connecting alumni across the nation. She also focuses on fundraising for scholarships and programs. Additionally, she helps others to connect their passions with ways to help students by mentoring, teaching or collaborating. For her, being fierce is an inner fire, and to be fierce you must have a desire to pursue your path no matter the obstacle.



Shereka Nicole – Founder and CEO, Premier Moms

Shereka Nicole created Premier Moms to help other moms. Her focus is on training, mentoring and networking as well as promoting self-care to mothers.

As a cancer survivor, Shereka also strives to use her voice to raise awareness for early detection. She believes to be fierce is to go after your dream and goals with a determination to succeed no matter the obstacles or timeline.



Staci Bertrand – Government and Community Relations Manager, Duke Energy

Staci Bertrand leads through interpersonal relationships, deep connections and celebrating others. She also tackles challenges with an optimistic approach and chooses to see the glass half full, even after her husband died unexpectedly in 2019. She believes fierce is the ability to go through trials and remain purpose driven.



Stephanie Marchman – Attorney and Shareholder, GrayRobinson

Stephanie Marchman is an attorney and shareholder with GrayRobinson, a law firm with 15 offices throughout the state and 300 attorneys. She also serves as general counsel to a number of nonprofits. She believes that to be fierce is to stand up for what is right when it is hard, to show up for those in need, to persevere and to lead with heart.



Tammy Dygert – Former Director, StartGNV

Tammy Dygert is a teacher at heart who takes every opportunity she can to teach, learn and collaborate with her community. She believes fierce is the ability to do something for the greater good with an unrestrained passion that aligns with your core values.



Tatila Brock – Director of Programs, The Education Foundation of Alachua County

As a first-generation college graduate, Tatila Brock understands the importance and struggles of getting an education. In her role at the Education Foundation, she has helped develop programs that give more than $700,000 a year in scholarships. For her, being fierce is obtaining the knowledge and strength to advocate for what is right to make the world a better place.


Zabel Thur de Koos – Broker and Owner, Lexis Real Estate Group

Zabel Thur de Koos began her career in the family business. Starting by cleaning apartments her family owned for little to no pay, she rose to leasing agent, then general manager and eventually –– CFO. She believes fierce means a calm toughness exemplified by determination to succeed.


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