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Current Honorees

Each year, Girl Scouts River Valleys is proud to honor remarkable women and girls for their leadership, accomplishments, and community contributions. Congratulations to the 2020 honorees for this great achievement!

If you were unable to join us for our 11th anniversary of Women of Distinction, you can watch our Invest in Girls. Change the World. Women of Distinction video playlist.

2020 Young Women of Distinction

Huda Abbadi Headshot

Huda Abbadi

Huda and her family came to America in late 2003 living first in Chicago before moving to Rochester, Minnesota when she was in 6th grade. Being at a new school and new country, she wanted to find a place that created a sense of community. She found that when she joined the ConnectZ Girl Scouts program in sixth grade.

Huda is passionate about women who have influenced her life and credits Girl Scouts and the ConnectZ program for introducing her to strong female role models and mentors. Huda is a leader in her school and community as she continues to show compassion for all people as an advocate for racial equality, discrimination and social injustice.

Last year she was instrumental in forming the Diversity Council in her school, where she served as Vice President. As a leader in the council, she organized a mentorship program between her high school and their sister middle school. Now a senior at John Marshall High School, Huda is currently enrolled as a Post Secondary Enrollment Option (PSEO) student at Rochester Community and Technical College and is the Vice President of Student Senate.

Huda’s love for advocating for others was amplified last year when she testified on behalf of Girl Scouts River Valleys when she shared her experience in Girl Scouts and ConnectZ. It was then, when she witnessed how her voice could create a change. Huda continues to advocate for helping others through her role as a student leader in higher education.

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Sahana Vandayar Headshot

Sahana Vandayar

Sahana is a senior at Maple Grove Senior High and has been a Girl Scout since the second grade. Sahana serves as a member of the Girl Scouts River Valleys Girl Leadership Board and as a unit leader at Lights and Lakes Day Camp. For her Girl Scout Gold Award, she initiated an educational program named Computer Science for Kids. With branches in Singapore and Brooklyn Park, the program provides basic programming and computer training through the guidance of high school mentors for students in first through third grade.

Sahana credits Girl Scouts to for providing a platform to learn and teach science and technology in an all-girl-led environment. Outside of Girl Scouts, Sahana is the Outreach Captain and Drive Coach of her robotics team, Crimson Robotics. As a part of her robotics team, Sahana has helped spread the opportunity of robotics throughout District 279. To spread love for STEM and robotics, she initiated a FIRST LEGO League junior robotics program in Punggol Meadows, Singapore in 2017. She collaborated with robotics team 1156, Under Control, to create a trilingual robotics curriculum for students throughout North and South America. She serves as president for the Girl Up Chapter and is a representative of her school’s student government. This past year, Sahana qualified as a 2019 FIRST Robotics Competition Dean’s List Finalist and a Minnesota Affiliate State Winner by the National Center for Women and Information Technology.

When she’s not immersing herself in robotics, STEM or Girl Scouts, Sahana practices Bharatanatyam, a South Indian classical dance that she has performed for about 12 years as a part of Apsaras LLC.

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2019 Women of Distinction

Erin Carnish Headshot

Erin Carnish

Managing Director & COO, UnitedHealth Group Ventures

As Managing Director & COO at UnitedHealth Group Ventures, Erin builds businesses that create disruptive, positive change for the healthcare system. Since UHGV’s founding in 2012, Erin has help found, launch and govern six businesses to improve health care outcomes and affordability for millions of Americans. These companies are addressing our country’s struggle with diabetes, improving the quality and affordability of dialysis care, addressing unresolved physical pain, improving access to quality mental health and providing care for the frail, elderly and poor.

Previously, Erin was Senior Vice President of Innovative Solutions at Optum Health where she helped reposition the business as a leading health and wellness company through progressive product development and management roles since 2002. Prior to joining UnitedHealth Group, Erin was a senior manager at Andersen’s consulting practice where she led a wide array of strategy, systems implementation and business development projects. Erin holds a bachelor’s degree in mechanical/industrial engineering from the University of Minnesota and attended Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management’s Executive Institute.

Erin is active in the community, having served as a board member of the local chapter of Feeding America, Second Harvest Heartland, for six years. Most recently, Erin was the Board Chair of Hopewell Music Cooperative North, a non-profit music school in North Minneapolis providing free & discounted music lessons in an underserved neighborhood. She lives with her husband and three children in Bloomington, MN.

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Carolyn Smallwood Headshot

Carolyn Smallwood

CEO, Way to Grow

Carolyn Smallwood, CEO of Way to Grow, joined the organization in 2004. Under her direction, Way to Grow has become a premier early and elementary education home visiting service that has impacted more than 65,000 people over the last 29 years. Serving more than 2,400 people annually, including 1,400 children, Way to Grow believes the parent is the primary educator of the child and that each child should have an “equal opportunity to succeed in school and life.”

Carolyn has always been driven to excel and grow organizations under her care. Prior to joining Way to Grow, she served as vice president for Sales and Marketing at Twin Cities Rise!, and doubled the size of Minnesota Minority Supplier Development Council (MMSDC) as Executive Director. Before entering the nonprofit arena, she was the first Director at ADC, Broadband Company to increase their Supplier Diversity capacity across eight states, and she was considered one of the top senior business bankers at U.S. Bancorp.

In 2014, the Star Tribune named Carolyn on one of the Twin Cities’ “Top African-Americans of Influence.” She currently serves on the Ciresi and Walburn Foundation Board of Directors, the African American Leadership Forum Board of Directors, Minnesota Comeback Board of Directors (where she serves as Co-Chair), and the MinneMinds Executive Committee. Carolyn also sat on Governor Mark Dayton’s Early Learning Council for four years. In 2014, she was selected by Mayor Betsy Hodges to co-chair the Cradle to K Cabinet. Other previous board positions include the MacPhail Center for Music, the College of Saint Benedict, Jeremiah Program, the Citizen’s League, Children’s Theatre Company, and Girl Scouts River Valleys. Carolyn also served as a member of the Greater Twin Cities United Way’s Early Learning Executive Committee, as well as the Promise Neighborhood Solution Action Group.

Carolyn is a dynamic leader who has a deep passion in serving others and making the world a better place. With a passion for working with diverse communities, she brings a solid background in business, marketing and strategic development, strong executive experience, and an inclusive leadership style to Way to Grow. She is a bright, influential presence who puts the Way to Grow mission above all.

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Brooke Story Headshot

Brooke Story

Vice President & General Manager, Pelvic Health & Gastric Therapies, Restorative Therapies Group, Medtronic

Brooke Story has held a variety of commercial, strategic, and financial leadership roles at Medtronic (MDT) for the past twelve years. She currently leads the Pelvic Health & Gastric Therapies business in the Restorative Therapies Group (RTG) as Vice President and General Manager.

Previously she was Regional Vice President for the $300M Great Lakes sales region for RTG’s portfolio of products in spine, brain and pain therapies.

Prior to the RVP role, Brooke led the Surgical Synergy strategy for driving technology enabled procedures in Spine and Brain. In addition, she worked on the Covidien Integration team leading the revenue synergy efforts and supporting the global integration of the two organizations. Brooke was a Sales Director in the Pain Stimulation and Targeted Drug Delivery (TDD) business with responsibilities that included leading the clinical field organization and sales execution strategy. She also spent time as a Corporate Development Director where she was responsible for the evaluation, negotiation and execution of corporate development opportunities, including mergers and acquisitions, minority investments and technology licenses. In her first role with Medtronic, she led Sales Finance for the Spinal division with responsibility for the sales budget, sales reporting, sales compensation, contract analysis and administration

In addition to her business role, Brooke is the network leader for the African Descent Network (ADN), which supports increased management representation of African Descent talent at MDT through recruiting, engaging and developing talent. She is involved with the Medtronic Women’s Network (MWN), ASPIRE, and is actively involved in mentoring diverse talent across the organization.

Outside of Medtronic, Brooke is actively engaged in the community. She is a member of the Penumbra Theatre Company board of directors in St. Paul, MN. She serves on the state personnel committee for the Episcopal Church in Minnesota (ECMN) and serves in a leadership role in her local church congregation.

Brooke received an engineering degree from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. She began her career with Accenture then joined Johnson & Johnson prior to business school. She completed her MBA at the Ross School of Business, University of Michigan, in 2006 prior to joining Medtronic.

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Sri Zaheer Headshot

Sri Zaheer

Dean, Carlson School of Management, University of Minnesota

Sri Zaheer became the 12th dean of the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota on March 8, 2012.

During her tenure as dean of the Carlson School, Sri launched a Military Veterans Initiative to help servicemen and women transition from military to business careers, has increased the business community’s engagement with the school which has resulted in myriad new experiential learning opportunities for students, and has overseen the introduction of several new programs including new master’s programs in Business Analytics, Finance, and Supply Chain Management.

Sri joined the University in 1991 as an assistant professor and held a variety of roles prior to becoming dean, including serving as the PhD coordinator in the department of Strategic Management and Entrepreneurship (SME), department chair, and associate dean of faculty and research, where she was responsible for faculty in seven academic departments and the school's research infrastructure.

Sri holds the Elmer L. Andersen Chair in Global Corporate Social Responsibility and her research focus is on international business—a topic on which she has published extensively. In 2018, the Academy of Management named Sri as the PWC Strategy& Eminent Scholar, recognizing her lifetime achievement in international management scholarship. Sri is also a Fellow of the Academy of International Business, and a former Consulting Editor of the Journal of International Business Studies.

Prior to academia, Zaheer worked for multinationals such as Tata Consultancy Services and Sandoz (India) Ltd. She also reported on politics and business from India and Nigeria for Business International. These experiences provided the foundation for her research in international business, as well as leading the Carlson School’s engagement with the corporate community. Sri serves on the boards of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis and the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC). She previously served on the boards of the Guthrie Theater, Destination Medical Center Economic Development Agency in Rochester, Minnesota, and Greater Twin Cities United Way.

Zaheer earned her PhD at MIT's Sloan School of Management, her MBA at the Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad, and her B.S. in Physics at the Women’s Christian College at Madras University.