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Meet the 2021 Women of Chandler

Powerful, Inspiring, and Making the World a Better Place

Photographed on-site at St. Amand, StAmandAZ.com

DR. SHADOW ASGARI

Sonoran Smile Orthodontics

Dr. Shadow Asgari’s parents immigrated from Iran in pursuit of a better life for their three daughters. It’s the classic story. Growing up, her dad empowered them by believing America truly is the land of opportunity, and with hard work, anything is possible.

“He wanted us to be doctors to make sure we could always have a reliable job and be independent.”

After dental school, Dr. Asgari left her family behind in Houston at the age of 27 to move to Chandler, where she did not know anyone. She quickly learned that Chandler is a welcoming community that cares, and making friends came easily. Twenty years ago, she became one of the first female orthodontists in the East Valley. Along with her business partner, Dr. Samantha Vu, Sonoran Smile Orthodontics has grown to four locations.

Dr. Asgari grew up appreciating education, and supports our teachers by offering free or discounted braces to them and their families.

“Teachers work so hard and give so much, and I think we’ve all come to appreciate that even more this past year as we struggled to help our kids with online school.”

What’s ahead?

“My next step in life is to do more volunteer work in the City which has supported me and given me everything I have.” 

MOLLY BELL

VP, GoDaddy

Molly Bell has developed into a true leader by never forgetting the details and mentors who have helped her grow her career with various organizations like GoDaddy, PayPal, and MCI Telecommunications. The key to her success is to focus on the little things that matter most to her team, and the wellbeing of her employees.

Someone who works with Bell describes her in this way, “Molly is an amazing leader with an incredible attention to detail. She is the only director I have worked with that tries to get to know just about every associate in her organization. She is a listener, and her team’s biggest advocate. Molly constantly strives to find the right balance between a happy, inspired workforce and the prosperity of the company.”

Bell grew up in a small town in Iowa, and her parents were great examples of how being involved in your community can have an impact on not only the people who live there currently, but for future generations. She has served the last several years on the Boards of AZCEND and the Chandler Chamber of Commerce.

What words does she try to live by?

“Little Things Matter. Be Transparent.”

Something you may not know about Bell?

“I don’t like chocolate!” 

TAMI BUTCHER

VP, Origami Owl

Through her “Team Believe” at Origami Owl, Butcher has created a culture of empowerment and leadership for almost 3,000 women. She has built this team of “#girlbosses” who love teaching others how to create a sustainable business and change lives, including her two daughters, Madi and Tatum.

One of Butcher’s nominators describes her as “a community force for good. She is a shining example to other women who want to be successful not only in business but in life, and encourages with her outgoing personality and witty sense of humor.”

Another describes her as a “Chandler loyalist, who supports local, promotes local, and spreads her kindness throughout our city. Her sense of humor is second to none, and she uses her connections for the good of the community.”

An Arizona native, Butcher has deep ties to the community as her family owns two historic restaurants, Rustler’s Rooste Steakhouse and Aunt Chiladas Mexican Food. She is involved in many charitable organizations, including Seeds for Autism, Gabriel’s Angels, and East Valley Women’s League.

Something you may not know about Butcher?

“I donated my kidney to my cousin, who was in stage 4 kidney failure during Covid. I am thriving and almost fully recovered. My cousin is still fighting the good fight, but we hope my little bean starts to work inside of him soon! “ 

CARLA CANTRELL

ICAN Volunteer

The “library lady” is one of ICAN’s most valuable volunteers. A retired CUSD teacher, Cantrell has a long history working with vulnerable youths, and has led the charge to transform ICAN’s library into a vibrant learning environment that impacts the kids that attend.

Passionate about literacy, she ensures books are organized and appealing to youth, and trains all of the library volunteers. Her one-on-one and small group sessions with the kids have improved their literacy skills and directly impacted their academic success. To ensure her legacy, ICAN is working with Cantrell to develop a long-term Carla Cantrell Literacy Program, ensuring her crucial work continues.

When COVID forced ICAN to suspend its volunteer program, Cantrell was one of only three volunteers who simply insisted on remaining. She spent the entire summer working with the kids to help catch them up from the extreme learning loss so many were experiencing.

“I love to watch the children gain confidence in their reading ability. Success teaches success and being even a small part of their improvement is all the reward I need.” 

GLORIA GARZA-WELLS

Teacher, CUSD, Director – Instituto De Folklor Mexicano

Even though Gloria Garza-Wells is an Arizona native, moving from Tuscon to Chandler in 2012 was a culture shock. As diverse as Chandler is, she found no celebration of traditional Mexican culture. To bridge the gap, she created a nonprofit, Instituto De Folklor Mexicano, and reached out to schools and local organizations in order to preserve her Mexican heritage and the moral values of Mexican art and history. The organization gives free presentations and classes about Mexican history and traditional Mexican folk dance.

“Teaching my students is the reward. It has given me the opportunity to be a positive role model, and a mirror to my students. I am able to help them develop, learn, and have a positive influence on the future.”

Garza-Wells also volunteers for several nonprofits, including City of Chandler Diversity, and is a founding member of the new nonprofit, Chandler4Change, a non-partisan, non-political safe space allowing people to facilitate change in the Chandler community.

Words to live by?

“Prepare to plan, or plan to fail.  As a mom of four, and a teacher, this is one of the most important quotes I live by.” 

DR. SHEETAL KARNIK

CEO/Founder, New Edge Science Academy

A scientist by profession, Dr. Sheetal Karnik has a Ph.D. from ASU and a post-doctorate in cardiovascular research and endocrinology from the Phoenix VA hospital. Her passion to instill an interest in the sciences in today’s youth and enable them to pursue various fields in STEM, led her to create New Edge.

“It’s my goal to be instrumental in developing a passion and interest in the STEM field for our next generation of students across the US."

Dr. Karnik takes pride working with students from "Families in Transition" and the Migrant program.

“Not all students are fortunate to have parents/guardians who are involved in shaping their future or giving them guidance. Many students come in believing they are not smart and not cut out for education. These kids are the most hardworking students I have ever seen, and we put in extra efforts to help them with the concepts they are learning and to boost their confidence.”

Like many, Karnik’s inspiration comes from her parents, who grew up in very dire circumstances. Their success was self-made through education, hard work, faith, and determination. 

HEATHER PATTERSON

Asst. Principal, CUSD

Both of Heather Patterson’s parents were educators in the East Valley, so they are a natural inspiration for her.

“I have watched my parents raise five kids and countless others throughout the years. I admired the relationships they built within our family, and the students that they mentored over the years. I have never lost sight of the relationships they built and maintained. Between the two of them, they modeled what an 'ideal' educator should look like.” 

The most rewarding part of her job is being present as students evolve.

“Watching students enter the campus as ninth graders and exit into the world as graduates is rewarding. Seeing the energy created when they are finding their passion never ceases to amaze me.”

Through her involvement with the Chandler Service Club, Patterson is also able to create a bridge between the service organization and under-represented populations of the district.

“As a member of CSC, raising money for programs and providing many needed services allows us to support our community outside of school. I know that we are making a difference every day for a student somewhere in Chandler.” 

MICHELLE POTTS

Communications Manager, Chandler Police Department

Michelle Potts’ start in law enforcement came as a business intern in high school, and she fell in love with the culture. As a 9-1-1 operator and then dispatcher, she found out she also loved to talk!

“Talking all day PLUS the appeal of helping people felt like the perfect combination and match for my personality! Twenty-five years later, it’s still the greatest job ever!”

Her job requires a unique combination of quick response and patience, and she credits her team for their creativity in applying new technology that has paved the way for Chandler to have one of the most progressive emergency communications centers in the nation. 

Potts loves school, and has a friendly, lifelong competition with her dad. Both are “forever” students, and are thinking of starting an MBA program together.

“I suppose there are all kinds of daddy-daughter hobbies. This would be a fun one for us!”

Something you may not know?

“I love my Native American heritage as a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. Going back to Oklahoma to visit the Nation, it’s interesting to watch the business side of the tribe. It’s different than local government and I have much to learn.” 

DAWN LANG

CFO, City of Chandler

Maybe working as a bet teller for a horse track in Great Falls, Montana for a couple of seasons in her younger days, and once receiving a $500 tip, encouraged Dawn Lang‘s career in finance, or maybe it was just her love of numbers. Either way, she and her team have had a positive impact on Chandler’s solid financial operating, and capital performance and planning.

“Being able to have a positive impact on the community in which I live, drives me to do better and be accountable. I have discovered that working for the community in which I live, inspires passion for my work.”

Personally, Lang’s grandmother inspired her faith and compassion for others. Professionally, she had a great teacher in Billings, Montana, who encouraged her to get her CPA and use her skills to help others.

Living close to Downtown Chandler, you may see her and her husband cruising around on bikes, stopping at some of their favorite spots along the way.

What are Lang’s words to live by?

“Never let success go to your head, never let failure go to your heart.” 

 

LEAH POWELL

Neighborhood Resources Director, City of Chandler

Leah Powell is the epitome of a public servant and community advocate. For 25 years, anytime there is a community need or problem, she is the first to step in and assist, no matter the magnitude of the task. Her greatest concern, both professionally and personally, is someone in the community living without or not having an advocate.

“We work with residents who are in crisis situations and at times, are at the lowest point in their life. I know that we are making a difference in improving the quality of life for our residents, and in some cases, giving people a new chance at life.”

Powell continually takes steps to involve and engage all members of the community to set a high standard for community advocacy, bringing people and resources together to help those less fortunate.

“I have seen this community come together in moments of crisis and do amazing things. I also stress the importance of community service in my own children, and am inspired by their desire to support underrepresented communities.”

Words Powell tries to live by?

“No act of kindness, no matter how small is ever wasted.”—Aesop 

USHA RAMACHANDRAN

Director, Global Arts Temple USA

Usha Ramachandran is founder and director of Global Arts Temple, a nonprofit supporting all cultures and genre of music, artists, and events across the globe. Her goal this year is to help musicians across the world by raising funds through global events.

“Musicians have been hit very hard by the pandemic with event cancellations. I feel it is our responsibility to give back to these great souls for such a priceless experience they provide us through music.”

For the past 10 years, Ramachandran has been teaching Indian traditional Carnatic music to adults and children throughout the country, connecting them with their culture and roots.

“When parents send their children to learn, they are trusting me to nurture, motivate, and care for their students, keeping cultural traditions alive.”

Ramachandran's husband describes her as a “Tiger Mom and amazing wife.”

“From the moment I came to Chandler, I felt safe and at home. Something about this place is just so warm and people are friendly. It is calm, but also lively. We choose to live in Chandler in spite of having the liberty to live anywhere in the U.S.” 

VANESSA RAMIREZ

Executive and Artistic Director, Ballet Folklorico Quetzalli-AZ

Born in Nogales, Sonora Mexico, Vanessa Ramirez’s parents migrated to Los Angeles in search of a better life for their family.

“I was always encouraged (forced) to assimilate into the American culture so that I would 'belong.' In this process, I was not taught about my Cultura Mexicana, and at times it was a shameful thing to say ‘I’m Mexican.’” 

One day she stumbled upon Folklorico Dance at a park, and her heart told her she belonged. Through Folklorico, Ramirez learned the importance of knowing where she came from, and was taught history, culture, art, movement ,and most importantly, pride.

“Pride of who I am, where my family came from, and how far we’ve come. THIS is something I want to share with the youth in our community… a sense of pride in who they are and encouragement to accomplish all their goals regardless of their circumstance.”  

By establishing C.A.L.L.E. de Arizona and BFQ-AZ, Ramirez is an arts and culture force in Chandler, providing youth in the community with workshop opportunities and scholarships for folklorico dancers and mariachi musicians to work with professionals.

Currently, the goal is to stay afloat during this pandemic. It is very difficult because funds and registrations are low.

"I want to continue to provide this safe space for children and adults to have a healthy activity and community. It is very much needed right now."

Ramirez’s words to live by? 

“Just imagine what a great community we can create together! LIVE, LOVE, DANCE!”  

SUZY VARGO

Battalion Chief, Chandler Fire Department

In 2002, after years in the corporate medical field, Suzy Vargo decided she wanted to have a more direct impact in people’s lives.

“I followed in my brother’s footsteps, a Tempe firefighter, and I have not looked back since.”

In 2016, Vargo became the first female battalion chief at the CFD. Her favorite part of the job is working with a diverse group of people and businesses to better the community, and having a greater involvement in the programs and decision making of the department.

“It has given me the opportunity to foster some great relationships with some exceptional people.”

Her dad has been her inspiration.

“He overcame so much adversity in his adolescence, put himself through school, had a distinguished military and corporate career, and was very involved with veterans. He taught me many life skills, but most importantly, he taught me that with hard work, I could achieve what I wanted to.”

Chief Vargo’s advice for women who want to choose this career is, “Strength comes from within. There can be preconceived notions of what an individual can do. It is important to establish yourself as competent and willing to learn from every situation.” 
 

CHRISTINE ELLIS

Councilmember, City of Chandler

Christine Ellis realized her dream, becoming the first Black woman to serve on the City Council of Chandler. It is her goal that by bringing diversity to the Council, she will empower others, especially our youth, to have a voice and feel represented. She is also the only woman currently serving on the Council.

A registered nurse and successful business owner of several assisted living facilities, her background in the health care industry has given Ellis a calling to help others. An immigrant from Haiti, she co-founded the Haitian Disaster Relief of Arizona to collaborate with other organizations to help victims of a major earthquake crisis in her native country.

Ellis knows diversity is a good thing.

“Diversity says that we can all contribute, and are all worthy of being heard and valued. I appreciate that Chandler shares those ideas with me. My grandfather used to say, 'You are going to encounter people who don't look like you, talk like you, or act like you, but one thing you are all going to have in common is a soul.' I still carry that with me, and that is how I view all the people I serve in Chandler."

What is the one thing she loves most about Chandler?

“The PEOPLE!” 

WEI WEI CHANG

Author, Founder - Imagining Life Coaching

Wei Wei Chang came to the U.S. from China in 1991 to pursue education and has never left. Leaving the corporate world to start a family, she has devoted herself to a life of service. In 2020, her first book about her journey as an immigrant, Lens of Love, was published.

Always interested in the needs of people who have had a complicated family history, she volunteers in her local church to offer prayer ministry for people with emotional and spiritual traumas. Along with her husband, she also serves South East Asia Prayer Center (SEAPC), where they advocate for the needs of orphaned and abandoned children through education, parenting, microeconomics, and healthcare in South East Asia.

What words/thoughts/saying does she try to live by?

We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.”—Martin Luther King, Jr. 

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