MOUNT VERNON — This year’s Ohio’s Junior Miss competitors were treated to a new program event when Mary Kim Elkins, Ohio’s Junior Miss in 1987, coordinated a roundtable discussion Tuesday with three other successful local women. The younger women, on the verge of launching their own college experiences and careers, listened and sought advice from the more experienced women.
Dr. Bonnie Coe, president of Central Ohio Technical College; Karen Wright, chairwoman, president and chief executive officer of Ariel Corp.; and Sandy Mizer, Knox County Treasurer, took turns relating the stories of their careers, including the fortunate — and sometimes unfortunate — choices they made, their education and jobs, as well as marriages, divorces, children and family life.
Elkins, a native of Knox County and an attorney, is vice president of operational tax strategy for Eaton Corp. in Cleveland, where she oversees tax strategies in 126 countries. She and her husband, Dave Greenspan, also own a business named My Jeans Are Hot; they donated a pair of designer jeans for each OJM contestant and have pledged 5 percent of gross Web site sales when purchases are made at www.myjeansarehot.com and customers enter the “OJM” code.
“I wanted the Ohio’s Junior Miss girls to have access to some very successful women in central Ohio,” said Elkins, explaining her idea for the roundtable. “To hear how they determined the path they were going to take, how they chose their careers.”
Coe told of her southeastern Ohio, Appalachian heritage, of which she is proud, and how she decided, at age 50, to pursue a Ph.D. She also took 10 years off work to stay home with her growing family of seven children and, after returning to the work force, taught high school and worked as a school principal and superintendent.
Wright said she planned to be an artist when she entered college, then switched to animal behavior and wildlife research.
“I was going to go to Africa and be like Jane Goodall,” she said with a smile. “As it turns out, I never did get to Africa.”
Wright told of waitressing and other low-paying jobs she had before entering the business her father began in 1966.
“One thing about a college degree is that you really learn a lot, even if you don’t end up working in that field. And you learn a lot from every job you have, too. For example, waitressing is great training. I also tip very well,” she laughed. “I learned how to do my job [at Ariel] by being a mother and running a household.”
Mizer said she married young and did not have the finances for college, but nonetheless achieved valuable business-technical training, was director of a dental clinic at which uninsured and underserved children were treated, was director of United Way for 13 years and is now serving her third four-year term as county treasurer.
“Do get your education,” Mizer said. “It was not available to me; girls’ sports were not available [then]. Get your education. You don’t know where you’re going to find yourself, but no one can take that education away from you.”
“When we educate a woman, we educate a whole family,” added Wright.
The women fielded questions from their audience, and included their opinions on the possibility of a female president and whether luck plays a role in a career.
Coe quoted a colleague: “The harder we work, the luckier we get.”
“You make your own luck,” Elkins said, quoting a mentor.
Other questions covered making mistakes, making difficult decisions, what the more experienced women would have done differently when in college and other advice.
“Be true to yourself,” said Mizer.
“Have integrity,” said Coe. “Always try to do the right thing.”
“Have passion for whatever you choose to do in your career,” said Elkins.
“Don’t be afraid to switch gears,” added Wright. “Follow the golden rule and treat people like you want to be treated. And be grateful ... no one achieves success alone.”