After Parker Levinson ’18 graduated from Northwestern’s Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences with degrees in environmental science and African studies, her job search took her down a less traditional path: a field research gig studying primates and leatherback sea turtles in a jungle on an island off the coast of Equatorial Guinea, in central Africa. Almost two years later, Levinson is preparing for her third field season in Antartica, studying penguins and seals.
Meet the three accomplished alumnae who will receive the Northwestern Alumni Association’s highest honor, the Northwestern Alumni Medal, in October. They will join a select group of 103 alumni — from innovative entrepreneurs and Supreme Court justices to award-winning writers and a Nobel Prize recipient — who have received this award since 1932.
The University will proudly celebrate the positive impact these women have made in their careers and communities. They will be recognized this fall at the start of a yearlong commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the first women students at Northwestern — the bold and brave women who led the struggle to open doors and create greater access and opportunity for those who followed.
Like the women who came before them, this year’s medalists have taken risks, charted their own course and inspired change.
IN COMMAND: LISA M. FRANCHETTI ’85
As a coxswain on Northwestern’s crew team, Lisa Franchetti steered boats and her teammates to success on the water — a role that helped her become a leader in the U.S. Navy.
“We won medals sometimes, but mostly we learned to work hard, train hard and have a goal,” says Franchetti, who now, as a vice admiral, has achieved one of the Navy’s highest ranks. “The teamwork that I learned at Northwestern has made me very successful in the Navy because it’s the same thing — building great teams, getting a mission done and working together to make it happen.”
Throughout her 34-year naval career, Franchetti has held many leadership roles, including her current assignment as commander of the U.S. 6th Fleet. Based in Naples, Italy — along with husband James Sievert and daughter Isabel — she oversees all maritime activities in the eastern half of the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea from Europe to Africa to support the U.S. national security strategy. She also helps every person in the fleet “connect their dot” to the mission.
Franchetti is an effective leader because of her authenticity and ability to make people feel heard, says Rear Adm. Jim Kilby, a friend and former colleague.
“She establishes a personal level of loyalty that exceeds the military hierarchy, where you want to serve this person because you believe she cares about you,” he says.
A Rochester, N.Y., native, Franchetti joined the Naval Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program during first-year orientation at Northwestern. After graduating from the Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications, she entered the Navy with a goal of working on a ship, despite limited opportunities for women. At the time, there was one female admiral, and fewer than 20 female officers served on vessels.
New doors opened for her in 1993 after the U.S. Congress repealed a law that barred women from serving on combat ships. Since then Franchetti has commanded a guided-missile destroyer and a destroyer squadron. She also led a carrier strike group, which includes an aircraft carrier, a carrier air wing, a destroyer squadron and associated escort ships charged with ensuring maritime security.
In 2013 she was selected as a rear admiral and became the first female commander of U.S. Navy Forces Korea. Today she is one of about 20 females among more than 220 admirals.
As she has risen in the ranks, Franchetti’s goal has remained constant.
“Every day I wake up and I think about all the opportunities that we have in America, and I want to make sure that we always have those opportunities,” she says. “That’s the motivation to serve my country, and it’s been the same from day one.”
Change Maker: Bridgette Proctor Heller ’83, ’85 MBA
Bridgette Heller has carried her great-grandmother’s words with her throughout her life: “It’s all about your legacy.”
During a career that has spanned more than three decades, Heller led global operations for some of the world’s largest corporations, including Merck & Co., Kraft Foods Inc. and Johnson & Johnson. While Heller is known for growing consumer businesses and building highly effective teams, her measure of success goes beyond sales figures. “For me, it’s always been about, how do I leave things better than I found them?” Heller says.
An English and drama enthusiast from St. Petersburg, Fla., Heller majored in economics and computer studies at Northwestern, which opened the door to an internship at Hewlett-Packard. There, she discovered her passion for marketing.
After graduation, Heller studied consumer behavior and marketing at the Kellogg School of Management and joined General Foods, which later merged with Kraft.
“Northwestern taught me to push beyond the discomfort to get my questions answered,” Heller says. “When I got to General Foods, that quality made me stand out. I would always want to know, ‘Why are we doing it that way?’ ”
She took over the company’s billion-dollar coffee portfolio in 2000. After 18 years at Kraft, Heller took the helm of Johnson & Johnson’s $2.5 billion global baby care division and later served as president of consumer care at Merck.
In 2016 Heller joined the executive team at Danone, an international food company, to lead the early life nutrition division. A year later she assumed broader responsibility as executive vice president of specialized nutrition. For three years Heller led the business to industry-leading revenue growth and profitability.
As Heller climbed the corporate ladder, her principles kept her grounded. Kenneth Frazier, chairman and CEO of Merck, says his former colleague has a gift for making people feel valued, included and respected.
“Bridgette is the rare human being who is strong enough to be gentle, even in the toughest and most competitive business environments,” Frazier says.
Heller continues to build upon her legacy alongside her husband, Eliot Heller ’84, whom she met through the Northwestern jiujitsu club, and their daughters, Mariah and Sara. In 2014 she joined Northwestern’s Kellogg Global Advisory Board and started an educational foundation in South St. Petersburg, Fla., in honor of her mother, Shirley Proctor Puller, a lifelong educator. The following year Heller launched a summer program for underserved children in the community to improve their reading, math and science literacy.
Her great-grandmother’s words continue to inspire Heller: “She used to say to me that you are only as good as what you leave behind.”
Growth Mindset: Yie-Hsin Hung ’84
Yie-Hsin Hung has always enjoyed solving problems, a quality that helped her grow New York Life Investment Management, a subsidiary of the insurance company New York Life.
Since she joined the company in 2010, rising first to co-president and then CEO in 2015, the $325 billion business has tripled assets under management and become one of the world’s largest money managers. Hung has led the strategy to broaden the company’s products and expand internationally through the acquisition of specialized investment firms in Europe and Australia and offices in Asia. Today she oversees a network of eight independent boutiques that are subsidiaries of NYLIM.
Hung — who is New York Life’s highest-ranking female operating executive — has earned industrywide recognition for her achievements, including a spot on American Banker’s 2017 and 2018 Most Powerful Women in Finance lists.
Ted Mathas, New York Life’s chairman and CEO, says Hung is able to strategically focus an organization for long-term success while delivering superior results year after year despite challenging market environments.
“Her disciplined, analytical mindset is balanced by a deep understanding of the work we do helping people secure what matters most to them,” says Mathas, who named Hung to New York Life’s executive management committee in 2017.
A Pittsburgh native, Hung says she developed analytical skills as a mechanical engineering major at Northwestern, where she met husband, Stephen Farinelli ’84, during freshman year. Every summer for three years, she held a product-development internship with IBM, where she became interested in business strategy.
After graduating from Northwestern, Hung earned an MBA from Harvard University and embarked on a 30-year career in investment banking and asset management. She held positions at Morgan Stanley Investment Management and Bridgewater Associates before joining New York Life, where she focuses on strategy and talent management to meet the needs of clients.
“What motivates me is making a positive difference in the world, whether it’s for our investing clients who are trying to secure their financial future or plan for retirement, or for my colleagues in our business,” Hung says.
She champions other important causes in her life too. As a board member for both the New England Center for Children and Next for Autism, Hung helps people with autism — including her son, Cole — lead meaningful and happy lives. Hung is also a member of the McCormick Advisory Council, where she helps shape strategy for Northwestern’s engineering school.
Says Hung, “It’s my way of trying to give back to an institution that has made a big difference in my life.”
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