Our List of Women to Watch

These ladies may not have made the list of 100 most powerful women in Washington this year, but at the rate they’re going, they’ll land there soon enough!

By: Brooke McEwen

In the October 2011 issue, The Washingtonian named the 100 Most Powerful Women in Washington. These ten women are likely candidates for the list in the future—they are making scientific breakthroughs, making theater magic, starting businesses, and making names fore themselves in fields from fashion to journalism. Here are The Washingtonian’s Women to Watch:

Alessandra Luchini

Engineer and researcher at George Mason University’s Center for Applied Proteomics and Molecular Medicine

In 2008, Luchini, 34, and a team of CAPMM researchers established a new type of nanotechnology in which nanoparticles work like lobster traps, corralling bodily fluids to catch a disease biomarker, which are then concentrated and preserved.

Luchini and her team are making it possible to detect cancer, Lyme disease and other illnesses sooner and treat patients faster than ever before.

Luchini’s work earned her a place in Popular Science magazine’s 2011 “Brilliant 10” young scientists. While the recognition was great, Luchini says, “the biggest accomplishment is seeing my research going closer and closer to helping patients.”

Since receiving her doctorate from University of Padova, she has also written more than 20 peer-reviewed articles and licensed eight patents.


Sabrina Hersi Issa

Founder, Be Bold Media

Sabrina Hersi Issa looks at challenges and sees opportunity. Her father, a former Somalian diplomat, sought political asylum in the United States. He and Issa’s mother immigrated to Virginia and worked to ensure a better life for their eight children.

“I really never had an excuse to not succeed,” Issa says. “I had everything I ever needed to succeed and they always wanted to remind us of that.”

After graduating from Ohio State University she became a program adviser for Afghans for Civil Society, an non-governmental organization (NGO) working in Afghanistan to oppose violence and extremism.

“I wanted to take what was happening there to Somalia,” she says.

The NGO achieved sustainable results, but its Web site failed to communicate its successes. Issa felt compelled to bridge the gap so she signed up for a Web design course at a local community college.

That lead to the launch of Be Bold Media which creates online campaigns for nonprofits and uses new technology to help these groups achieve positive social change.

Issa’s work has earned her the Political Ambition Award from Women & Politics and the Young Woman of Achievement for Social Innovation from Women’s Information Network. She is now working on an online campaign to end famine in Somalia.

“Build a life for yourself that speaks to you,” she says.


Margaret Talev
White House correspondent, Bloomberg

Margaret Talev’s father’s work for Voice of America and her family’s dinner table conversations about news and politics ignited a passion for reporting early on.

“You have a bird’s-eye view of what’s going on,” Talev says. “You’re a witness. You’re the eyes and ears of society.”

The Bethesda native, 39, landed a job at the Tampa Tribune, right after graduation from the University of Maryland. After nearly five years of covering Floridian politics, she moved to the Los Angeles Times and later the Sacramento Bee, where she reported on the 2003 recall election and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s first year as governor.

Talev came back to DC to be McClatchy's national and congressional correspondent in 2005. She followed President Barack Obama on the campaign trail and became  McClatchy's White House correspondent when he was elected. Since then, she has traveled with Obama to China, India, and Cairo. In June, Talev joined Bloomberg. Not bad for a woman who admits her first crush was Walter Cronkite.


Mandy Cole
Senior vice president of sales, LivingSocial

Mandy Cole, 38, learned persuasiveness early—she laughs as she says that growing up with two brothers, she had no choice. A career in sales just came naturally.

Cole started out at Citysearch in Atlanta. She was the youngest person in management and also the only woman. Within her first year as general manager, she earned the most first-quarter revenue out of 25 markets. After stints at Wells Fargo and MyNewPlace.com, she joined LivingSocial in 2010 where her responsibilities have expanded from less than 25 markets to more than 300 in North America alone as the company has grown.

“I love small businesses because they are so passionate about what they do,” Cole said. “Their bottom line is affected by what we do. We’ve literally changed businesses—helped them open second stores, remodel, add another product. To have that kind of impact on local commerce is exciting.”


Stephanie Ward
Founder, Punk Rock Bride

Entering the wedding dress design business was a bit of a fluke for 35-year-old Stephanie Ward.

In 2006, a close friend asked Ward to design her dress. Ward’s apparel design degree from Rhode Island School of Design, apprenticeship with Robert Scott and David Brooks, and freelance experience with Sigrid Olson Inc. meant she brought a lot of experience to the task. But Ward never expected that her creation for a friend would lead to a whole line of fashion-forward bridal gowns or catch the attention of the Washington Post, Travel + Leisure, and brides-to-be from coast to coast.

Since starting Punk Rock Brides in 2008, Ward has created five nontraditional wedding gowns each year. Her Capitol Hill studio in DC has attracted attention as far as from California, and she hopes to the interest in her work is only growing. Last year, she showed her looks at New York’s bridal fashion week. She made a repeat appearance this month.

“I kind of think of my company as my child now,” Ward says. “I want to protect it and protect the brand.”


Sumi Krishnan
Founder, K4 Solutions, Inc.

Sumi Krishnan was a teenager when she landed her first federal IT contract. Now, at 29, Krisnan runs her own company, K4 Solutions, Inc. With clients ranging from the US Senate and the Department of Homeland Security to the 88th Communications Group at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, it’s no wonder Krishnan landed on Inc. magazine’s list of top 30 entrepreneurs under 30.

Her accomplishments have been recognized by her industry colleagues; Krishnan received an emerging leadership award from the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association in 2008.

Krishnan started out by working for the US Patent and Trademark Office after graduating from Virginia Tech with a degree in electrical engineering. In 2006, her old employer became a major K4 client—Krishnan won a $17 million contract from the Patent Office.

Krishnan learned about government contracting from her father, whose software company did a lot of work for Uncle Sam. When she was ready to set out on her own, she gathered tech-savvy friends, took note of their combined skills, and started a company to market exactly what the group had to offer.

Krishnan shares what she’s learned with other young entrepreneurs. In July, she participated in a program to promote Our Time, a national, nonprofit organization created to empower people.


Nicole Jost
Program manager,Young Playwrights’ Theater

When Nicole Jost, 25, packed her bags and headed out to the University of California-Santa Cruz for college in 2004, she doubted if she would ever return to the East Coast, but after earning a bachelor’s degree, Jost returned to her roots.

“I am very inspired by Washington,” she says. “That’s a motivator in my artistic work and the work of my life. I just got homesick. I wanted to serve the District.”

Nicole Jost’s first exposure to Young Playwrights’ Theater was as a young playwright herself. She was a sophomore at Wilson High School in 2002 when she wrote The Fear and The Pope. Two years later, YPT contacted Jost and asked permission to stage the piece as part of its Express Tour. Now former student-turned-teacher Jost has taken on the role of YPT’s program manager, inspiring a new group of students to express themselves through art.

Jost has also worked with Dog and Pony DC, City Artistic Partnerships, Madcap Players, Roundhouse Theatre and Forum Theatre. She is currently putting the finishing touches on a play about monsters that examines how fear shapes our lives.


Genevieve Hanson
Senior real estate advisor, General Services Administration

Hanson, now 39, was working full time as a management consultant for Booz Allen Hamilton when she started investing in real estate.

Hanson felt ecstatic when she bought her first home in 2003, but a few months after she moved into her condo she saw someone pitching a “For Sale” sign in front of the building. She found out an investor planned to flip the property. Inspired by that example, Hansen decided to get into the real estate investment game herself.

Home Buying for Dummies was my bible,” she says.

Hanson was a quick learner. When she acquired a five-unit building in Petworth that had over a 300 percent return on her investment, she made a career switch. After five years in real estate investment, the University of Chicago Booth School of Business graduate has managed development projects worth in excess of $3 billion.

In 2008, Hanson put her experience as a consultant and as an entrepreneur to work as a project manager in the deputy mayor’s office of planning and economic development with the deputy mayor’s office. Last year, the United States General Service Administration recruited her for a senior real estate adviser position. She now manages property utilization and disposal for the agency.


Joanna Lewis
Assistant professor of science, technology, and international affairs, Georgetown University Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service

Joanna Lewis, 36, is an expert on energy and climate change. Her research has focused primarily on China—it’s wind-power industry development, the impact of climate change on Chinese security, and China’s relationship with the United States.

Lewis serves as an international advisor to the Energy Foundation’s China Sustainable Energy Program in Beijing and on the advisory board of the American Council on Renewable Energy’s US-China program. She has also consulted both nationally and internationally for organizations such as UNIDO and USAID.

In the past, Lewis conducted research as a fellow at the Pew Center on Global Climate Change. She’s also shared her expertise with the White House, the National Wildlife Federation and Environmental Defense Fund.


Michelle Shamblin Stratton
Clerk, chambers of Supreme Court associate justice Clarence Thomas

Michelle Shamblin Stratton has earned a number of firsts. In 2009, she was the first Louisiana State University Law Center student to win the prestigious Scribes Law-Review Award for best student articles published in law journals. Later that year, she graduated first in her class.

After graduating from law school, Stratton clerked for Chief Judge Edith Hollan Jones of the United States Court of Appeals Fifth Circuit. Last fall, Stratton received one of four Bristow Fellowships in the Office of the Solicitor General.

The mentoring and coaching that went with the Bristow fellowship helped her win a place in the chambers of US Supreme Court associate justice Clarence Thomas, Stratton believes. But she also credits her alma mater.

“I get to play a role in continuing and enhancing the traditions of excellence that characterize an LSU law education,” Stratton says.