Congratulations to the 2019 Alumnae Award Recipients! Award recipients will be celebrated on Sunday, November 17, at the Park City Club in Dallas during Homecoming Weekend. Register for the weekend activities.
Distinguished Alumna Award: Gabrielle Martinez '89
Gabrielle Martinez is the Managing Partner and co-founder of Agency EA. Since inception, Martinez has played an integral role in the company’s growth from a boutique events firm to a premier brand experience agency for organizations like Google, Samsung, Hilton, Intuit, Facebook and MillerCoors.
Featured as one of Crain’s Chicago Businesses’ “40 Under 40,” Gabrielle’s formula for success includes purposeful creative, a strategic business approach and a mantra to always over-deliver and exceed expectations.
A solid foundation in the hospitality industry complements Gabrielle’s creative role in the experiential marketing field. Her design style and common-sense business approach have deeply influenced notable client engagements and solidified trusted relationships with Ms. Oprah Winfrey, the Obama Family and internal teams to the White House. For five consecutive years, Gabrielle served as lead consultant to First Lady Michelle Obama’s Communications Team and Social Office of the White House for the event and holiday season.
Today, Gabrielle guides the strategic vision for Agency EA and oversees its 150 employees, culture and growth. She manages the agency’s senior teams and their departments, including Client Services, Production, Creative, Digital, Marketing, Operations and Business Development. As a champion for female leadership, diversity and inclusion, Gabrielle uses her platform to create a positive and progressive company culture.
She serves on the board for The Honeycomb Project, an organization that creates community service projects for families to participate in together. In addition, Gabrielle is active across the Chicagoland Civic Engagement community with her husband and two daughters, Sophia and Lucia Rooney. Her dedication to youth mentorship is strong and shared across her alma mater of Lake Forest College, One Million Degrees of Chicago as well as the group Emerging Latino Líderes.
Her perspectives on the Experiential Marketing industry and managing success in the creative industry have been featured in Forbes, Entrepreneur, AdAge, Crain’s Business and Event Marketer Magazine.
Serviam Alumna Award: Kathryn Mello Polk '04
Kathryn Polk serves as the executive director and founder of a refugee resettlement center, Global Connections, in her hometown of Wilmington, North Carolina. Kathryn first connected with refugees through Interfaith Refugee Ministry Wilmington (IRMW) in 2011, as a volunteer ESL tutor and classroom teacher. Kathryn attributes her passion and dedication to community service to her years at Ursuline Academy of Dallas where she learned the value of helping others in need and spent hours each week volunteering in senior-centers and food-banks.
After working with refugees for 5 years as a weekly volunteer teacher, Kathryn also worked as the Employment and Resource Developer for IRMW. In less than a year, she hired almost 90 refugees, managed the self-sufficiency Match Grant program with refugee clients, and served as the volunteer and donations coordinator. Kathryn also led the Advisory Council board for IRMW in 2017, until the organization began downsizing the office, and showed signs of shutting down because of lack of federal funding.
After a hurricane made landfall in Wilmington, NC in September 2018, Kathryn provided full-time emergency services to Wilmington’s refugee community for months. In addition to independently serving hundreds of refugees during this natural disaster, Kathryn spent 2-months collaborating with The American Red Cross and Catholic Charities to lead a team of volunteers in immigrant communities providing much-needed supplies, recovery and relief in the after-math of the hurricane.
To compensate for dwindling refugee resettlement services available in Wilmington, Kathryn founded a new refugee resettlement support center to assist and empower refugees in Wilmington. The board of directors for Global Connections is composed of more than 60% refugees. Kathryn’s current work provides weekly programming and entrepreneurship support for refugees, while also providing basic social services and community integration.
Kathryn has helped provide employment and case management services to resettling refugees from Burma, Iraq, Colombia, Ethiopia, Cuba, Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, & Burundi. Community organizing and community-building is at the heart of all of Kathryn’s refugee work. With her leadership and service, over 300 refugees in Wilmington have long-term support through an organized refugee-resettlement nonprofit organization.
Young Alumna Award: Alexandra Perez-Garcia '12
Alexandra Perez-Garcia is a nonprofit leader, political strategist, and mental health and disability rights advocate.
As Program Associate at The Chicago Community Trust, Alex has managed several projects related to the Trust’s commitment to racial equity, disability inclusion, and strategic growth for diverse populations and disinvested neighborhoods. In her tenure at the Trust, she was integral to the incubation and launch of the new nonprofit organization, ADA 25 Advancing Leadership, the only leadership program in the nation that connects leaders with disabilities with civic engagement opportunities. Alex started at the Trust through the University of Chicago Public Interest Program (UCPIP), a competitive one-year fellowship opportunity for graduates interested in launching their career in the public sector at high-impact organizations.
Alex is also Treasurer and Finance Director for Robert Emmons Jr., who is running for Congress in the First District of Illinois. Inspired by the progressive energy of 2018, Alex has spearheaded the campaign’s fundraising efforts by championing individual contributions. As a result, the campaign has been nationally ranked in the top 3% of all 2020 candidates as the most popular among small dollar individual donors. This strategy has been featured in national news publications such as The Intercept and Teen Vogue.
As an inaugural member of The Obama Foundation Community Leadership Corps, Alex founded The Beautiful You Project, aimed at creating an online community around mental health fueled by young voices of color. In the first month launched, the blog, which featured lived experiences of mental illness including her own, was read by thousands across the country. Because of her work, she was selected as a featured speaker during the 2018 Obama Foundation Summit and currently serves as an Alumni Ambassador for the Foundation.
Alex also currently serves as Grantmaking Co-Chair for Chicago Foundation for Women's Young Women’s Giving Council. She is the former Philanthropy Advisor for the Phi Chi Chapter of Alpha Omicron Pi. She was an Ambassador for the Chicago200 youth leadership program.
As a student at Ursuline Academy, Alex led the National Hispanic Institute debate club, swam varsity, sang in the jazz choir, and performed in the high school musical for three years. It was Ursuline’s motto of Serviam that taught her the power of volunteerism, collective action, and community service.
Alex graduated with honors from the University of Chicago in 2016 with a bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Public Policy. She strongly believes in the power of personal narrative, civic engagement, and working together to create change.
Award recipients will be celebrated on Sunday, November 17, at the Park City Club in Dallas during Homecoming Weekend. Register for the weekend activities.