Progress, Inspiration and Celebration: Reflections of Phi Mu History Makers

This month, we have been celebrating Women’s History Month and highlighting the accomplishments of our members. We asked our recent Phi Mu History Makers to give us their thoughts on the month, reflect upon the progress they’ve seen and tell us who has inspired them.

Michelle Hughes, Alpha Nu (University of Florida), is a human rights lawyer and educator with a distinguished, trailblazing military career.  Gail Mattson, PE, CHMM, PMP, Zeta Alpha (Baker University), is an engineer with 35 years of experience in environmental engineering, safety, radiological control, project management and corporate relations. Alice McKnight Ramsey, Alpha Alpha (University of Georgia), is the Founder and CEO of the Pink Posse of Georgia Foundation. Dr. Jennifer Rhatigan, Alpha Nu (University of Florida), is an Engineering Professor at the Naval Postgraduate School.

What progress have you seen made for women during your lifetime?

“It’s hard to know where to even begin. When I was growing up, women simply were not visible in most professions outside of education, nursing and the arts. Now, we are in the majority in many professions such as law, medicine and government, and it’s an anomaly when you do not see a woman at a worksite.” – Michelle Hughes, AN

“We have seen more women going into STEM careers and advancing into leadership positions but there is still a long way to go before we reach parity.” – Gail Mattson, ZA

“More women run companies and are stronger in the workforce than ever before!” – Alice Ramsey, AA

“Not as much as I had hoped early in my career! We’ve seen progress in recognition of sexual harassment as something that is illegal and immoral. We’ve seen women’s rights recognized as human rights in many places across the globe. While salaries are still not equitable, there is progress on that front. More women are in elected offices and boardrooms, although still not on par. We now have role models for young women in most all professions.” – Jennifer Rhatigan, AN

What progress do you appreciate the most?

“When I started out professionally, women were just fighting to gain admission – to get basic qualifications, to get hired, to be included. Now, we are actively talking about true, substantive parity, including equal pay, equal power and equal treatment in the workplace and beginning to hold organizations, persons and institutions accountable when they fail to live up to these standards. That’s a huge change.” – Michelle Hughes, AN

“More girls and young women today are aware of a broader range of career opportunities and there are more programs in the schools for students and for their parents to effectively support their interests.” – Gail Mattson, ZA

“The fact that in many companies today, women sit on many boards and share their knowledge to make the world a better place! There are greater educational opportunities for women, too. – Alice Ramsey, AA

“Having role models for young women in all professions is an important achievement during my lifetime. Our collegians can now see themselves as equally contributing to society as Speaker of the House, Vice President, Ambassadors, Senators, admirals, generals, doctors, lawyers, engineers and experts in every field!” – Jennifer Rhatigan, AN

Who are the women who’ve made the greatest impact on your life personally and professionally and why?

“There were so few women in my profession (the military) when I was first starting out, that I really didn’t have any female professional mentors. So, I would have to say that the women who had the greatest impact on my life were the women in my own family and my sorority sisters in college. What they had in common was that they all knew me, supported me unconditionally and took my ambitions seriously. That reinforced my confidence that I was on a good path and at the same time, gave me a sense that whatever happened, I had a safety net – I could only fall so far.” – Michelle Hughes, AN

“The pioneer women in STEM who were persistent in gaining access to universities to obtain STEM degrees and then finding professional opportunities to use their education.” – Gail Mattson, ZA

“First was my mother – she gave me a huge shot of self-esteem and told me there wasn’t anything I could not have accomplish! My teachers also made a huge impact, especially Bea Wade, Edna Floyd and Sally Taylor. Duff O’Dell had a tremendous impact on my career while she was at Delta Airlines – she’s now a member of the Grapevine, Texas City Council!” – Alice Ramsey, AA

“All of the collegiate women in my family who went to college, including my mother, joined a sorority. While their lives were more limited than my own, they were community leaders in many ways. They set tremendous examples for bravery and moral leadership in trying times during their lives, including marching as suffragists. They spoke often of their leadership opportunities as sorority women that influenced me to join. While my profession is overwhelmingly male-dominated, their lessons and those I learned as a Phi Mu collegian have inspired me through many challenges in my own career.” – Jennifer Rhatigan, AN

Is there a particular woman you look up to or who has inspired you?

“My role models, the women who inspired me to make a career that combined national security policy and law, were the early pioneers: Jean Kirkpatrick, Sandra Day O’Connor and Elizabeth Dole, among others. Their presence in the halls of power showed me that even if it was unlikely that I would get there, it was possible. And that’s all I needed to see.” – Michelle Hughes, AN

“The author of Silent Spring, Rachel Carson.” – Gail Mattson, ZA

“Alison Ausband, Senior Vice President of Delta In Flight, who manages over 20,000 flight attendants every day, inspires me!” – Alice Ramsey, AA

“I can remember hearing Barbara Jordan speak as a child and being so impressed that a women could speak with that kind of power and moral clarity.” – Jennifer Rhatigan, AN

In 2021, why do you think it’s important to celebrate Women’s History Month?

“I think we need to continue to tell women’s stories until they are completely mainstreamed with men’s. So often, our perspectives are still treated as secondary, which makes them easy to dismiss. Continuously advancing our collective narrative strengthens our collective voice and in turn, our collective influence and opportunities.” – Michelle Hughes, AN

“The accomplishments of too many fabulous women go unnoticed and so their stories cannot be used to inspire the next generations.” – Gail Mattson, ZA

“It is important to celebrate women from all walks of life to see the accomplishments we can achieve through educational opportunities!” – Alice Ramsey, AA

“Women’s History is still so often overlooked, so organizations like ours should make extra efforts to celebrate the many and varied contributions made by our members. As chair of the selection committee for the 2020 class of Phi Mu History Makers, I’m still astounded at the contributions these women have made to the growth and prosperity of our nation and our sisterhood.” – Jennifer Rhatigan, AN

More About Our Featured History Makers

Michelle Hughes, AN (University of Florida)

Michelle Hughes, Alpha Nu (University of Florida), is President and CEO of VALRAC Innovation, LLC, a company dedicated to preparing the next generation to restore and strengthen the rule of law at home and abroad. She is a human rights lawyer, educator and a Senior Fellow with the National Defense University Joint Forces Staff College. Michelle was one of the first women to serve in the elite 82nd Airborne Division and the only woman officer to perform with the Army’s Parachute Demonstration Team, “The Golden Knights.” She is a 2020 Phi Mu History Maker.

Gail Mattson, ZA (Baker University)

Gail Mattson, PE, CHMM, PMP, Zeta Alpha (Baker University), is a Senior ES&H Specialist with Longenecker & Associates and is a registered engineering professional engineer with over 35 years of experience in environmental engineering, safety, radiological control, project management and corporate relations. She is a Past President of the Society of Women Engineers and founding member and Past President of the International Network of Women Engineers and Scientists. She is a 2020 Phi Mu History Maker.

Alice Ramsey, AA (University of Georgia)

Alice McKnight Ramsey, Alpha Alpha (University of Georgia), is a Flight Attendant at Delta Air Lines and the Founder and CEO of the Pink Posse of Georgia Foundation, a nonprofit that serves residents of Coweta and Fayette counties during cancer treatment. A breast cancer survivor herself, Alice was instrumental in the creation of Delta Airlines’ Pink Dress in support of Breast Cancer Awareness. She is a 2020 Phi Mu History Maker.

Dr. Jennifer Rhatigan, AN (University of Florida)

Dr. Jennifer Rhatigan, Alpha Nu (University of Florida), is an Engineering Professor at the Naval Postgraduate School. She currently serves as the Chapter Adviser for the Eta Sigma Chapter at the University of California, Merced, where she enjoys mentoring collegiate women to make the most of their college and Phi Mu experiences. Jennifer was recognized as a 2019 Phi Mu History Maker and chaired the selection committee for the 2020 History Maker program.