Four women honored for making a difference in the lives of others

July 26, 2012

DSC_0624Benedictine University marked the founding of the Women’s Institute for Global Leadership by honoring four women who have made a difference in the lives of others at a reception and ceremony in late June.

Crystal Ballenger, founder of Hey GURAL (Girls Under Reconstruction Accomplishing Life), a nonprofit center offering mentoring and guidance to help positively restore girls ages 11-18 to their communities, received the Community Citizen Leadership Award for outstanding local contributions to women.

Ballenger, a resident of Maywood, founded Hey GURAL after watching countless young girls make bad choices due to the environments in which they were raised. Her goal is to instill in girls the self-respect, self-love, strength and confidence to excel beyond the challenges life throws at them.

Ayesha Akhtar, a resident of Forest Park and education coordinator for the Epilepsy Foundation of Greater Chicago, was presented with the Global Leadership Award for outstanding international contributions to women.

In addition to her work with the epilepsy foundation, Akhtar is also the co-founder and director of policy and research for HEART (Health, Education, Advocacy, Research and Training) Women & Girls, a nonprofit organization dedicated to building self-esteem and leadership through health and wellness programming that has reached more than 800 women worldwide.

Dana R. Wright, deputy chief of staff for the Cook County Sheriff’s Office, received the Master of Science (M.S.) in Leadership Award for outstanding student leadership, exemplary service, academic excellence and commitment to the work of the Women’s Institute.

Wright has more than 13 years of law enforcement experience and eight years of administrative and managerial experience working for one of the largest sheriff’s offices in the nation. She maintains oversight of daily operations and staffing for several of the departments within the organization, and has been instrumental in the implementation of several policies and programs designed to benefit both officers and civilians in their personal and professional development.

Wright plans to apply the knowledge and skills she acquired while earning an M.S. in Leadership degree toward mentoring and coaching other women in law enforcement, business and in their personal lives so that they may reach their fullest potential.

Ashley Santiago, a 2012 graduate of Naperville North High School, was presented with the Youth Leadership Award for demonstrated leadership, mentoring and community volunteerism.

While at Naperville North, Santiago served on the executive board of P.R.I.D.E., a four-year student service initiative. She also mentored fifth-grade students to prepare them for middle school. Additionally, she served as president of the Human Rights Club, through which students donated to such organizations as Heifer House, Help for Haiti, and Japan earthquake and tsunami relief funds.

As a member of the club, Santiago also held several community events to educate people about world eventsAlso recognized at the ceremony was the 2012 inaugural graduating class of the Institute’s flagship program, the M.S. in Leadership. The M.S. in Leadership program was established in 2008 to give women a solid foundation of leadership theory, practical business experience and mentorship to prepare them to make significant and lasting contributions to their communities, careers and families.

In May, Cinthia LaPorte was named Loyola University Health System’s Fanchon Knight Nurse of the Year. As a lifelong pediatrics nurse, she has cared for some of the hospital’s most seriously ill children. She has also established a system for staff development that matches leadership potential with the needs of the department.

“The classes and instructors in the M.S. in Leadership program laid the foundation for my transformational leadership style,” LaPorte said. “This has been a critical educational opportunity set before women to help them achieve their inner strength and commit themselves to maximizing their potential.”

Maeghan Rempala, a former area coordinator for the Office of Residence Life at Benedictine, is now the area coordinator for the Department of Housing and Residence Life at the University of Central Florida, the third largest University in the United States. She will be training students in self-efficacy, servant leadership, mentoring and diversity and inclusion.

“With my degree and experience in the M.S. in Leadership program, I hope to pass on the knowledge I’ve gained to the future leaders of the next generation in my new role,” Rempala said.


Benedictine University is located in Lisle, Illinois, just 25 miles west of Chicago, and has branch campuses in Springfield, Illinois, and Mesa, Arizona. Founded as a Catholic university in 1887, Benedictine enrolls more than 5,000 students in 59 undergraduate and 23 graduate programs. Forbes magazine named Benedictine among "America's Top Colleges" for the seventh consecutive year in 2017. Accredited by the Higher Learning Commission ( For more information, contact (630) 829-6300, or visit

Marketing and Communications

Gary Kohn
Assoc. Vice President of Marketing and Communitcations
(630) 829-6095