Cool Girls with Tag: featured

Anastasia Gensic Krutulis

Name: Anastasia Gensic Krutulis
Age: 50
Location: West Lafayette, IN
Occupation: Public Health Graduate Program Online Degree Coordinator

Anastasia Krutulis was always drawn to learning, which meant spending quite a bit of time with her nose buried in books as a child in Indiana.

“I was an early, avid reader and always loved my local library. The way check-out systems worked back then, they did not allow books to be returned the same day that they were checked out. Children could only check out a limited number of books on their card, but I would read them all and then come back the same day wanting more. The librarian made a big deal out of allowing me to have an adult card with which I could check out an unlimited number of books…and she became my hero,” Anastasia explains.

After working in a library during college, and still being drawn to toil in the stacks after graduation, she decided to pursue her Master’s in Library Science. Originally Anastasia’s plan was to develop skills in data management, but she soon found herself in the throes of traditional public librarian work, which afforded her time to home-school her children while also maintaining an amazing career in Public Health.

She went on to become a laboratory manager for a longitudinal early autism identification study and then the Public Health Graduate Program at Purdue University. She was nominated as a member of the board of trustees for her local public library and also volunteers with the library’s friends organization, where Anastasia sorts and prices the antiquarian book donations to sell.

Her passion for community wellness is equally as strong as her library involvement. “Public Health programs are the link between scientific research, education and government policy,” Anastasia explains. “Public health improves the quality of life of individuals. It helps prevent and reduce the impact of disease and suffering. I can’t think of anything more important than that.”

And stepping from macro to micro, Anastasia seeks to help those in her immediate circle just as much as she extends her hand to the public; she manages the social media and online marketing aspects of friends’ businesses and her father-in-law’s artistic endeavors with reclaimed wood.

Working in academia as well as on the limitless community of the internet allows Anastasia to glean myriad experiences and constantly challenge herself.  “I haven’t had a single, direct career path and that’s fine with me,” she says. “Every opportunity enables me to learn new skills and expand my own horizons.” And it’s that adaptability and curiosity that she has bestowed upon her four children, as a mother, and their teacher.

And what does this home-schooling, book stacking, quilt making, public health serving, social media maven and mother have to say to all the young people out there wondering what the ‘right’ path is for them?

“Don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know.” It’s far worse to pretend to know something that you don’t.  “I don’t know” leads to “I can figure it out.” Go figure it out. Ask for help – maybe even ask a librarian!” Anastasia says. “Keep asking. Keep learning.”

Very sage advice from one super Cool Girl!

Maya Polson

Name: Maya Polson
Age: 28
Location: Caledon, Ontario, Canada
Occupation: Owner, Rider and Trainer at Ladera Equestrian

Before the age of ten, Maya Polson was riding at summer camp. By the time she reached the second farm where she was a camper, she was smitten with equestrian life.

“I fell in love with a pony there named Kismet, and started weekly lessons on her in the fall and have never looked back. My parents were both involved in horses when they were younger, so I come by it naturally,” she explains.

As she started high school, Maya and her family investigated the possibility of owning a farm. Over time, her dream slowly turned into a reality. When she was just finishing university, she and her family started looking into private farms for their four horses.

“Our agent found our current property completely by chance, and it was a great opportunity that we just couldn’t pass up…all the pieces seemed to fall into place,” she says. “It’s bigger than what we had planned for, giving me the ability to run it as a business and go for my childhood dream.”

Now Maya works every day at her own facility, Ladera Equestrian. Specializing in training, including hunter, jumper, and equitation, Maya’s farm has also produced two foals with the hope of grooming a future champion. Ladera’s main aim is to provide a gorgeous, professional facility where horse lovers can ride, compete, teach, and be taught. That said, running a farm isn’t as effortless as a champion jumper clearing a log fence.

“Holidays and long weekends don’t mean much because, especially when you own the facility and give the regular staff the time off, the animals still need to be cared for. The same goes for bad weather days, whether it’s snow or ice, the animals still need to be attended to. I am thankful for being able to live on the property and not have to worry about dangerous driving conditions,” Maya says.

Two of Maya’s current homebred horses were her initiation into training life. Ages 7 and 4, they keep Maya on her toes and allow her the opportunity to grow beyond simply being a horseback rider.

There is an expression that every time you work with or ride a horse, you are either training or un-training them. I think that is part of what draws me to the sport, there is always more you can learn yourself or teach the horse,” she elaborates.

It’s this mindset that has allowed Maya to work towards her ultimate goal, representing Canada internationally on the show jumping team. “Shorter term goals are to develop myself and my young horses into Grand Prix caliber athletes,” she adds.

What advice does this ever-busy equine aficionado and lady farm hand have for young women?

“So often, especially in the horse world, people say they couldn’t reach their goals because they didn’t have the money or the opportunity. If you want something bad enough and are willing to work hard for it, doors will open and people will take notice,” Maya says. “When you work hard towards a goal and finally achieve it though, nothing beats that feeling of accomplishment and confidence in yourself.”

For working hard to apply her efforts to her passion and for launching Ladera Equestrian, we think Maya Polson is a very Cool Girl!

Keep up with Maya through her website, Facebook, or Instagram.


Stephanie Smith

Name: Stephanie Smith
Age: 26
Location: Seattle, Washington
Occupation: Ph.D. Candidate and teaching assistant, Department of Biology at the University of Washington, Seattle

Ph.D. candidate and illustrator Stephanie Smith was a natural born biologist. She spent her childhood rifling around the dirt for treasures like “tiny frogs, raccoons, mushrooms, cicada shells, worms, and wild strawberries.”

Those fledgling years in Newark, Ohio sparked her passion, which she now channels in her teaching assistantship and studies at the Department of Biology at the University of Washington in Seattle.

“When I went to college I was originally interested in paleoanthropology, but I took a mammal evolution class my second semester and that was what really got me interested in fossil mammals in general,” Stephanie explains. “I asked the professor if I could work in his lab and he took me on to wash and organize mammal fossils, and to sort through fossiliferous sediment (read: dirt with tiiiiiny fossils in it) under a microscope. That volunteer position was the thing that really started to get me excited about studying mammals.”

The summer following her sophomore year of college offered her an opportunity to do field work in the Bighorn Basin in Wyoming with Ken Rose and his field crew.

“On our first day out collecting fossils, I remember I found a jaw of a tiny horse (Hyracotherium) with three teeth in it, and I think I decided that day that I wanted to do this forever,” she says.

These days, much of Stephanie’s time is dedicated to completing her Ph.D. dissertation and illustrating things she finds interesting in nature.

“I’m working with a bunch of collaborators right now on a manuscript of one of my dissertation chapters, where we’re looking at changes in the type and relative abundance of different kinds of mammals on the landscape right after the Cretaceous-Paleogene (K-Pg) mass extinction, which is the one that wiped out all dinosaurs except birds,” she says.

In the classroom, Stephanie is assisting a class on the evolution of mammals, and much of her lesson planning includes illustrating what’s taught.

“I get to draw these big mural-type figures on the board for my students when I teach about them. I find that using simplified line drawings and flow-charts can help my students grasp complicated concepts, especially people who are very visual learners,” she explains.

Beyond the classroom, Stephanie has designed the t-shirt for the Discoveries in Geoscience (DIG) Field School, once again using her artistic talent combined with her love of paleontology.

The DIG is a free professional development opportunity where K-12 STEM teachers come join our research team in the field for four days of research experience and hijinks. I’ve been a field instructor for the DIG for five years and it’s one of my favorite things to be involved in because of how excited the teachers get about paleontology!”

In the future, Stephanie hopes to get a job working in a natural history museum where she could ideally do her research, write grants, and use her illustration skills to inform and inspire the public about science.

“Science communication is really important to me, and illustration lets me inject more creativity and personality into the process,” she says.

And beyond that personality powering her paleontological prowess, what message does Stephanie hope to communicate to young women stoked by science?

“Don’t be afraid to go out and learn new things for yourself! You can learn about a million things just by observing what’s going on in the world around you, and asking questions and investigating. Learning is not just a thing that happens in a classroom.”

Very cool advice from a very cool girl! Thanks, Stephanie, and best of luck with your dissertation!

Some internet offerings if you’re looking to check out Stephanie in action on Instagram, Twitter, or her website.


Jami Swindell

Name: Jami Swindell
Age: 33
Location: St. Louis, Missouri and Urbana, Illinois
Occupation: Doctoral Student, Research Assistant and Teaching Assistant, College of Education, Department of Special Education at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

Teaching Assistant and Doctoral Student Jami Swindell took to teaching before she was even out of school, finding her way into early childhood education prior to graduating high school

“I actually started teaching swimming lessons at the local community pool as a teenager. I really liked teaching the classes with the youngest children where we “learned through play” with games like Mr. Frog and Splash-around-the-Rosie.” Jami explains. “From there, I was able to work as a pre-school assistant and school-age teacher at a small child care center in my hometown.”

Continuing on her compassionate path, Jami began working with children who had special needs in a local child care center.

“I found myself making sure that all the children were included in activities, planning activities to meet the needs of the children who needed more support,” she says.

Working with a diverse demographic throughout her academic career, she went on to take part in the Child Development Lab at the University of Missouri and the Child Development Center at Missouri State University, focusing her studies on children with special needs and their families. It was from there that she decided to also extend a helping hand to professionals within special education through Project BLEND.

“Project BLEND focuses on preparing professionals within Early Childhood Special Education and Early Intervention for infants and toddlers with special needs,” Jami explains. “It supports professional development to blend practices within the fields of Early Childhood Special Education and Early Intervention to support interactions between systems, smooth transitions for families and shared policy or advocacy efforts.”

It also acts as a facilitator bringing research into practice, while championing those strategies that have been proven effective within Early Intervention and Early Childhood Special Education. It helps those professionals within the field gain experience at the local, state and federal level while also providing opportunities to participate in teaching, research, and service, including internships and shared research projects. It’s a collaborative approach, providing information, services, and training, while also remaining engaged with the families and special needs children within the community.

Jami spends much of her time in the classroom, either as a student or a teaching assistant. She also works as a research assistant for a statewide training program that provides webinars, meetings, and training collaboration for early intervention providers. Beyond her work, she is also a member of on campus committees, including acting as the Vice-President for the Special Education Graduate Student Association.

After her doctorate is completed, Jami hopes to create policy and sustainable systems grounded in research-based practices within Early Intervention and Early Childhood Special Education.

“I hope to continue to share my knowledge on child development, family-centered practices, and inclusive educational practices with other professionals through teaching and providing workshops at conferences. This leads to my other goals – traveling, building connections within the field while supporting my friends and family in meeting their own goals!” Jami says.

And what does this student educator suggest as life-based homework for young girls out there?

“Aim high, set your goals and make plans to achieve them! Rely on those who love and support you when you need them. When you reach one goal, make another and work hard to achieve it!”

Some sage advice from one wise teacher, we think Jami Swindell is one Cool Girl!

Maja Rebolledo

Name: Maja Rebolledo
Age: 22
Location: SE Portland, Oregon
Occupation: Freelance lighting designer and stagehand

“Half of me wanted to be a “mad scientist” and the other half wanted to be something like a bus driver or a lunch lady,” Maja Rebolledo says as she thinks back on her career goals from childhood. Although she isn’t reanimating monsters or concocting potions, she does create magical displays of light that accent art on stage as a lighting designer and stage hand.

Even though she’s only in her twenties, Maja had figured out what gave her the most professional and personal fulfillment right out of school.

“While graduating high school and thinking about “what I want to do for the rest of my life”, I was having the most fun in theatre and production and decided that was a path I wanted to follow,” she explains. “I really enjoy watching shows come together and wanted to continue being a part of productions.”

In 2013 Maja was working at a House of Blues as a spotlight operator, and from there she continued to shine by working as a light tech and board operator for a band. Recently she took the show on the road, lighting in different locations as live music was taken from city to city.

“My first exposure with touring is with MarchFourth, a 20 piece band of craziness,” she says. “Probably not your usual tour setup, but we travel with anywhere between 20-22 people on one converted 45′ bus I lovingly refer to as “The Transformer” or the “Petri Dish.” Lots of driving, but lots of Boggle and Settlers of Catan.”

At each venue Maja unloads the gear and assesses the front of house set-up with the audio tech. After introducing herself to the house lighting system, she figures out the show’s programming for the location, eats some dinner, “and then it’s show time.” Afterwards, Maya loads the gear on the bus and gets ready to shove off to the next stop.

Beyond bringing the glow to shows, Maja is a stagecraft hobbyist, wielding power tools and designing sets for various art projects and Burning Man. When she’s not on the road, she works for two staging companies near her home of Portland. Wearing all black and steel-toe shoes, she helps unload, assists other touring lighting directors in getting their rigs up and running, and then helps spotlight during the show. Afterwards, she helps tear it down and load it back up.

“These are anywhere between 15-22 hour days, depending on how large the show is,” she explains. Whew!

The best advice from Maja to everyone looking to get involved in the nuts and bolts, filaments and fades of the stage? “Be the best you. Whatever that is, create the best version of yourself and do what makes you feel happy and inspired.”

Good advice from Maja, who we think is a very Cool Girl!

See Maja work come to life at a MarchFourth Marching Band show:

MarchFourth 14th Anniversary Spectacular
MarchFourth’s 14th Anniversary Pre-Func with Pimps of Joytime
MarchFourth’s 14th Anniversary Family Matinee