NUTLEY, NJ - Nutley High School’s Women’s Activism Club hosted a Women’s Work Panel recently in the high school cafeteria. Career panelists were Nutley Municipal Court Judge Joanne Cocchiola; Wendy Reo, co-owner of Crossfit Nutley; attorney Kirsten Scheurer Branigan; Jacinda Martinez, owner of Grounded Local; Regina Peter, co-founder and co-executive director of Newmark Schools; Jennifer Savitch, private aviator and aircraft system educator; and Samantha Scutti, U.S. Department of Defense mechanical engineer.
Nutley Superintendent of Schools Julie Glazier opened the evening. Hosts were senior Maggie McCreesh, club president and Miranda Madrazo, one of two junior officers who serve as vice president, secretary and treasurer.
“You never know where life takes you,” said Cocchiola. She explained about how she went from the first Nutley woman township commissioner in 2000 to the first woman mayor in Nutley 2004 and municipal judge in 2012, again being the first woman.
Cocchiola spoke highly about her mother who recently passed. “My mom was a working woman,” she said. “I never walked into a room full of men and felt uncomfortable,” said Cocchiola. “Everybody was equal and that way in being raised shaped me into what I am today,” she continued.
Reo, a Nutley resident, spoke about challenges she met in work on the way to starting her own business and the people she encountered working at the various jobs. She said her dream was to be a professional dancer and entertainer, she realized at the age 21 that she had to focus on another career.
Her grandmother is an inspiration to her. Reo said she told her, “I don’t have to work, I choose to work.” Reo went on that you don’t necessarily need experience to have a job; you need confidence and willingness to do.
Before she opened Crossfit she took the time to learn about opening a business. She told the audience how she did not finish college. “It’s really important to finish college. I missed a lot of jobs because I didn’t finish college,” she said. “If you know exactly what you want to do go for it. Be brave enough to follow your passion, to jump ship in your life,” said Reo.
Peter, who holds a doctorate in education, told the audience that she had three different majors in college and still graduated on time. “At 18 I didn’t know what my passion was, after school I realized I wanted to be a teacher,” she said. “Take every experience, good or bad, and utilize it. She explained the difference between having a career and a calling, as Peter feels her job is to her.
Branigan told the audience she received a lot of discouragement but that did not stop her from pursuing her career and even later opening her own law office. “No matter what you do, even if you don’t like it you will never regret the education behind it,” she said.
Savitch advised the crowd to surround themselves with people who will support them. She also said of her experience as an aviation teacher in a male dominated career. “When you teach a room full of men and they look at you, you made a change in their lives.”
“Maggie and I have received a great response to the event from people of all ages. Although the event was initially intended for high school students who want to explore various career paths, both younger and older women seem to have left the event inspired by the passion and enthusiasm the panelists put forward, said Madrazo in an interview.
“Women’s Work” is something that I hope the club will continue to organize even after I graduate this year. We had some people who were in attendance sticking around after the event ended to speak to some of our panelists about their careers and asking for advice. I think that that alone is a testament to the success of the panel,” said McCreesh.
Club founder McCreesh, who will be starting college at The College of New Jersey in the fall, also gained insight from the panel. “While I have already chosen my major, I have no idea what direction I want my career to take. The panelists affirmed, for me, that while my direction may not be of the crystal clear variety, as long as I stick to what I love and am passionate about, I can't go wrong,” she said.
Madrazo intends to keep the fairly new club going when McCreesh graduates. “This is definitely something that the Women's Activism Club wants to organize again,” she said. “Our president, Maggie, will be in college next year, but thanks to her trailblazing dedication and perseverance, this club will continue to serve its purpose in Nutley High School. We hope for Women's Work to become an annual event and would even like to organize other events that are similarly inspiring and empowering to people in our community,” she added.
The event concluded with a Q&A session with the audience and panelists.