10 SMU Alumnae You Should Know About

There’s no better time to celebrate the women of SMU than during Women’s History Month! Here are a couple of SMU Alumnae you may (or may not) know about who have done extraordinary things since their time on the hilltop.

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Eddie Bernice Johnson

Truly in the business of serving the people, Eddie Bernice Johnson was originally a nurse before she made the career change which led to her current position of representing the 30th congressional district of Texas in the United States House of Representatives. While a nurse, she was the first African American woman to hold the position of Chief Psychiatric Nurse at the Dallas Veterans Administration Hospital. After 16 years in that role, Johnson went to Southern Methodist University and earned a Master of Public Administration in 1976. She was the first black woman to win electoral office from Dallas, and in 1992, she was the first registered nurse to be elected to congress. — Maria Ryan

Claire Babineaux-Fontenot

Claire Babineaux-Fontenot graduated from SMU’s law school in ’92 and went on to become the CEO of Feeding America, the largest hunger-relief program within the US. Under her supervision, the network serves more than 4 billion meals to over 46 million people in America. To help their efforts last longer than a single meal, they help provide programs to boost food security for those they serve. Babineaux-Fontenot has a long job history of great leadership. Before Feeding America, she was on Walmart’s leadership team for 13 years and the tax practice leader for a top law firm. Named one of TIME’s 100 most influential pioneers, leaders, titans, artists and icons of 2020, she is an inspiration as she continues her fight against hunger that has been a passion of hers since she was young. — Olivia Mars

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Mary Ellen Weber

Dr. Mary Ellen Weber ’02 spent 10 years as an astronaut before coming to SMU where she earned her Master of Business Administration. She was one of the 24 astronauts in NASA’s group 14 in 1992. During her two shuttle missions, some of Weber’s duties included putting a communications satellite into orbit as well as biotechnological experimentation. In 2012, she founded STELLAR Strategies, LLC, a consulting company that specializes in “strategies for operations in high-stakes business ventures, technology communications and legislative strategies.” Today, she is also a part of NASA’s advisory board Advisory Council Committee on Technology, Innovation and Engineering. Weber has served on numerous prominent boards in Texas including Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital of Dallas and the Perot Museum of Nature & Science. Additionally, she served as the Vice President of UT Southwestern Medical Center for nine years after her shuttle mission. These days, Weber competes in skydiving competitions. With around 6,000 dives over the course of 30 years, she has garnered two dozen medals at the U.S. National Skydiving Championships and holds a world record. — Meredith Welborn


Lizzy Chesnut Bentley

Having grown up in Amarillo, Texas, Lizzy Chestnut Bentley was surrounded by cowboy boots her whole life. They were more than just a pair of shoes to her, they had a meaning of family and her roots. Bentley graduated from Southern Methodist University in 2012 and took a job as an oil analyst, but three short years later she was laid off in one of the industry’s bust cycles. Bentley decided to pursue her true passion and created City Boots in 2016, a custom boot company that offers a contemporary and sophisticated take on the classic southern shoe. — Maria Ryan

Kristin Gazlay

Kristin Gazlay, class of 1980, studied Journalism and English at Southern Methodist University. After graduating in 1980, she joined the Associated Press in Dallas. She currently serves as senior editor of AP in New York City, where she mentors and coaches AP editors and writers around the world and contributes to recruiting and career development. Prior to her role as senior editor, Gazlay held other major leadership roles at AP in Texas, Arkansas, and London. — Alexa Vickaryous

Deanna Hollas

The Rev. Deanna Hollas is the country’s first-known Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) minister of Gun Violence Prevention. Hollas earned her Master’s of Divinity from the SMU Perkins School of Theology in 2015. Since her ordainment in 2017, Hollas has overseen over 800 Presbyterian gun violence prevention advocates across the country. Hollas is also a co-founder of the Retreat House Spirituality Center in Richardson, TX, which is a “covenant community of spiritual directors.” — Caroline Waters

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Regina Taylor

Regina Taylor is an award-winning actress, playwright, educator, and activist. Taylor earned a degree in Theatre from Meadows in 1981. She is most known for her role as Lilly Harper in the series I’ll Fly Away which aired in the 1990s. This role also earned her a Golden Globe award for Best Actress in a Television Drama. Taylor has also received two NAACP image awards for her role in I’ll Fly Away and her role as Molly Blane in The Unit. In October of 2020, Taylor returned (virtually) to the Hilltop for part one of her three-part theatrical project: the black album. 2020. Written and directed by Taylor, this project looks at what it means to be Black in 2020. Part one: the black album. 2020. resistance. premiered on YouTube as a 75-minute presentation. — Meredith Welborn

Sue Smrekar

Dr. Sue Smrekar currently serves as the Deputy Principal Investigator of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Smrekar earned her Ph.D. in Geophysics from the SMU Department of Earth Sciences in 1990. As a planetary scientist, her research explores the topography, thermal properties and evolutionary paths of Venus, Mars, and Earth. Smrekar has received a multitude of honors, including an Emmy in 2019 and numerous NASA awards. In 2015, Smrekar was elected into the International Academy of Astronautics. — Caroline Waters

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Courtney Caldwell

Courtney Caldwell ’00 is changing the relationships in the hair industry as the world has known it for decades. The SMU business school alumna and her husband, Tye, recognized a need for a more temporary and non-contract binding way for stylists to reserve space in a salon, while benefiting the salons by utilizing unused space. After several years of connecting salons and stylists manually, the couple created an app: ShearShare. Since the height of the pandemic, the app has grown 157% and is used in more than 625 cities. Caldwell remains connected to SMU where she once was a Hunt scholar, member of the track and field team, in the gospel choir, and worked campus jobs. She now holds several leadership positions within the university, while running their multi-million dollar company. — Olivia Mars

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Ti Adelaide Martin

Ti Adelaide Martin ‘82 has left her mark on the New Orleans restaurant scene as co-proprietor of Commander’s Palace, an award-winning upscale landmark since 1893, and SoBou, a creole restaurant. She has dedicated herself to informing others about the future of food and hospitality in America and recently hosted The American Cuisine and Hospitality Symposium. She is also co-author of four cookbooks: In the Land of Cocktails: Recipes and Adventures from the Cocktail Chicks, Commander’s Wild Side, Commander’s Kitchen, and Miss Ella of Commander’s Palace. Martin believes her mother Ella Brennan, the matriarch of the family business, inspired her passion for food and influenced her most recent book Miss Ella of Commander’s Palace. — Alexa Vickaryous

Meredith Welborn

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