by Freya Cartwright
MTSU has a proud history of laying foundations of excellence for its students, cultivating leaders that go on to improve and strengthen their communities. Below, meet three women—Dana Womack of State Farm, Julie Lewis of Pinnacle Financial, and Patience Long of the Murfreesboro Center for the Arts—who are carrying on MTSU’s tradition of excellence and helping the next generation of young women take their place in the business world.
What year did you graduate from MTSU, and what was your major?
Patience Long: I graduated in 2001 with a B.S. in Journalism from MTSU.
Dana Womack: I got my Bachelor of Science in Political Science in 2000 and my Master of Business Education in 2003.
Julie Lewis: I graduated in 2001 as a Business Administration major.
What university experience left an impression on you, and what effect does it have on your current career?
Lewis: The entire MTSU experience left an impression. I feel that my journey at MTSU taught me independence and responsibility, which helped me to be successful in my leadership role with Pinnacle Financial Partners. MTSU and Pinnacle have similar values, in that MTSU promotes excellence and Pinnacle’s vision is to be the best financial services firm—and the best place to work—in the Southeast.
Womack: I remember one particular Political Science course where each student was given an agenda, and your job was to get your agenda passed as completely as possible. I ultimately won the “contest” by passing the most complete agenda. This taught me a lot about building relationships, exercising influence, and compromising, which are lessons you can take into any career.
Long: Well, I met my husband of 17 years, Brian Russell, my first day at MTSU! Also, I was the drum major for my entire college career with the Band of Blue, which really had an impact on my leadership skills. The band directors at the time, Rick Murphy and Terry Jolly, trusted me with many responsibilities, and I rose to the challenge. The most stressful time in my college career was during football games: It was up to me to watch the games and call the songs. I learned football quickly! To this day, I don’t enjoy football as much as I did before the Band of Blue! Being involved in the arts at MTSU is one reason this job at the Center for the Arts in Murfreesboro appealed to me. After almost 20 years in the nonprofit field, I finally came back to my roots and am using my skill set in my area of passion: the arts.
Give a shout-out to a female mentor from your college years.
Long: Jennifer Stembridge, the band secretary at MTSU, was always someone that I could talk to about the highs and lows of college life. She actively sought opportunities for me to expand myself both personally and professionally. Jennifer made me feel like the band office was my home away from home!
Womack: My family has a strong history of strong female influences, but one who made a large impact during my college years was my aunt, Lara Daniel. She is a professor at MTSU and also holds a law degree. She’s been an example of success to me in both her career and her personal life. She definitely is someone I have looked up to as a mentor, both while attending the University and as I have furthered my career.
Lewis: Rhonda Ellis! Rhonda was the owner of the Gold Rush, which was located on Memorial Boulevard years ago. I worked there during part of my college career, and her drive for excellence and positive customer service attitude continues to influence my career today. Rhonda supported me in giving me manager responsibilities, and she would always work around my class schedules whenever I needed to ensure my studies came first. I am forever grateful to her for instilling such a strong work ethic in me and also for making work fun! This set a good pathway for my current role managing five women.
What piece of advice do you have for young women in business today?
Long: I think the sky’s the limit for young women in business. Don’t be afraid to dream big. Acquire the right skills for what you want to do, and surround yourself with supportive people along the way. Work hard, have high ethical standards, do well by all those around you, and take care of yourself. As the saying goes: You get what you focus on, so focus on what you want!
Womack: Start networking now! Do not wait to form relationships until after you graduate. Look for successful people in your career field and ask what their lives looked like at 20, 30, 40, etc. Also, have confidence in yourself and the skills you possess. Do not let anyone tell you that you’re not going to be successful at something that you know in your heart you can do. Be prepared to be your own advocate for success, be prepared to get knocked down, and be prepared to build yourself back up!
Lewis: Be confident in your role, and always be present. I often refer back to the book Present over Perfect by Shauna Niequist, specifically this quote:
Present over perfect living is real over image, connecting over comparing, meaning over mania, depth over artifice. Present over perfect living is the risky and revolutionary belief that the world God has created is beautiful and valuable on its own terms, and that it doesn’t need to be zhuzzed up and fancy in order to be wonderful.
I especially advise connecting over comparing. I feel connection has been a major factor in the success of my career. Through leadership at Pinnacle Bank, as well as networking groups such as Rutherford Cable, I have been able to connect with other women in particular. I would encourage young women in business to surround themselves with inspiring, influential women daily!