Two Ascension residents honored with prestigious award

Brandie Richardson
Alsie Dunbar of Gonzales

March kicks off Women's History month, a month long dedication that highlights the importance of women in history and society. In the spirit of this annual celebration, the LSU Women's Center is hosting their fifth annual Esprit de Femme Award Sunrise Celebration.

Established in 2009, the Esprit de Femme Award is an annual acknowledgement of eight women and one man who has made remarkable strides towards the advancement of women in Louisiana.

Each fall the LSU Women's Center calls for nominations for anyone who wants to nominate someone in the community who has made advancements for women in the state. On average, the center receives between 25 and 30 nominations a year.

"We are looking for honorees who are trailblazers and/or who have made strides in advancing the status of women in Louisiana," said LSU Women's Center Director Summer Steib.

This year two extraordinary women from Ascension Parish, Tanya Whitney of Sorrento and Alsie Dunbar of Gonzales, are among those being honored at the celebration later this month.

"Ms. Whitney is an American hero and trailblazer for women in the military," Steib continued. "She is a decorated veteran who dedicated much of her life to serving our country. Even though she has retired, Ms. Whitney continues to support women veterans in Louisiana and across the country through her continued service."

This is the first award of this nature that Whitney has received and she said she is very honored to be recognized for the work she does with the Women Veterans of Louisiana, where she focuses on showcasing the work women have done in the military for our nation.

"This was a surprise, I didn't even know I had been nominated," the Sorrento resident said. "When you look at some of the past nominees and what they've done, I didn't really think I fit in that grain, but someone thought I did."

Whitney served nearly 30 years in the Army, where she retired in 2010 as a Master Sergeant. She is involved in many organizations and holds leadership positions such as in the VFW Post 3693 and the Women Veterans of Louisiana. She presents numerous educational workshops to schools and organizations in the state promoting the service of women in the military and in the aeronautical fields.

"A lot of it is bringing to the public to those who don't have a real grasp of how women serve in the military and how they have served," Whitney said. "To show that they have always been an integral part of the military, just like any other minority they have not got the recognition they should have in the past. We are trying to bring that to the forefront."

Dunbar, who has more than 18 years in the chemistry industry as a scientist and engineer, was nominated for her efforts in exposing young girls to the sciences, technology, engineering and math through her STEM GEMS Mentoring Project, which she feels is the biggest accomplishment she has achieved towards progressing women and young girls in the state.

"Being a female and a minority in undergrad and in the petrol-chem industry, there weren't a lot of my counterparts that looked like me, that's why I formed STEM GEMS," Dunbar said. "I wanted to reach back and tell young girls it's ok to be unapologetic for being brilliant or being strong or being yourself. There are no glass ceilings."

Dunbar has received the Greater Baton Rouge Business Report’s Top 40 under 40 award, a proclamation from the City of Gonzales declaring Sept. 8, 2015, as STEM GEMS Day in the city and will receive a Key to the Parish later this month. She also received the Employee Performance Plan from Motiva Enterprises, which is the highest honor an employee can receive because it is merit based and voted on by majority stake holders.

"Ive gotten awards over the years, but this means a lot because it's sending myself a message that I'm doing the right thing and impacting the lives of others, especially women and young girls," she added."There are some heavy hitters who have this honor. It solidifies that there is nothing wrong with being a women and being a pioneer in an industry or in your community."

"Ms. Dunbar was nominated multiple times this year and the selection committee was impressed by her STEMS GEMS initiative," the Women's Center Director added. "In addition to her work mentoring girls in the STEM fields, Ms. Dunbar is active in many community endeavors that support and advance women."

Others receiving this year's award includes Baton Rouge Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome, former College of Fellows of the American Theatre Dean Gresdna Doty, the first African American female to graduate from LSU in chemical engineering Del Dugas, Director Emerita of the Center for Academic Success Sandra Yancy McGuire, Bengal Belles President Aimee Simon, Founder and President of CPEX Elizabeth "Boo" Thomas and Channel ZerO Group managing partner Calvin Mackie.

The 2017 Espirit de Femme Award reception will be held March 30 at Boudreaux's in Baton Rouge.