Our Honorees


felita FELITA HARRIS was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee. During her adolescence, she resided in Pisa, Italy for 3 years. It was in Italy where her dream of building a career in the fashion industry quickly evolved.

For the past two decades, Ms. Harris has worked with some of the most notable luxury brands including Armani, St. John Knits, Agnona, and Piazza Sempione.

In 2003, Ms. Harris joined Donna Karan International. She’s held several positions at Donna Karan including Director of Retail Merchandising, Senior Director of Sales, and Vice President of Sales. In 2010, Ms. Harris assumed the newly created position of Senior Vice President of Global Sales. Ms. Harris currently has the responsibility of overseeing the Donna Karan Collection wholesale and online businesses in 38 countries within North America, Middle East, Europe, South America, Africa, and Asia.

In 2002, Ms. Harris joined Agnona (a division of Ermenegildo Zegna) as the West Coast Regional Manager. She opened the first Agnona boutique in the U.S at the Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills.

Prior to Ms. Harris’s wholesale positions, she spent a decade in sales and store management with luxury retail titans Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom. To launch her career in fashion, Ms. Harris credits the highly coveted Neiman Marcus management training program. It was at Neiman Marcus where she gained experience in luxury retailing. Ms. Harris’s expertise in retail, wholesale and knowledge of the international market, has given her a dynamic acuity in managing luxury businesses worldwide.

Ms. Harris holds a degree in Fashion Merchandising and Buying from Bauder College in Atlanta, Georgia.

In 2001-2003, Ms. Harris spearheaded several programs in Los Angeles under THE ESTHER PROJECT, her personal initiative to serve adolescent girls who struggle with transitioning into adulthood. She’s currently serving as a mentor for the Cherie Blair Foundation and Watch Her Work Mentors in association with Pynk Magazine.

Business Achievement Awards include: 2011 BRAG Business Achievement Award; New York Post’s Page Six Magazine, September 2001; Essence Magazine, August 2012, Work and Wealth; Styleblazer.com, December 2011, “How I Made It," 2013; Girl Scouts, Women of Distinction Award.

Ms. Harris resides in New Jersey with her five year old daughter, Kennedy. She enjoys travel, biking, hiking, and cooking with friends.


samantha-update SAMANTHA KAPPAGODA is Chief Economist and co-founder of Risk Economics, Inc. (www.riskecon.com). She provides advisory services and research and development of rigorous analytics applied to large-scale, real-world modeling and surveillance for geopolitics and socioeconomics involving population, demographics and macroeconomics. Her areas of expertise include econometric time-series and longitudinal analyses of consumer behavior, labor supply, wealth and income distribution, housing, population and immigration, political risk and international trade, resource allocation, environment, health, aging and retirement, as well as currency, commodity and capital markets activity.

Samantha is co-lead investigator at the RiskEcon® Lab for Decision Metrics and Visiting Scholar at the Courant Institute for Mathematical Sciences at New York University.

Previously, she was Senior Economist at Caxton Associates LP, a hedge fund established in 1983, investing in global fixed income, currencies, commodities and equities. She was a key member of Caxton Global, the firm’s flagship global macro fund, which at its peak had approximately $12 billion of assets under management. Her demographic and macroeconomic analytics and development of proprietary econometric models of markets and the global economy guided the firm’s senior decision makers during her thirteen year tenure there. Prior to entering the financial markets, Samantha was an Economist in the Operations Evaluation Department of The World Bank in Washington D.C., working on the evaluation of structural adjustment lending programs and dynamic stochastic general equilibrium (DSGE) modeling, with a primary focus on the outcome, impact and sustainability of these programs in developing countries.

Samantha pursues her broader research interests by serving as a senior editorial advisory board member of The Journal of Risk Finance (JRF), an Emerald Publications journal which provides a rigorous forum for the publication, both by academics and practitioners, of theoretical and empirical research related to the financing of risk, with a long-standing focus on issues of market convergence. She was originally the founding Managing Editor of JRF in 1999, initially published by Institutional Investor Journals/Euromoney, before its successful sale to its current publisher. She has also served as Special Editor on Risk for The Journal of Alternative Investments, another Institutional Investor journal.

Samantha received an M.B.A. in Analytic Finance and Statistics from the University of ChicagoBooth School of Business. She also holds an M.A. in Economics from the University of Toronto, and graduated with a B.Sc. (Honors) in Mathematics from Imperial College, London.

Samantha currently serves as a member of the boards of directors for two not-for-profit organizations: Glynwood, which focuses on sustainable agriculture and regional food systems; and Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival, the premier resident Shakespeare company in the region.

She was born in Sri Lanka, and has also resided in Canada, the Philippines, Singapore, and the United Kingdom. Her biography has been published in the Marquis publications Who’s Who in America, Who’s Who in Finance and Business (formerly Finance and Industry), Who’s Who of Emerging Leaders, Who’s Who of American Women, and Canadian Who’s Who (University of Toronto Press).


nicki NICOLA (Nicki) PALMER  is Chief Network Officer for Verizon Wireless, the largest wireless company in the United States. She is responsible for planning, engineering, building and operating Verizon Wireless’ industry-leading voice and data networks and oversees the design and deployment of the company’s 4G LTE network, the nation’s largest and the world’s most advanced wireless data network.

Palmer began her career at Bell Atlantic in 1990 and has held a number of leadership positions in engineering, operations, and program management supporting advanced data and IP products. During her career she also was responsible for the planning, design and operation of Verizon's global voice, data and IP networks, which span more than 2,600 cities in 150 countries touching six continents. She also led the engineering and operations of the fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) network, which enables Verizon's FiOS data and TV services.

Active in a number of organizations including the National Academy Foundation, Palmer is a staunch advocate for women in business and promoting education and careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM). In 2012, she was included on Fierce Wireless’ list of the Most Influential Women in Wireless.

Palmer earned a bachelor's degree in industrial engineering from Penn State University and an MBA from the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School. She resides in NJ with her husband and three children.


laurel-updateLAUREL ROSSI is President of Havas Worldwide StratFarm, a full service advertising agency with offices in New York City and Seattle.  Laurel started Strat Farm in 2008 after enjoying a career marketing some of the best companies in the world including Citigroup, Revlon, Verizon Wireless, Johns Hopkins Medicine, Procter & Gamble and Pepsi.  Laurel sold the agency to Havas Worldwide in 2011 in order to expand the agency’s services, and to give the agency a global footprint.  Today, the agency client roster includes AT&T Wireless, BrightStar Care, Capgemini, Enfamil, Johns Hopkins Medicine, Eisai Pharmaceuticals, and Weight Watchers.

Laurel has spent that last several years bringing her concept for a next generation advertising agency to life by combining her love of technology with culturally-relevant topics and trends.  Strategy Farm’s mission is to work with brands that are defined by their ability to advance human progress, and can advance their own goals through technology and marketing.  Laurel has worked closely with a number of brands, most notably Verizon Wireless (“Can you hear me now?”), to humanize technology with the long-range goal of making all types of technology available to everyone – especially to those in developing countries.

In addition to working with nutrition, healthcare, wellness, technology and entertainment companies, Havas Worldwide StratFarm donates a significant amount of its resources to pro bono assignments that support the recovery of veterans from PTS and TBI through the Homebase Program; workplace diversity in the advertising, media and marketing industry for I’mPart, and; The ADVERTISING Club of New York where Laurel is Chairman of the Board.

Laurel is also devoted to a number of other organizations where she volunteers her time and marketing expertise including Berkshire Hills Music Academy which provides post-secondary education for special needs individuals, the Williams Syndrome Association, and is was a founding member of IPG’s Women’s Leadership Network.  Laurel’s first devotion, however, is to her 11 year old daughter Mia, a constant source of inspiration and a talented student who lives for the performing arts.

From Laurel’s earliest memory, strong women – including her aunts, grandmother, mother, business mentors, sorority sisters and Girl Scout leaders – played a defining role in her desire to make this world a better place.  Diversity and supporting the critical role that women play in advancing the innovations, ideas and technology that will disrupt the cycle of poverty, premature mortality and bias are at the top of Laurel’s personal and professional agenda.


cherylCHERYL L. SWIATKOWSKI is a Vice President of Jones Lang LaSalle’s Corporate Solutions Group. She has been responsible for the development and implementation of real estate solutions that include acquisitions, dispositions and general portfolio management by utilizing strategic, financial and negotiating skills for a variety of the firm’s corporate clients.  She has over thirty-five years of experience representing commercial real estate clients both as a corporate real estate executive and as a service provider/licensed real estate broker. 

Currently, Cheryl is part of the Transaction Team that manages the strategic alliance relationship for HSBC Bank USA, National Association and provides retail transaction services for its branch network in the Outer Boroughs of New York City, as well as, Nassau and Suffolk counties.   She has previously worked on JLL’s strategic alliance relationships for Bank of America, N.A.; Sprint Nextel, The Royal Bank of Scotland, WPP and Sun Microsystems, Inc. 

Prior to joining Jones Lang LaSalle, Ms. Swiatkowski held various real estate positions at Time Warner Inc. and its predecessor, Warner Communications Inc.  While at Time Warner, Cheryl was a recipient of the Time Warner Andrew Heiskell Award for Community Service.

Cheryl has attended New York University, Real Estate Institute and is a licensed New York State Real Estate Broker.  She is a member of CoreNet Global, a leading real estate organization where she served on the Board of Directors of the New York City Chapter from 2007 through 2009. 

Cheryl was a Girl Scout during her grammar school years at St. Adalbert’s School in Elmhurst, Queens and during that time earned her First Class Award (the Gold Award of the 1960’s).  An active member of the Girl Scouts of Greater New York since 1980, Cheryl is a charter member of the Juliette Low Society, as well as, a founding member of the National Juliette Low Birthplace Circle of Friends. She is a recipient of numerous Girl Scout Volunteer recognitions including The Greater New York Executive Award, the highest award a New York City volunteer can receive.  She has also received The Thanks Badge and The Thanks II Badge – the highest national award that a volunteer can receive.  Cheryl has held and continues to hold many volunteer positions with the Girl Scouts including Troop Leader, Council Trainer, Camp Site Director, Council Delegate and National Delegate, Volunteer Recognition Committee Chair and Queens Association Chair. Cheryl has chaired the Women of Distinction Breakfast from 2006 through 2012 and is the Secretary of The Board of Directors for Girl Scouts of Greater New York.