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Maggie Davis

Sports Reporter, LEX 18

From the distilling industry to policy making, University of Kentucky alumnae are not just preserving Kentucky traditions — they’re rewriting them. 

Shannon Arvin, J.D., Maggie Davis, Tia Edwards, Ouita Michel, Crystal Staley and Tukea Talbert, D.N.P., offer a glimpse into the diverse experiences of women as they shatter glass ceilings and pave the way for future generations of women.

These six inspirational women are leading their fields and impacting the lives of Kentuckians through their talents, work and research.

In honor of Women’s History Month, UKNow spoke with these "industry disruptors" and asked questions ranging from what Women’s History Month signifies to them to identifying some of the challenges they’ve faced and overcome. 

Maggie Davis, a sports reporter for LEX 18 and an alumna of the College of Communication and Information, believes, “Women's History Month is a specific time to recognize and honor the achievements we should be celebrating 12 months a year.”

“However, this designated time inspires me and hopefully inspires future generations of women to dream big,” she continued. “Nothing is more valuable than having a strong network around you. I’m constantly uplifted and inspired by the women I’ve gotten to know in this industry, and I hope to pay that forward to the next generation of girls and women who are joining us in this crazy world of sports media.”

As the eighth president of Keeneland Association and the first woman named to the position, Shannon Arvin also agrees, “being a woman isn’t a limitation.”

Arvin received her J.D. degree from the College of Law (now the Rosenberg College of Law) in 2002, where she served as an associate editor of the Kentucky Law Journal.

She began practicing law in 2002 at the Lexington firm Stoll Keenon Ogden (SKO), where she represented Thoroughbred owners and industry organizations in Kentucky and around the world. 

As an SKO partner, in 2008 Arvin began serving as corporate counsel to Keeneland, and she has been secretary and advisory member of Keeneland’s board of directors since 2015.

“Whatever a woman chooses to do, I hope she does so with energy, purpose and gratitude — celebrating the choices she makes. Those choices are not easy to make,” Arvin said. “One of the things I’ve realized as I’ve gotten older is that there are seasons in our life and what may be the right choice for one season may not be the right choice for the next. It’s important to remember that, so we don’t feel stuck or overwhelmed by the many factors we analyze when making choices.”

Though their childhood dreams might not have hinted at their future groundbreaking roles, these women offer one clear message to their younger selves — “you are worthy.”

Tukea Talbert, chief diversity officer for UK HealthCare, became a registered nurse at the age of 20, and the need to be responsible, accountable and adaptable came with her choice of a career. 

Over the years, Talbert has broadened her scope and boundaries beyond the patient’s bedside. Now, she desires to impact the care environment from a more macroscopic vantage point — through leadership.

Talbert also wants to tell other young women this:

  • Never doubt or forget your self-worth.
  • Be leery of seeing yourself through other’s eyes.
  • You deserve a seat at the table — own it!

In one case, that seat at the table happens to be the dinner table. 

The accolades for the Commonwealth’s food scene have been rolling in the last several years, and few leaders are as responsible for growing the state’s culinary landscape as UK alumna Ouita Michel.

A James Beard Foundation Award nominee as Outstanding Restaurateur and Best Chef Southeast, Michel has built a regional restaurant empire that now includes such popular establishments as Zim’s CafeHoneywoodHolly Hill InnThe Midway BakerySmithtown SeafoodWallace StationWindy Corner Market and Restaurant and Glenn’s Creek Café.

Michel majored in political science in the College of Arts and Sciences and was a member of the debate team, honors program (now Lewis Honors College) and the first class of Gaines Fellows. In 1986, she became only the second woman to win a national debate championship.

While she has achieved great success, Michel admits, working in professional kitchens — especially 35 years ago — wasn’t without challenges.

“I have never been afraid to speak my mind when it was called for. Over the years, the desire to have control over my own work environment led me to open my own business,” she said. “Now, my challenge is to make sure we're sustaining that professional environment for all our employees. It's something I work on every single day.”

In the heart of Kentucky, distilling is also no longer just a man’s world.

Women, like Tia Edwards, are breaking barriers, leaping barrels and crafting award-winning spirits. As the owner of Fresh Bourbon, located in downtown Lexington, she is redefining what it means to succeed within the bourbon industry. 

“Historically the Bourbon industry has been a male dominated field. At Fresh Bourbon, we have created an experience and product that is inviting to everyone,” Edwards, a College of Communication and Information graduate, said. “Our distillery offers a level of elegance while allowing consumers to enjoy their bourbon however they like it — not forcing a ‘neat’ experience on them.” 

It was this mindset that led to Edwards being recognized by the Kentucky State Senate as among the first Black Americans to create bourbon since slavery — a feat she hopes will “encourage other entrepreneurs to take their first step in creating a product, brand and/or business.”

Crystal Staley echoes the sentiment of women empowerment. 

A 2007 graduate of the Martin School of Public Policy and Administration, she has served in various roles in state government for the past 17 years. And since 2019, Staley has held the title of communications director for Gov. Andy Beshear. 

“I have seen a lot of positive change in Frankfort working for leaders who value women and their ideas,” she said. “Gov. Andy Beshear, as well as First Lady Britainy Beshear and Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman, have worked to ensure state government has more women in leadership roles. The Kentucky Commission on Women was also reinstated, and the first statue of a woman — Nettie Depp — now stands in our state capitol.” 

Though its roots as a national celebration trace back to 1981, the presidential proclamation of every March as Women’s History Month officially began in 1995. This proclamation is an opportunity to celebrate the contributions of women to the U.S. and recognize specific achievements by women throughout history.

It serves as a stark reminder — women can do anything.

Talbert leaves behind these words of advice to help younger generations of women to recognize their ‘own light’ and empower them to use it. 

“Regardless of going into a male-dominated field, or any field, you must not surrender your dream to noisy negatives and naysayers that attempt to place you in boxes with low expectations.” 


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