Still Cheering and Leading

Still Cheering and Leading

Still Cheering and Leading

A conversation with new Alumni Association Board President, Yumi Rodriguez Belanga ‘96

This fall Christian Ferry ’93 passed the role of Alumni Association Board (AAB) president to his energetic and vivacious vice president, Yumi Rodriguez Belanga ’96. Her senior page in the “Traditions” yearbook paints an early picture of leadership and spirit. Always ready to support her fellow Saints, she was a cheerleader throughout high school, including being co-captain as a junior, and captain in her senior year. She also spent four years in the Students Against Drunk Driving Club; the Spanish Club, which she led as co-president in twelfth grade; and the diversity club, Unity, open to all students interested in the different cultures represented in the school. During her junior and senior year, she was active with the NCBI (National Coalition Building Institute), an organization that builds leadership for diversity resource teams and conducts training in diversity, equity, and inclusion skills on campuses across the nation. Under faculty guidance, the 1996 NCBI club members hosted an intense winter workshop to discuss how to overcome feelings of exclusion and increase feelings of belonging.

After graduating from SSSAS, Yumi received a bachelor’s in art and visual technologies with honors from George Mason University. She worked in the hospitality industry for a couple of years, but decided to search for

Yumi as a senior in 1996 and still cheering and leading today

something new. She started as a temp at the Military Officers Association of American (MOAA) and in the blink of an eye found herself leading them through rapid changes in the digital field as their interim chief information officer and vice president. Yumi joined the AAB in 2015 at the suggestion of her dear friend and former AAB member, LaKesha Bankston-Glover ’96. LaKesha told her it would not only be fun, but also fulfilling – and according to Yumi she was spot on! Yumi brings years of experience as a driven leader in program, vendor, and resource management in the non-profit sector to the AAB. She is a strategic thinker known for fostering a positive and collaborative environment that enables employees to grow and succeed, and she has been recognized by senior management for superlative coaching, mentoring, and teamwork.

Yumi’s husband, Kevin, is also an IT professional and runs a small business which does government contracts in cybersecurity. He also went to an independent school and values the community a small school provides the student and their family. Their daughter, Alessia ’27, adores animals and has a vibrant, creative mind. She loves being a Saint and Yumi and Kevin have enjoyed watching her grow into a compassionate young lady that values community and exploration. 

In her spare time Yumi likes to create things—in the kitchen, in the craft room, and in her community making new connections and strengthening existing ones. As a family they love to travel and explore different cultures, food, and gifts of nature. 

We talked to Yumi to learn a bit more about her aspirations for the AAB and her experiences as a Saint.

A. How does your role at the Military Officers Association of America relate to serving on the Alumni Association Board?

Q. Although I went to college with an art focus, my IT role at MOAA is centered more on the other side of my brain concentrating on analytical and technical skills. I have had many opportunities, though, to blend both my passions for creative thinking and logical approach in my contributions to the organization. Thinking through digital strategies has some parallels to the AAB. You’ve got to think about the user/member, how they will engage in your product or offering, and how to keep them excited for what’s coming in the roadmap. 

A. What areas would you like to focus on as AAB president over the next two years?

Q. Our alumni are amazingly talented, successful, and fascinating people. We have jewelry designers, attorneys, professional athletes, and successful business owners among us. I’m excited to connect us all through local and virtual events this year. During COVID we’ve been disconnected from our communities, and I hope that in the coming months we’ll be able to revive those connections in a variety of ways. In addition to enhancing relations among our community, I’d like to continue to enhance activity within our affinity groups such as the Alumni of Color. The affinity groups are a great way to network and bond with peers that have similar interests. 

I do have ideas for new affinity groups such as one geared for scientist/medical professionals and art lovers. I’d love to get more data on what our alumni are doing so we can create meaningful connections through these affinity groups. 

Q. In what ways did your SSSAS education prepare you for college and life beyond?

A. English class did not come easy for me, but as I reflect on the critiques of my papers, and feedback on my grammar exercises, I realize how grateful I am to have had that skill set refined prior to entering the workforce. My career has spanned from marketing to communications, to now IT and whether it’s a proposal, a business plan, or an email to a peer—writing with sincerity and thoroughness is key. 

Q. What is your favorite SSSAS memory?

A. I have many special memories from my time at SSSAS, and even from SAS (St. Agnes). From Girl Scout troop meetings in Sinclair Hall at the Lower School to the Shrinemont bonding trips during freshman and senior year–there was always laughter, camaraderie, and impactful moments that shaped my view of what a team should look like. My most favorite memories come from the annual Sleepy Thompson Basketball Tournament. It was invigorating, for the whole school (not just the Upper Schoolers), to cheer on the players and coaches. Saints fans both big and small would pack into the gym to come to see their favorite team and players play amongst loud cheers and sometimes crazy audience outfits!   

Q. Did any of your teachers have a profound or lasting effect on you? 

A. For some reason the art teachers, Ms. Debold and Ms. Cain, really left great lessons with me. They pushed us to be creative and take risks in a safe space. Through classmate critiques we grew to understand different perspectives and sometimes slightly tougher skin, but again in safe space. Studio time allowed me to explore and gain perspective in a different way, as art classes are not always linear typical courses. This is probably why I ended up starting my studies in the artistic field!

Q. What traditions/values/lessons from SSSAS have stayed in your life after graduating? 

A. While the classroom instruction is exceptional, the lessons in goodness to each other, the environment, and our community are as well. Principles such as being empathetic for those around you and listening without judgment are still carried with me daily as I interact with colleagues and those close to me. 

Alumni Association Board

Yumi Rodriguez Belanga ’96

Erin McConnell ’99
Vice President

Meredith Bentsen ’11
Jessica Bigby ’00
Caroline Blair ’11
Kristin Seith Burkhalter ’97
Cam Burley ’04
David Cogar ’87
Andrew Cordia ’09
Rebecca Dickerson ’11
Amanda Dove ’10
Karen Washington Franklin ’73
Alison Taylor Henry ’02
Randy Hollerith ’82
Barbara Butler Leonard ’68
Mary Olivia Cox MacLeod ’71
Lisa Meltz ’93
Chris Miller ’05
Marc Miller ’87
Tori Miller ’12
Michele Phillips ’12
John Quinn ’05
Matt Shiroma ’01
Nate Solberg ’04
Sam Teague ’11
Meg Babyak Tucker ’73
Nick Williams ’10
Jacob Willis ’06