Top 25 Most Powerful Women: Featuring Five of Denver’s Strongest Women Leaders (Part I)

The holidays are in full-swing, which means one thing: The Top 25 Most Powerful Women Gala is right around the corner! The Gala will mark the 5th anniversary of the event, and will recognize the achievements of not only 2017’s Top 25, but that of the past four years as well. These 125 women represent the highest level of business performance and community leadership in Denver. We will be highlighting five honorees each week for the next five weeks. We hope you enjoy getting to know these wonderful women as much as we have. Their accomplishments are certainly worth celebrating, and we are honored to do so.

Tickets are still available, so reserve your spot now!

This week we will be highlighting Barbara O’Brein, Marcelina Rivera, Suma Nallapati, Helena Haynes-Carter, and Cecilia Ortiz. Congratulations on your many achievements, ladies!


Barbara O’Brein


The Hon. Barbara O’Brien is the president of Catapult School Leadership, a Colorado nonprofit that gives advanced leadership training to principals in low-income public schools.  She was elected to the Denver School Board in 2013 and is vice president of the board.  She also serves as a Senior Advisor for the Campaign for Grade Level Reading.

She was Lt. Governor of Colorado from 2007-2011.   Her portfolio included the Colorado P-20 Education Coordinating Council, Colorado Space Coalition, Colorado Commission on Indian Affairs, Task Force on the Creative Economy, Main Street Initiative, and the Race to the Top initiative.

O’Brien was president of the Colorado Children’s Campaign a from 1990-2006. She was Governor Richard D. Lamm’s speechwriter in the early 1980s.


Marcelina Rivera


Marcelina Rivera serves as the Chief of Staff of Aurora Public Schools. She is the leader responsible for aligning all academic and nonacademic operations to advance the district’s strategic plan and assist the Superintendent in accelerating progress toward the district’s goals and objectives to benefit each individual student.

Her belief in the power of education to change lives led her to run her own consulting company, serve as Executive Director of the Latino Community Foundation of Colorado, Assistant Superintendent and General Counsel to The New America Schools, Adjunct Professor and Executive Director of the Street Law Program at DU Sturm College of Law, and Assistant Dean of Yale Law School. She was the first Latino to serve in the administration of an Ivy League law school in the United States.

Marcelina is a mother, a community leader currently serving on the CU Anschutz Community-Campus Partnership and Aurora Public Schools Foundation, a published writer, a dancer and a certified yoga instructor.

She holds a J.D. from the University of Colorado School of Law, B.A. from the University of Denver, and her teaching certification from Yale.


Suma Nallapati


Sumana (Suma) Nallapati is an accomplished technology leader with experience in establishing and executing value-driven global IT service strategy and delivery. Her extensive experience includes leading technology driven innovation for business transformation, healthcare infrastructure operations, and global enterprise business applications. She is a “people” leader who builds high performance teams within multi-cultural, globally distributed workforce through mentoring, coaching and inspiration.

Appointed in June 2014 as Colorado’s Secretary of Technology and Chief Information Officer, Suma is committed to positioning the Governor’s Office of Information Technology as a leader in IT innovation for state government. A champion of collaboration, breaking silos and achieving excellence, she is passionate about innovating everyday solutions for customers. Under Suma’s leadership, OIT has received numerous awards, and Suma herself was chosen as one of Computerworld’s Premier 100 IT Leaders for 2015.

As AVP-Technical Services at Catholic Health Initiatives, Suma led service delivery operations for a complex multi-state rapidly growing healthcare IT footprint, leading distributed teams including data center, network operations, service desk and end-user computing. As Teletech’s Global Director of Enterprise Applications, she worked to deploy complex ERP, self-service business applications and related systems in a best practices framework across 19 countries and helped transform the organization to a true service provider model. Suma co-founded a successful IT consulting firm that translates proven CRM, ERP, e-business and Business Intelligence technologies business solutions for clients across the nation. Her “think like an owner” attitude allows her to align a company’s vision, mission, value, and culture to their daily activities.

She earned a master’s degree in nuclear physics from the Andhra University India and holds certificates in Professional Management and Project Management. She has made Colorado her home for the past 17 years along with her husband Srinivas and two children. She is actively involved with several charities around health and education.


Helena Haynes-Carter


Helena Haynes-Carter is Director, Global Inclusion and Diversity for U.S. Bank where she develops, leads, and aligns strategy to advance business objectives through marketplace, community, workplace and supplier goals.

Ms. Haynes-Carter is a corporate strategist and development expert known for producing top results for non-profit, corporate, and government entities. She is a nationally recognized thought-leader and collaborator who leads initiatives from “strategy-to-execution”.

Prior to her current role at U.S. Bank, she served as Executive Director of the MBDA Business Center in Denver, Colorado a part of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Her career includes working for Standard & Poor’s Compustat Service; Xcel Energy; the Regional Transportation District; plus the Colorado Housing and Finance Authority

Helena earned a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Colorado, Leeds School of Business with dual majors in Business Administration and Marketing Management. From Colorado State University she earned a graduate process management certificate.

Ms. Haynes-Carter is a national speaker and facilitator.  Among her many awards includes appointment by Colorado Governor, Hickenlooper to the Minority Business Advisory Council.  She is most proud of her children – Jordan and N’dea.


Cecilia (Cec) Sanchez de Ortiz


My life’s work is framed by a career and a vocation dedicated to working with communities fighting for and addressing structural and institutionalized inequities. My passion for this works stems from an early age, watching and learning from my mother who helped Mexican immigrant families integrate and settle into our small, farming community in rural Colorado. My mother’s simple message was one of love, courage and a fundamental belief in fairness for all.

My path has focused on community development. During the early years as a young single mom raising two boys I was introduced to activism and self-advocacy because of my personal experience as a poor, single working mom raising two boys struggling to understand systems that didn’t work and services that were unresponsive and inaccessible. During that time, I knowingly or unknowingly set my life’s direction – to help communities (and myself) build communal connection and power and to collectively work towards creating safe, thriving communities for all.

Early career choices placed me in the human services arena as a frontline worker at a county mental health center and as a youth counselor at a health clinic. I co-founded with other community members Clinica Campesina, a rural health care clinic for low-income families in rural Colorado. I served as the executive director of Mi Casa Women’s Resource Center, a workforce development organization for women and girls of color in Denver.

My never-ending search to connect theories with practice in the community development and economic development arenas led me to serve both a Colorado Governor and a Denver Mayor. My experiences in local and state government proved to be both eye opening and humbling. It provided me multiple opportunities to positively impact and sometimes even change how large systems better serve citizens in our state.  Other times, this was not the case and I failed miserably in making change!  Even though, I don’t regret these experiences and the challenges that came with the work.  I learned and moved on.

As a consultant I have been fortunate to work on varied projects within communities and for local and national foundations. I partnered with the Annie E. Casey and Piton Foundations, leading a for a national, place-based initiative – Making Connections Denver, focused on helping communities organize and build a resident-led, community change initiative.

Over the past five years, I have served as lead for Colorado Latino Age Wave, an initiative of Latino Community Foundation of Colorado and Rose Community Foundation. The initiative promotes and invests in Latino elders and their families. Latino Age Wave is currently working with immigrant families living in Denver’s Montbello neighborhood who are leading a family-centered campaign targeting access to health and wellness for Latino elders. I recently transitioned from being lead and now serve as a senior advisor to the project.

A way I have given back to my community is to serve local and national nonprofits. I have been privileged to serve on multiple Boards of Directors of great nonprofits. I am currently a board member of the Colorado Housing and Finance Authority and Centro Humanitario Para Los Trajabadores and chair of Energy Outreach Colorado.

I conclude on a personal note. I am the daughter of Marcial and Rosario Ortiz who emigrated from Mexico to rural southeastern Colorado in the early 1900’s.  I attended Regis University and earned a BS degree in business. I live in Denver with my partner, Art Rimando and I’m the proud mother of two sons – Ron and Jeff who are absolutely my life’s accomplishments!

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