“I’ve always valued education and loved being a student and the entire learning experience,” says Monique Herena.

That outlook was shaped in no small part by Teachers College’s Executive Master’s Program in Change Leadership (XMA), from which Herena – Senior Executive Vice President, Chief Human Resources Officer and executive committee member at BNY Mellon, the financial services firm – graduated in 2017. At TC she studied with XMA Founding Director Debra Noumair; W. Warner Burke, Edward Lee Thorndike Professorship of Psychology & Education; Bill Pasmore, Professor of Practice; and classmates working in technology education, consulting and government.

“I’d practiced change leadership and led major transformations around the world but hadn’t had the opportunity to learn academic theory and practice tools from the experts. I decided that change begins at the individual level, and that started with me going back to school.”

The experience was so rewarding that Herena and her husband, Lou, have since made a gift to TC, matched by the College and BNY. “We both realized the life-changing benefits of learning and working through the process of change. Lou had studied similar concepts at MIT, and we know we have a greater positive impact because of our rich learning experiences.”

“We wanted to give others the opportunities and the space amongst the best research and best thinkers to be inspired. We wanted to provide them with the tools to become vehicles of change themselves.”

— Monique Herena

Herena was introduced to the working world during her early teens at Rocco’s Bar and Restaurant, owned by her Italian immigrant grandparents in Kenosha, Wisconsin. The material compensation consisted of free ice cream and pancakes, but Rocco and Maria Scola’s wisdom about management, employee relations and the value of hard work still resonates with their granddaughter.  

“That set the tone for me, because in my family, realizing your dreams had a lot to do with hard work,” she recalls, adding that her parents applied the same ethic to successful careers in education and real estate. 

Herena saw a degree as her ticket out of Wisconsin, a state she still fondly considers home (she’s a proud Green Bay Packers fan). She worked full-time both as an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside and while earning a master’s in communications studies at Northern Illinois University.

From there, Herena’s career touched down at Quaker Oats, AlliedSignal and PepsiCo, as she moved from business research and heading mergers and acquisitions to leadership in human resources. She served as Senior Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer at a major PepsiCo division and then spent four years leading a transformation of the company’s 50,000-employee Asia, Middle East and Africa business. The Herenas enrolled sons Matthew (now a high school sophomore,) Michael (now in eighth grade) and daughter Mia (now in third grade) in the American School in Dubai and seized every opportunity to explore the region’s many cultures, religions and languages. For Herena, the experience powerfully reinforced that “including all of the collective intelligence and diverse experiences at the table brings entirely new and innovative solutions.”

Shortly after returning to the States and accepting her current position, Herena applied to TC’s XMA program. BNY Mellon’s then-CEO Gerald Hassell endorsed the move, calling it “a great example for the organization that you’re never too old or in too senior of a position to keep learning.”

The XMA proved to be “a great gift that extended way beyond me and translated into my personal and professional life,” says Herena, who was honored this past fall as a Woman of Influence at the YWCA’s Annual YW Academy “Salute” luncheon. “You start to think about change at the systems level and how one change in one part of an organization, a unit, or a society impacts another part of the system. I’ve really shared the learnings with my team at work and with my family and friends.” 

The Herena Family Scholarship Fund, which now totals $125,000, has been part of that effort.  

“We wanted to give others the opportunities and the space amongst the best research and best thinkers to be inspired and to provide them with the tools to become vehicles of change themselves,” Herena explains. “It’s what the world needs right now.”

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