“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 – Chief Human Resources Officer and Senior Executive Vice President, Marketing and Communications at BNY Mellon, the financial services firm – graduated in 2017.

“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,” Herena recalls. “I decided change begins at the individual level, and that started with me going back to school.”

At TC Herena 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.

“In my family, realizing your dreams had a lot to do with hard work.”

—Monique Herena

“I felt privileged to witness Monique receive the Woman of Influence Award from the YWCA, a most fitting award for this extraordinary change leader,” says Noumair. “Monique delivered her speech, focused on eliminating racism and empowering women and girls, surrounded by her family and BNY Mellon colleagues. Her vision for change inspired hope for the future that day just as it did throughout her participation in XMA, and in every organization lucky enough to have Monique as a driving force for change.”

Herena and her husband, Lou, have since generously supported TC by creating a scholarship, 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.”

Herena began working 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 old fashioned sweat equity 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 worked full-time an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside and while earning a master’s in communications studies at Northern Illinois University, viewing education as her ticket out of Wisconsin. (A proud Green Bay Packers fan, she still considers the state home.) 

“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

As her career touched down at Quaker Oats, AlliedSignal and PepsiCo, Herena moved from business research to 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 transforming the company’s 50,000-employee Asia, Middle East and Africa business. The Herenas enrolled sons Matthew (now a high school sophomore) Michael (now ineighth 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.”

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 as “a great example for the organization that you’re never too old or in too senior of a position to keep learning.”

The XMA was “a great gift that translated into my personal and professional life,” says Herena. “You start thinking 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 now totals $125,000.  

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