The Jean Harris Award

Jean Harris

Dr. Jean Harris was a notable physician, administrator, politician and a true visionary. Jean's pioneering life began in the segregated South and included being the first African-American graduate of the Medical College of Virginia. Dr. Harris advised five presidents on health policy, was a celebrated corporate and public health leader, and Eden Prairie's first female mayor. Her remarkable life and achievements speak to the full promise of America and underscore the importance of continuing to inspire leaders and others to shape a world with hope, honor, and dignity.

The Jean Harris Award was established by the TRUST in 2001 to celebrate the vision and leadership of one of the TRUST's most respected members. The award is presented annually at the TRUST’s Forum in April to a TRUST member who advances health care and exemplifies the vision of the TRUST: to create healthier communities by realizing women's leadership potential.

Criteria for Nominees

  • Reflect the vision and mission of the TRUST
  • Demonstrate health care leadership locally, regionally and within her organization and with colleagues
  • Participate in and provide leadership to TRUST committees or work groups
  • Demonstrate personal and professional leadership and help develop these qualities in others
  • Generate enthusiasm and energy while meeting the challenges of today’s environment

2021 - Mary Welsh

The TRUST is proud to honor Mary Welsh with the 2021 Jean Harris Award celebrating the vision and leadership of one of our most respected members – Dr. Jean Harris! This award goes to a TRUST member who not only advances health care, but exemplifies and carries out the vision of the TRUST.

Mary is Chief Security Officer for UnitedHealth Group where she provides thought leadership and creative solutions to minimize the security risk to employees, customers, patients and physical assets of the organization. She previously served as Chief Security Officer at St. Jude Medical and served in the U.S. Federal Government, which included several international assignments in Europe and Southeast Asia.

Mary joined the Board of Directors for the Women's Health Leadership TRUST in 2014. During her service on the Board, Mary reimagined and led the TRUST’s annual awards process and helped bring in the philanthropic aspect to the Forum starting in 2020. She also led the creation of the TRUST’s Associate Board, serving in a senior advisory capacity, and served on the committee for the inaugural Wellbeing Retreat.

As a highly engaged, thoughtful and innovative Board member, Mary has always been willing to support new initiatives that align with her passion to support women in their professional and personal journeys. In fact, she co-sponsored the TRUST/UnitedHealth Group leadership development cohorts in 2020 and 2021 as a way of engaging emerging female leaders.

Mary also serves the community as an executive board member of the Twin Cities Security Partnership, which is a private-public partnership between law enforcement, government agencies, and private industry focused on promoting a stronger, safer Twin Cities. In addition, she serves on the Advisory Board of ModernWell, which is the first female centered co-working space in the Twin Cities.

Mary also serves the community as an executive board member of the Twin Cities Security Partnership, which is a private-public partnership between law enforcement, government agencies, and private industry focused on promoting a stronger, safer Twin Cities. In addition, she serves on the Advisory Board of ModernWell, which is the first female centered co-working space in the Twin Cities.

Past Winners

2020 - Monica Engel

Congratulations to Monica Engel, recipient of the 2020 Jean Harris Award! This award was established by the TRUST to celebrate the vision and leadership of one of our most respected members – Dr. Jean Harris. The Jean Harris Award goes to a TRUST member who not only advances health care, but exemplifies and carries out the vision of the TRUST.

Monica is Senior Vice President and President of Government Markets at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota. With more than 25 years of experience in the health care industry, Monica has reflected the vision and mission of the Women’s Health Leadership TRUST through her demonstrated leadership.

In 2019, as President of the TRUST, Monica grew membership, expanded programming and advocated for women at all levels of their professional journey in health care. That same year she championed and co-chaired the TRUST’s first Health and Wellbeing Retreat.

Monica is an inspiration for all as she quietly leads with grace and confidence to meet the challenges of today’s health care environment, while ensuring she has time for family.

Please join the TRUST in congratulating our 2020 Jean Harris Award winner, Monica Engel!

2019 - Theresa Pesch

Theresa Pesch is VP of Philanthropy and President at Hennepin Healthcare Foundation. She previoulsly served as president of Children’s Health Care Foundation and vice president of development for Children’s Minnesota. Under Pesch's leadership, the fundraising for Children’s increased by 300 percent, enabling it to provide substantial improvements in its facilities and medical technology that serve the region's pediatric population.

Prior to joining Children's in 2007, Pesch was vice president of marketing and development and executive director of Ridgeview Medical Center’s Foundation in Waconia, Minn. In this role, she led the most successful capital campaign in the Ridgeview Foundation’s history.

Pesch joined the TRUST board in 2013. She has also served in leadership roles for numerous boards over the years, currently serving on the board of directors for Cornerstone, First Step Initiative, and Minnesota Visiting Nurses Association (MVNA). Pesch is also a member of Women Business Leaders of the US Health Care Industry Foundation and a faculty member of Kaiser’s Philanthropy Innovation Institute and the AHP Madison Institute.

Originally trained in nursing, Pesch has 25 years of health care administration experience and is a sought-after presenter for national philanthropy conferences. She was recognized as a Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal Women in Business honoree in 2012.

2018 - Paula Hart

The 2018 award recipient, Paula Hart, is President and Chief Executive Officer of Volunteers of America – Minnesota and Wisconsin (VOA-MN/WI). Leading one of the area’s largest health and human services organizations, Paula helps sustain a 122-year legacy as the organization serves more than 21,500 people annually, with a mission to help them gain self-reliance, dignity and hope. Paula began in her VOA-MN/WI role in 2011 and leads more than 800 employees with annual organizational revenue over $46 million.

In 2017, Paula joined the National Board of Directors for Volunteers of America, which serves more than 1.4 million of America’s most vulnerable people in 46 states. She also serves on VOA’s Church Governing Board, which oversees the organization’s ministry of service, and is Vice-Chair of the national Diversity, Equity and Inclusion task force.

Paula is a former Board President of the Women’s Health Leadership TRUST and a past member of the ARRM Board of Directors, a Minnesota disability provider organization. Among her other current professional associations, Paula is Vice-Chair of the Minnesota Leadership Council on Aging, belongs to the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Magazine's Women's Leadership Council and recently joined the Itasca Project’s Executive Diversity and Inclusion Discussion Cohort. She is also a past two-term member of the National ANCOR Board of Directors (American Network of Community Options and Resources).

Last October, Paula was recognized for her career achievements by Pollen and AARP, as one of the “50 Over 50” in Minnesota. In 2014, the George Family Foundation recognized Paula among ten leaders of non-profit health and human services organizations for “making remarkable contributions to building the Twin Cities.” The Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal presented Paula with a 2012 Women in Business-Industry Leader award.

Prior to joining Volunteers of America, Paula held key leadership roles for two other Minnesota nonprofits, as President and CEO of Dakota Communities (now Living Well Disability Services) and Chief Operating Officer of Courage Center. Before entering the human services field, she was a retail executive for Dayton-Hudson and Marshall Field’s.

Paula holds a Master's in Organizational Leadership and earned a Certificate in Ethics and Leadership from St. Catherine University. She completed Stanford's Executive Education for Nonprofit Leaders program and an undergraduate degree in philosophy from Carleton College where she graduated magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa with Honors in Independent Study.

Other Jean Harris Award Winners by Year:

2017: Stacie Usem
2016: Penny Wheeler, MD