Purpose in Profession


How These Local Women Find Purpose in their Careers

Photography by Hacker Medias

beverly s. edge

Beverly S. Edge

COO, General Counsel & Partner, HHM CPAs

What led you to the position you currently hold? When I joined HHM in 2020, I had been practicing law as a transactional attorney for almost 20 years. Because HHM’s advisory work overlapped significantly with the type of work I was doing in my law practice and we had many mutual clients, I had long-standing professional relationships with many of the HHM partners. HHM’s managing partner, Donnie Hutcherson, mentioned to me the firm’s desire to hire a COO with a legal background, and that led to me eventually joining HHM.

How has this line of work connected you more deeply with your community? A large part of HHM’s success has been as a result of its community involvement. It’s a very important part of our culture, and our team members are encouraged to be active members of the communities in which we have offices. I’ve had the opportunity through HHM to become involved with several organizations in Chattanooga that directly impact our community, such as United Way, the American Heart Association, the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce, and the UTC College of Business.

Most important life lesson you’ve learned? Having a healthy relationship with yourself is as important as your relationships with others.

Are you working towards any personal goals at the moment? After many years of balancing raising a family and having a demanding career, now that I am an empty nester I am enjoying learning to focus on myself and trying new things. I’ve recently started hiking and hope to hike the Camino de Santiago in Spain in the next couple of years.

Any advice for ladies advancing in their vocation? Have confidence in yourself! If you are reinventing your career, try to enjoy the new challenge and see it as an adventure and opportunity to learn new skills to add to those skills you already possess.

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emily niespodziany

Emily Niespodziany

Executive Director, American Heart Association

What led you to the position you currently hold? I always had full intentions of working in cardiac rehabilitation. As I was finishing my degree, a friend suggested I try an internship at the American Heart Association. Two weeks into my internship, I knew I was home. Working in different roles throughout the years has really helped me appreciate all the facets of our work and how important each person is to the bigger picture.

What aspect of your work are you most passionate about? For me, it’s always been the survivors and their families. It’s humbling to meet so many whose entire lives have been turned upside down by heart disease and stroke, yet they are full of such resilience and hope despite the hurdles they’ve faced.

What is your proudest accomplishment? Personally, my marriage and my three babies. My sweet family gives me incredible purpose. Professionally, I always feel most accomplished when my teammates have great success. I’ve worked with some incredible colleagues who all contribute something unique. When one wins, we all win. When one is in the trenches, we all jump in. I’m really grateful for those moments.

How has this line of work connected you more deeply with your community? I’m not sure I’ll ever get used to how many people I meet each day who have been impacted by cardiovascular diseases. There are so many who fight a silent battle or suffer from chronic diseases and don’t have the resources they need to have a fighting chance. When people are vulnerable enough to share their stories, the more connected we become. It’s a constant reminder that our work is more important than ever.

Most important life lesson you’ve learned? Find something that anchors you. For me, it has always been my faith. When things become overwhelming or challenges arise, I can always pause to remember who and whose I am. Without fail, everything becomes clear.

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heidi hefferlin

Heidi Hefferlin

Founder & Principal Architect,
HK Architects

What led you to the position you currently hold? I have always been fascinated with buildings and spaces. I pursued architecture in college at a time when there were few women in the field. After graduation, I worked at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill in Los Angeles, as well as Meier and Partners on the design of the Getty Museum. In 1996, I moved to Chattanooga and co-founded an architectural firm, fulfilling my dream of designing meaningful spaces that have a positive impact on communities.

How has this line of work connected you with your community? Being an architect here has allowed me to collaborate with people across Chattanooga to design libraries, schools, recreation centers, museums, parks, and other meaningful gathering spaces. Engaging with diverse community members to understand their needs grounds me in what matters locally. Each project is an opportunity to strengthen connections and give back to my home.

What aspect of your work are you most passionate about? I’m most passionate about collaborating with clients and communities to design welcoming, sustainable buildings that elevate people’s lives. Good design has the power to bring people together and facilitate human connections. I get excited seeing the impact our buildings have on those who use and inhabit the spaces we create.

Tell us about a defining moment in your journey. Starting and sustaining my own firm over the past 25 years is my proudest accomplishment. Early in my career when I attended an important meeting as the only woman in the room, I had a moment of self-doubt, questioning if I belonged at the table. But when the project we designed was approved, I felt overwhelming pride in my capabilities. My hard work was paying off, and I wasn’t going to apologize for being there.

Any advice for ladies advancing in their vocation? Believe in yourself and your vision, even when others make you feel small. Collaborate with other women when you can – there is power in community. And know that you will become stronger and savvier through every obstacle you overcome. Dream big, work hard, and lift others up on the way.

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tracy wood

Tracy Wood

President and CEO, Journey Health Foundation

What led you to the position you currently hold? I’ve always valued perseverance, accountability, and ethics – principles deeply instilled in me by my parents. Growing up in Hampton, Virginia, I was actively involved in my high school’s cheerleading team, where I first learned the importance of teamwork and community engagement. My journey into the healthcare field started with a job at a chiropractor’s office. My career path eventually led me to work in hospice and palliative care, and today I am deeply involved in Chattanooga’s corporate and civic communities.

What aspect of your work are you most passionate about? I have always believed that as long as you are learning, you are still growing. My philosophy about learning is embedded in the very name of our organization: we’re on a journey together. I’m passionate about engaging in more research to really understand what’s driving poor health outcomes in some of our communities. This work may never truly be finished but there is so much we can learn – and so much good we can do for families in our region – along the way.

Any advice for ladies advancing in their vocation? Pay attention to the things you’re passionate about. Really devote some time to thinking about the people, places, and activities that give you energy instead of pull energy away from you. This takes time and the answers may not be readily apparent to you – that’s ok! All you need to know is that what we nurture will grow. The things in your own life that are asking you to nurture them will reward you with incredible relationships and deeply affirming professional opportunities.

Tell us about an “I made it” moment. I’m very happy to say that I don’t think I’ve had that moment yet – and may never reach it! My spiritual life is of utmost importance to me. Scripture says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” I always want to make sure that I’m honoring that idea: doing good work and leaving a legacy for my family and my community of service. Walking that path is more important than reaching the destination of thinking “I’ve made it.”

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virginia anne sharber

Virginia Anne Sharber

Executive Director, Hunter Museum of American Art

What led you to the position you currently hold? Practicing law was my first career, but I have always loved and supported the arts. I trained as a dancer, performed in theater, sang in choirs from childhood through college, and served on the boards of multiple arts organizations as an adult. In 2015 – intrigued by the opportunity to get more involved with Chattanooga’s cultural gem – I agreed to step in temporarily to quarterback the very capable staff at the Hunter until a new director could be named. That was nine years ago!

What aspect of your work are you most passionate about? Being the head cheerleader for this wonderful Chattanooga resource.
We are continually working
to connect more sectors of the community to creativity, knowledge, and ideas. My number one role is to build a base of support for the work we do to help ensure the museum’s sustainability for future generations.

How has this line of work connected you more deeply with your community? I’ve met the regular museum visitors and the creatives who help us produce programs, welcomed many newcomers to the area, and witnessed the impact the Hunter is making with its educational programming. It has been incredibly gratifying to see how impressed tourists are and how proud Chattanoogans are of the Hunter.

Tell us about a defining moment in your journey. In 2004, I was asked by then-mayor Bob Corker to serve as the volunteer chair of the newly formed Chattanooga Public Art Committee and assist in the transformative 21st Century Waterfront project. In addition to commissioning a world-renowned artist for the massive light masts on the Chattanooga Pier, the committee commissioned a team of Cherokee artists to commemorate the location of the start of the Trail of Tears and highlighted the new First Street connector from the Tennessee Aquarium to the Hunter Museum with a temporary installation of sculptures created by local artists. Helping to steer that project, convening the many people who worked on it, and witnessing the impact public art has had on our community was definitely
a defining moment.

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