Rising in the Ranks

Time: 3:45 pm – 4:30 pm
Location: Stratton Office Building, Room 602

Despite progress in advancing women’s representation in the workplace, for many women wanting to lead, there are still numerous barriers impeding their path to the top. Gender bias, stereotypes, lack of mentors, few role models, limited powerful networks and work-life balance challenges are only a few of the obstacles women must overcome to advance their careers.

Retired, Command Sergeant Major Dena Bellowe, Andrea Aggertt, Architect of the Capitol and business coach Francine Lasky will share how they rose in the ranks and offer advice on how to rise to the top of your organization in this inspirational and educational presentation.


Andrea Aggertt, AIA, NCARB
Architect of the Capitol 

Andrea Aggertt grew up on a family farm near Effingham Illinois.  She received her Bachelors of Science in Architecture from Southern Illinois University Carbondale and a Masters of Architecture from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.  Upon graduation she went to work for a Midwest based Architecture-Engineering firm in Bloomington Illinois, where she led multi-million dollar projects in various sectors throughout the Midwest.  In 2019, Andrea accepted the position of Architect of the Illinois State Capitol.  She is tasked with developing and executing a long-range plan for the complex to oversee repair, rehabilitation, construction and renovation projects on the complex.

Ms. Aggert is only the third Architect of the Capitol and the first women to hold the position.

Dena Ballowe
Retired, Command Sergeant Major, Illinois National Guard

Command Sergeant Major Dena D. Ballowe was selected as the Senior Enlisted Leader, Illinois National Guard on July 1, 2019. As the Senior Enlisted Leader, CSM Ballowe served as the senior enlisted advisor to the Adjutant General, advising on the training, management, and well-being of the Illinois National Guard’s 13,000 Soldiers and Airmen.

Command Sgt. Maj. Ballowe enlisted in the Army in 1991 as a Material Control and Accounting Specialist. She attended basic training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, and advanced individual training at Fort Lee, Virginia. CSM Ballowe deployed to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2007 and to Kuwait in 2014 in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

Command Sgt. Maj. Ballowe has held multiple leadership positions throughout her career. She has served as the 3637th Support Maintenance Company from 2005-2008; deploying as the Company 1SG to Iraq 2007-2008. CSM Ballowe graduated the United States Army Sergeants Major Academy in 2013. She deployed to Kuwait with the 108th Sustainment BDE in 2014 and was selected as the Support Planning and Operations SGM with the 108th Sustainment Brigade in 2016. CSM Ballowe was selected as the Command Sergeant Major for the 232nd Combat Service Support Battalion in 2017. She was then selected as the Command Sergeant Major, 6th Battalion, 54th Security Forces Assistance Brigade (SFAB), at Rock Island Arsenal, Rock Island, Illinois in 2018.

CSM Ballowe’s awards and decorations include the Legion of Merit, Bronze Star Medal, Meritorious Service Medal, Army Commendation Medal (3 Oak Leaf Clusters), Army Achievement Medal (2 Oak Leaf Clusters), Army Good Conduct Medal, Army Reserve Component Achievement Medal (1 Silver Oak Leaf Cluster), National Defense Service Medal (1 Service Star), Humanitarian Service Medal (1 Service Star), Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Armed Forces Reserve Medal (M Device and Numeral 2),Meritorious Unit Citation Medal 2nd , NCO Professional Development Ribbon (Numeral 4), Army Service Ribbon, Overseas Service Ribbon (Numeral 4), Iraq Campaign Medal, Army Reserve Component Overseas Training Ribbon (Numeral 5), Drivers/Mechanic Badge, and numerous awards and decorations from the Illinois National Guard.

CSM Ballowe’s professional education includes an Associate of Arts degree in real estate management from American Military University. CSM Ballowe graduated from multiple military courses including the Nominative Leaders Course; United States Army Sergeants Major Academy; Advanced Noncommissioned Officer Course; Basic Noncommissioned Officer Course and Primary Leadership Development Course.

CSM Ballowe retired from the IL Army National Guard on October 31st, 2023 with over 32 years of service. She continues to work as a Full-Time Federal Technician with the IL Army National Guard in the Chief Facility Maintenance Office as the Resource Manager Branch Chief. She is responsible for the $27M Federal budget for Appendix 1,2 and 4 of the State Cooperative Agreement. She also enjoys running her small farm with her husband and son; raising a small herd of Angus Steer and Tunis sheep.

Francine Lasky
Francine Lasky Enterprises

A natural motivator, enthusiastic capitalist, and intentional leader, Francine Lasky has created Francine Lasky Enterprises in order to deliver skills and tools to ambitious business leaders. A strong believer in the power of community, Francine is a Vistage chair for engaged individuals committed to growth and discovery at any stage of their careers.

Her distinct point of view is strongly influenced by 27 years of dedicated success in the medical device industry, where she began in marketing and worked her way through finance and operations, ultimately earning a position as president of a company that grew from $2 to $4.5 million in business. In each role, Francine prioritized strong relationships, advocating for the personal and professional growth of her peers, colleagues, and team members. This perspective forms the blueprint for her work today.


Nicole La Ha
State Representative, 82nd District

Nicole La Ha Zwiercan currently serves as the State Representative for Illinois’ 82nd District, which includes Willowbrook, Burr Ridge, Willow Springs, Darien, Western Springs, Homer Glen, and Lemont. She is passionate about public service and committed to addressing the needs of her community.

Rep. La Ha’s focus on public service began with her election to the Village of Homer Glen Board of Trustees in 2020. Her strong stance on parental empowerment and financial responsibility marked her tenure on the board.

She holds the title of Mrs. America 2022, earned through her impactful advocacy for community accessibility and inclusive parks for children with disabilities. As the founder of the Ability Awareness Committee in Homer Glen, Rep. La Ha has spearheaded initiatives promoting inclusivity and education within the community. Her diverse experiences have molded her into a strong and influential leader.

As the mother of a child who is differently abled, Rep. La Ha’s personal journey has fueled her commitment to inspire a more inclusive world. Her advocacy includes leadership roles in organizations promoting inclusive shopping carts and education programs for individuals with disabilities.

Recognized with an international Humanitarian Award in 2018, she leveraged her platform as Mrs. America to collaborate with the Victoria’s Voice Foundation in addressing drug addiction and to bridge resource gaps for disabled individuals. Her ongoing commitment in advocating for families, parental empowerment, and fiscal responsibility reflects her genuine care and dedication to positive change for the 82nd District and beyond.

Rep. La Ha resides in Homer Glen with her husband, Dr. Christopher Zwiercan, and their two children.