Laura Melillo Barnum, Class of 1983

Laura went on to spend over 20 years with the Yum! Brands, Inc. organization as VP of Public Affairs, serving in a multitude of leadership roles including: media relations, strategic communications, government advocacy, non-profit investment, public and community relations, employee engagement and corporate social responsibility.  Currently, Laura is enjoying her new role as an independent consultant working with clients in state government, national non-profits and local universities to build strategic communications plans and to develop brand positioning campaigns.


You recently celebrated your class’ 35th SHA reunion; tell me about that experience!

For me, the beauty of SHA is the friendships I made there, and that they continue to this day.  Reunion was much more about reconnecting with a broader base of friends who maybe have moved out of town or perhaps came back to Louisville for the reunion.  I can honestly say my core group of very close friends are the same friends I held so dear while at SHA.  We make an effort to stay involved in each other’s lives, we know each other’s families, and have been supportive of each other in the years following our experience at SHA.  It has been so important to all of us to remain close and stay involved with one another.  Reunion Weekend was more of a reconnection & ability to catch up with people I may not necessarily see or speak with frequently, but my core group of friends today are the same as they were during my time at SHA.


How did SHA prepare you for college & beyond?

The Ursuline mission of educating the whole person was critical to my time beyond SHA.  In both professional and non-professional situations, you may often find yourself intellectually prepared but you have to have purpose in your life!  I feel you have to have faith and allow that to guide your actions.  I can honestly say undeniably, that my faith has carried me through many difficult situations both professionally and personally throughout my life, and that emphasis on educating the whole person is critical to giving you the skills and the ability to manage all aspects of your life once you leave the Sacred Heart Schools (Ursuline) campus.  I always felt connected to the campus and all three of my children have gone there (Sacred Heart Model School).  It is a true story that I drove over to SHMS on the day I was discharged from the hospital after giving birth to my first child, a boy, to put him on the waitlist for Kindergarten!  The running joke in our family is that anything you ever needed to learn in life, you learned at Sacred Heart – whether SHMS or SHA.  My oldest child is going to be a sophomore at the University of Virginia on a swimming scholarship and he felt like SHMS gave him the basis needed to adapt and achieve in college.  Emotional, critical-thinking and leadership skills are all a focus of the education at Sacred Heart Schools.  I also look at the example for me set forth by Sister Jean Ann Zappa…she lives out and has taught me this notion of putting others before self, of being “other-focused” and understanding empathy and how it can frame how you live your life.  I do strive to make sure that my children understand that very important paradigm, to put others before self in life.


What was the motivator to provide an Ursuline education for your children?

There was never any doubt that if I were living in Louisville, I would send my children to Sacred Heart Schools because of the Ursuline core values and the other-focused concept.  The way you should live your life were modeled by the lay-persons and faith-filled Sisters on campus.

The Ursulines also had a big impact on my perspective with regard to the importance of being able to integrate a higher purpose to the work that you do.  In my career, I’ve worked in broadcast journalism, politics and the vast majority has been in corporate communications and philanthropy.  Throughout my travels and exposure to different people and cultures, I have found that I connect the most – in business and in personal life – with people who have a real balance of purpose-driven work in their lives.  It’s less about being home enough vs. at work, but more about feeling fulfilled by the work that you are doing, because you are having a positive impact on others.  I have been fortunate enough to work in organizations where at least half of my time was filled with higher-purpose work.  I feel like I created those opportunities for myself because of what I was doing in my personal life to give back.  While running the Yum! Brands Foundation, I was able to work to create a program whereby we became the world’s largest provider of prepared foods for charity.  We were also ultimately able to parlay that into a program that enabled our 1.2 million employees to embrace volunteerism and give back within their communities.  All of this was in part made possible because I had experienced the gift of giving back through my work with Dare to Care here in Louisville.  It was little kernel of “what could be possible” that blossomed into something bigger, making an impact for communities all over the world.  I attribute so much of what I learned about the integration of higher-purpose work and making it meaningful and other-focused, to my time on the Sacred Heart Schools campus.  My parents also modeled the importance of giving back in their lives.  A favorite quote of mine from my Dad was “You never look up, you never look down; always look straight ahead” and treat others with equal dignity and grace.


You recently joined our Jean Frazier Leadership Institute’s (JFLI) Cabinet.  As a parent with a student currently on campus (a future Valkyrie!), what is your hope for what the JFLI will bring to our students at Sacred Heart Schools?

When Dr. Crabtree called me to discuss the opportunity, one of the things that resonated with me was the formalization of a leadership program at Sacred Heart Schools that would help students understand that they are not bound by anything but their own imaginations.  You can achieve whatever you want!  There are countless examples of strong, thoughtful leaders who have walked the halls of Sacred Heart Schools and I love the fact that this program solidifies the understanding of who these students are, how they fit into the world and how they can leverage their knowledge and connections so that they can go forward and achieve. The second component of the JFLI that I love is that it formalizes programs that are already happening on campus whether it be volunteer programs or the “accountability ladder” conversation.  It’s those types of leadership tenets that are now formalized in a way that makes practical sense.  It’s codifying these valuable tenets for some students, but it may be the first exposure for some, about these skills.  Either way, our students will learn that as you enter into the business world, these skills will assist them in becoming better leaders.  It could be practical and esoteric.  The JFLI will allow students to think beyond the 4 corners of their box.  Whether by problem-solving, reinventing yourself after a change, if you can creatively assess opportunities through an elevated thought-process, these young women will be so much better prepared for the world that lies ahead of them. 

Another favorite quote from my dad is…”Chance favors the prepared mind”, meaning that if you have the skills, you’ll be ready to leverage whatever opportunity presents itself to its fullest.  He would always say, you might as well prepare yourself now, because if you’re in the right place at the right time with the right skills set, you’ll get the opportunity!  I think this is lines up with the JFLI and the opportunities it will provide for these future leaders.


What does the word “leadership” mean to you?

Living your life in a way that allows you to be a positive role model and affect change for the good.  To me, leadership really means taking the ball forward, but doing it in a way that is positive and meaningful.

The definition of leadership does evolve as you grow.  True leadership should have a positive impact on others in some form or fashion. I’m not sure that would have been my definition when I graduated college, but as you grow and learn, you determine what attributes you do and do not want to model, to craft the definition that resonates with you and works for you.


Was there a teacher(s) at SHA whose impact stays with you to this day?

Yes!  Two of them.  Sister Jean Anne Zappa taught me religion.  To this day, she is still a role model for me for being other-focused.  I remember a time in her class when we were discussing signs and symbols.  Signs point to something else and symbols stand for something else.  She showed us a ring she wore daily that belonged to her late father, who was incredibly important to her.  She said that she’d be willing to give up the ring because it was a possession, because she could still carry the memories of her father with her in her heart.  A classmate of mine said she’d take the ring, and Sister Jean Anne gave it to her!  The entire semester, Sister Jean Anne did not once ask for the ring back, and my classmate wore it every day.  On the last day of class, without being prompted, the student gave the ring back to Sister Jean Anne, and even then, she said that she did not need the ring, and offered to the student to keep it.  This unintended exchange led to some eye-opening discussions among our class about the meaning of material possessions compared with the meaning of people and experiences that can live on in your heart.  I will never forget it.

The other teacher I recall is Madame Danzig; she taught me French for 4 years.  I can say that she was the single toughest teacher I’ve ever had in my life.  I can speak French almost fluently because of Madame Danzig and people are amazed I can speak as well as I do because of a high school French class. I remember when my grandmother – with whom I was very close – passed away and I came to school the following day and was devastated.  Madame Danzig pulled me aside and shared the story of her life in with me and the life-forming experiences that she went through.  She shared with me that people come into your life for a reason, and that she had met her husband in a “displaced persons camp” in Germany, and they came to the U.S. together.  You just never know how life can all come together.


If it were not for Sacred Heart…I would not have the unconditional support system that surrounds me today.


Tell me how you live out our SHS core values of Community, Leadership, Reverence and Service in your life.

I try to model service and community through my volunteerism and through my activities in work and outside of work.  I try to model the other-focused mission of the Ursuline core values not only in my professional work but in my family as well.