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First WVU Tech women’s leadership conference sets students up for success

A group of seven women stand for a photo in front of a gold and blue backdrop at the first Women's Leadership Conference

Strong. Happy. Empowered.

That’s what the word “she” stood for on Friday, April 5, where more than 70 women gathered on the WVU Tech campus to participate in the inaugural Women’s Leadership Conference.

The refrain set the tone for the conference where female students, faculty and staff spent the day with women who have carved out powerful careers in traditionally male-dominated fields.

“We wanted guests to hear from women in the field, so they had an opportunity to listen to a panel discussion from female leaders in energy, education, health care, nonprofit and business,” said Candice Stadler, Associate Dean of Student Development.

Panelists included Michelle Rotellini, United Way of Southern West Virginia; Phyllis Hinterer, Dominion Energy; Carolyn Long, West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission; and Beth Ross, CNM, APRN, MSCN, Access Health.

Attendees also heard from keynote speaker Laura Martin, Director of Communications & External Affairs for the Mid-Atlantic Division of American Water.

During the conference, participants engaged in breakout sessions with professionals from several industries. Sessions covered career goals, civic engagement, wellness and more.

“The thing I took away the most was from the ‘Being the Best You’ seminar,” said Jessica Beck, a criminal justice major from St. Marys, Georgia.

“It showed how there are additional difficulties for women – your age, your race, your sexual orientation, your gender identification. It highlighted that, even as women struggle, some of us have to add that on top of it, which makes things even harder,” she said.

Dakota Bragg, a forensic investigation major from Bluefield, West Virginia, said that she felt better prepared to go into a male-dominated field after hearing from the presenters.

“I like how they touched on the fact that men don’t necessarily try to do better than us, but that they do try to protect us. They gave us tips for how to avoid that and how to talk to them about that,” she said.

Carolina Bologna, a student-athlete from Vasto, Italy, said she found the conference a worthwhile reminder that the barriers women face in the workplace can be overcome and that staying active and asserting one’s self can make all the difference.  

“Women have the power to spread ideas and actually make them work. It is a mental thing. In Latin we say, ‘mens sana in corpore sano’ (‘a healthy mind in a healthy body’), which means you’re going to work out, but you’re also going to work out your mind so it doesn’t diminish, and I really agree with that,” she said.

All told, the day’s exploration in being strong, happy and empowered left participants buzzing.

“It was a wonderful conference,” said Mary Hoke, Director of Counseling and Wellness Programs WVU Tech.

“Everyone enjoyed it and walked away with new information and a feeling of support and empowerment,” she said.

The conference also served to kick-off the WVU Tech Women’s Mentoring Program, and organizers hope to capture the momentum of the conference to carry it much further than a single day.

“Students will be paired with a female faculty or administrative staff member, and group activities will also be provided throughout the year,” said Stadler.  

The event was sponsored by the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission Diversity Grant, the WVU Tech Convocations Committee, JCPenney, Sodexo, Dominion Energy, DOW Chemical, Beckley ARH and WVU Tech Student Life.

View photos from the conference on Flickr.