Past Conferences

Since 2000, the Women's Leadership Conference has taken place on the Mount Vernon Campus every year. The conference is an opportunity for a community of women to come together and discuss important topics in women's leadership. The archive of past conferences demonstrate changing concerns and focal points within the area of women's leadership, while showing the continuing relevance of this subject.

The 2018 annual Women’s Leadership Conference, “Leading for Inclusion” examined the challenges and advantages of living in a global world, the value of diversity in our communities, the role of inclusion in bringing peace to divided societies, and the debates around these complex exchanges. How can we engage in positive civil discourse and what is the role of education in creating safe communities?

 A luncheon discussion was led by Nina Mikhalevsky celebrating the legacy of Elizabeth J. Somers with special recognition to Joanne Holbrook Patton, Mount Vernon Seminary Alumnae class or ’48 and Harjinder Gill, Mount Vernon College Alumnae class of ’99. The afternoon address featured Pamela Aall, U.S. Institute of Peace, in her talk “Inclusion and Peace and Divided Societies. The day was concluded with a panel discussion, “The Challenges and Advantages of Living in a Global Community,” moderated by Cynthia Steele Vance, founder of CSV productions and the Washington Luxury Channel while also a Mt. Vernon College for Women alumna. The panel included Caroline Laguerre-Brown, J.D., Elizabeth Chacko, Ph.D., Mary Ellsberg, Ph.D., Wendy Helgemo, J.D., and Samah Mcgona Sisay, GW ’15.

Read the GW Today article about the conference.

The 18th annual Women's Leadership Conference focused on the theme of "Exploring Politics and Policy in the 21st Century," exploring domestic and international issues facing our communities and women in today’s professional business world. A morning discussion was lead by Julie Smith, Senior Fellow and Director of the Strategy and Statecraft Program at the Center for a New American Security, and Dr. Lara Brown, an associate professor and interim director of the Graduate School of Political Management (GSPM) At the George Washington University to begin the conference. This was followed by four break-out sessions: “Grassroots Politics” by Jessica Kelly, GW alumna and Leadership & Programs Director at Running Start; “Facts vs. Fiction: How to Mindfully Consume and Disseminate News” by Nikki Usher Layser, Tina Plottel, Lauren Knoche, and Zach Elder, GW Libraries and faculty in GW’s School of Media and Public Affairs; “Fundraising for a Cause” by Nancy Bocskor, Founder of the Nancy Bocskor Company; and “Working Internationally” by Marilyn Yakowitz, GW alumna and president of KG USA, a 501(c) 3 charity.

The afternoon address featured a panel discussion moderated by Cynthia Steele Vance, founder of CSV productions and the Washington Luxury Channel while also a Mt. Vernon College for Women alumna. The panel included one of our members who discusses the topic of “Nasty News Challenges: Media Coverage in the Era of President Trump” to conclude the day: Gigi Schumm, Vice President and General Manager of Symantec’s Public Sector organization; Claritza Jiménez, GW alumna and digital video editor for The Washington Post; Chasity Cooper, communication strategist and journalist;  and Francesca Chambers, White House Correspondent for DailyMail.com. With representation from radio, print, television, and social media, the focus of this panel lead to conversation on the interplay of media platforms and coverage of politics and policy development through the lens of women.

Read to see the GW Today article about the conference.

The 16th annual Women's Leadership Conference focused on the theme of "Building Healthy Lives" and featured females speakers from all walks of life. Brigidier General Tammy Smith, of the U.S. Army Reserve, was the keynote speaker. The morning address was followed by four break-out sessions: "Financial Wellness" by Barbara Krumsiek, Senior Industry Fellow at Georgetown University's Women's Leadership Institute; "Nutrition" by Christina Wang, Regional Wellness Director at Sodexo Business & Industry; "Holding Space: Cultivating Your Physical Presence" by Ashley Thorndike-Youssef, Executive Director of Now Next Dance/Now Next Body; and "Online Health: Protecting Your Online Presence" by Jelena Roljevic, Assistant Vice President for Business Intelligence in the Division of Information Technology at GW.

The afternoon address featured a presentation by Paula Anderson (MA '99), President/CEO & Clinical Counselor of PACE Consulting, titled "Mindfulness: Making It Part of Your Daily Life." This address was followed by a panel discussion on work/life balance, moderated by Jonelle Henry, International Producer at C-SPAN. The panel included one Mount Vernon College alumna and two George Washington University alumnae: Jessica Spraggins El Aboudi (MVC '98), a health communicator in chronic disease prevention at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); Jess Carson (GW '13), National Director at NextGen Venture Partners; and Laura Taddeuccci Downs (BA '92, MA '95), Chair of the GW Council of Chairs. The panel was rounded out by the conference's keynote speaker, Brigidier General Tammy Smith.

The 15th annual Women’s Leadership Conference focused on the theme of “Charting a New Course" and featured female speakers who have taken unexpected paths in life and broken from the status quo. Nazenin Ansari, Editor ofKayhan Londonand graduate of Mount Vernon College, was the keynote speaker. The morning address was followed by four break-out sessions: "Financial Markets and Investment Strategies" by GW Professor Şenay Ağca; "Is Your Self-Care Stuck? How To Get Past Your Bad Habits and Into Real Fitness + Mindful Living" by Gracy Obuchowicz, Yoga Health Coach; "Strategies For Turning Ideas Into Products, Cash, Customers, and Shareholder Value" by Marie-Louise Murville, Founder and CEO of Delight Me; and "The Elevator Pitch: Delivering Your Message Clearly and Concisely" by Sarah Baldassaro, GW Associate Vice President for Communications.

The afternoon address feature GW Women's Studies Professor Bonnie Morris. Professor Morris delivered her one-woman show "REVENGE OF THE WOMEN'S STUDIES PROFESSOR." This show focuses on the backlash against women's history and pokes fun at panicked stereotypes about women’s studies. This address was followed by a panel discussion moderated by Sharon Hadary, principal of Sharon Hadary & Co. and author of “How Women Lead: 8 Essential Strategies." The panel featured two Mount Vernon College alumnae: Vicki Bowman (MVC ’89) a Program and Management Analyst for the Department of Commerce under the Chief Administrator's Office for the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Dhyana Delatour (MVC ’81) who is a yoga therapist. In addition, the panel featured Karin Jones, Educational Trainer and Historian, International Brotherhood of Teamsters and the Honorable Emily Hewitt, a former Federal Judge for the United States Court of Federal Claims.

The 14th annual Women’s Leadership Conference focused on the theme of “Measuring Success,” trying to answer the question of how women know when they’re successful. Phyllis Richman, award-winning author and 23-year veteran food critic for the Washington Post, delivered the keynote address. She delved into her experiences combining a professional and personal life and shared her ingredients for success: confidence, a good support network of friends and family, an outlet for relaxation, and the persistence to pursue one’s dream job. The morning address was followed by four break-out sessions: “Managing Your Money” by Tawana Mensah; “Entrepreneurship” by Veronica O. Davis; “Personal Safety” by Lieutenant Tara Nielson; and "Food and Nutrition” by Professor Kim Robien.

The afternoon address titled “Hiking the Horizontal: Making Rules and Breaking Rules,” was presented by choreographer and educator Liz Lerman, who touched on kindness, the concept of openness to influence, and many of Ms. Lerman’s career influences. This address was followed by a panel of successful businesswomen moderated by Sharon Hadary, principal of Sharon Hadary & Co. and author of “How Women Lead: 8 Essential Strategies." Many Mount Vernon College (MVC) alumnae participated in the panel: Carter Kay, MVC B.A. ’77, founder of Carter Kay Interiors whose work has landed on the covers of Southern Living and Atlanta Home; Nancy Griffith Hoof, MVC B.B.A. ’78, a former co-owner of D.C. area exercise studio IMAGES and current assistant to Ms. Kay; Sabrina Islam, MVC ’78, managing director of Tulip Garments Limited and director of Garments Ltd. and Osman Textiles Ltd. in Bangladesh, who studied small business management at MVC through a Ford Foundation scholarship; and Sara Ricklen Alter, founder and chief polish officer of Pretty Please Nail Polish. In defining what success meant to each of them, the panelists agreed that a continued passion for their work, ability to employ and inspire others, and striking work-home life balance are important measures of success.

Read the GW Today article about the conference.

The 2013 Women’s Leadership Conference focused on the theme of “It Takes A Community” and the importance of community engagement. The keynote speaker was Marne Levine, vice president of global public policy at Facebook, who noted that great things can happen when we harness the power of social media to connect the world. She provided many specific examples of social media empowering people to come together to help those in need. Next on the conference agenda were three parallel professional development sessions: “Getting Engaged in your Community,” led by Amy Cohen, executive director of the George Washington University' (GW) Center for Civic Engagement and Public Service; “How to Leverage your Presence in Social Media,” led by Suzette Gardner, associate director of online alumni communications for the GW Office of Alumni Relations; and “Stress Management,” led by Patti Plaza, administrative manager for the GW Department of Exercise Science.

The afternoon address was delivered by Holly H. Shimizu, executive director of the United States Botanic Garden, who offered a global perspective on “Creating Community with Sustainable Landscapes.” Ms. Shimizu spoke about the importance of gardens to the health of our environment, as well as to our personal well-being. “Gardens create community and bring people together,” she said.

The conference concluded with a panel discussion titled “Creating Community Efforts,” moderated by Laura Taddeucci Downs, B.A. ’92, M.A. ’95, chair of the GW Council of Chairs, and featuring panelists Mary Ellsberg, director of the GW Global Women’s Institute; Shilo Groover Karzen, B.A. ’03, a news producer for WEAR-TV in Pensacola, Fla.; Akshaya Kumar, B.A. ’03, Sudan and South Sudan policy analyst for the Enough Project; and Dianne Sherman, Mount Vernon College ’76, founder and principal of Dianne Sherman Communications.

The 2012 conference, titled “You Are Not Supposed to Be Here,” focused on career choices and challenges faced by women. In her keynote speech, Betsey Myers, author of “Take The Lead: Motivate, Inspire, and Bring out the Best in Yourself and Everyone Around You,” and founding director of the Center for Women & Business at Bentley University, addressed the changing nature of leadership. She argued that what worked in the past for leaders no longer works and that a new era of collaborative leadership is necessary for a changing workspace. Ms. Myers said, “A more collaborative form of leadership is needed. When people feel value appreciated and understood, they do their best work.”

The afternoon address was delivered by Donna J. Gambrell, director of the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Community Development Financial Institutions Fund (CDFI), which provides resources to underserved populations and communities throughout the country. Ms. Gambrell talked about the life lessons she learned from her 80-year-old mother and encouraged the conference participants to find their professional passion. “Never settle for mediocre,” she said, sharing that she found her passion for community and economic development while working onsite on rebuilding initiatives in Louisiana and Mississippi in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

“That was what drew me to CDFI and its extraordinary mission,” Gambrell said. “Every day, I can see the impact of the CDFI’s work and the difference it makes in people’s lives.”

The conference also featured a wide-ranging panel discussion titled “Leadership: You Should Be There!” moderated by Laura Taddeucci Downs, B.A. ’92, M.A. ’95, former president of the George Washington University's (GW) Alumni Association. The discussion featured panelists Anne Saunders Fabry, Mount Vernon College B.A. ’88, a director in Brown Rudnick’s Government, Law and Strategies practice; Mary Davis Holt, a partner at Flynn Heath Hold Leadership; Terri Harris Reed, GW’s Vice Provost for Diversity and Inclusion; and Mary Jo Warner, GW’s Senior Associate Director of Athletics.

"Wholistic-U," the11th Women’s Leadership Conference focused on women’s health issues. Phyllis Greenberger, President and CEO of the Society for Women’s Health Research, kicked off the conference with a keynote address titled “The Evolution of Women’s Health.” One of the United States’ leading advocates for women’s health, she has led the Washington-based organization since its founding in 1990. Ms. Greenberger said that thanks to the society’s efforts, women are now routinely included in most major medical research studies and scientists are beginning to consider biological sex as a variable in their research. She encouraged the conference participants to educate their physicians about the importance of treating women differently than men and to volunteer for clinical trials. “In some cases, you’ll be helping yourself, but in all cases, you’ll be helping future generations of women,” she said.

The afternoon address was delivered by Dr. Kira Fortune of the Pan-American Health Organization, who offered a global perspective on women’s health and gender equality in her talk titled “Women’s Health: Today’s Challenges, Tomorrow’s Agenda.” Dr. Fortune spoke about the state of women’s health and equity across the world, with an emphasis on the Americas. She called for continued work with policymakers to address women’s health issues and the important of gender-sensitive health policies.

Also on the agenda were three professional development sessions: Patricia Bannan, a Los Angeles-based registered dietician specializing in nutrition and health communications, led a workshop focusing on practical tips and strategies for healthier eating; Patti Plaza and Jacque Johnson of the George Washington University's (GW) Department of Exercise Science, offered a holistic approach to stress management; and Susan Lutz, a national expert on independent living and aging issues, led the third workshop, focusing on caring for aging parents.

The conference concluded with a panel discussion titled “Leadership: Whole-istic U,” moderated by Laura Taddeucci Downs, BA ’92, MA ’95, president of the GW Alumni Association and featuring panelists Katherine Holeman, BA ’07, a GW medical student and alumna of the Women’s Leadership Program; Jean Johnson, dean of GW’s School of Nursing; Lori Lerman, a registered nurse, international board certified lactation consultant, and music teacher; and Jacqueline Watson, MBA ’81, executive director of the District of Columbia Health Regulation and Licensing Administration Board of Medicine and president of Jamaican Women of Washington Inc., a philanthropic association dedicated to improving the health and quality of life of underserved women and children.

The 10th annual Women’s Leadership Conference was titled "Generation to Generation." The keynote speaker of the 2010 conference was Helen Thomas, the pioneering White House correspondent who covered every U.S. president from John F. Kennedy to Barack Obama. The outspoken journalist regaled the audience with insights, anecdotes, and advice drawn from her 68-year career. She addressed a wide range of topics—from politics and presidents to breaking the gender barrier. She urged others to join her in speaking out against the world's wrongs. The other featured speaker was Julie Silard Kantor, National Vice President of the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE), who gave a speech titled "I Said Yes" based on her new book about teaching youth entrepreneurship in America's inner-city schools. Ms. Kantor emphasized the importance of following your heart and seizing opportunities that come your way.

Two professional development sessions on women's entrepreneurial leadership and managing up were offered. Kathy Korman Frey, associate director of the George Washington University's (GW) School of Business' Center for Entrepreneurial Excellence, led the workshop "Me, the CEO,” which culminated with participants brainstorming ideas for their own businesses. The other session, led by Sara Melita, managing director of GW's Staff Learning and Development Team, focused on "Managing Up: The Secret to Exceeding Expectations, Navigating Transitions, and Steering Your Career." The interactive workshop offered practical tips and action plans for building stronger relationships with supervisors. Ms. Melita provided participants with valuable strategies for growing their careers and turning their bosses into mentors.

The conference concluded with a panel discussion titled "Leadership: Generation to Generation," moderated by Laura Taddeucci Downs, BA '92, MA '95, president of the GW Alumni Association. The panelists included the Rev. Gloria Berberich, Mount Vernon College (MVC) A.A. '48, a retired Episcopal priest; Mary Futrell, MA '68, Ed.D. '92, former president of the National Education Association and dean of GW's Graduate School of Education and Human Development; Claritza Jimenez, B.A.'05, recipient of the Fellowship in Investigative Journalism at American University and alumna of the Women's Leadership Program; and Lorraine Voles, B.A. '81, GW's Vice President for External Relations, who has more than 25 years of leadership experience in corporate and political communications. The panelists spoke passionately about topics ranging from balancing professional and personal lives to the importance of mentors and agreed that women have come a long way in recent decades. 

Read the GW Today article about the conference.

“Stepping Up For Change” was the theme of the 2009 Women’s Leadership Conference, which focused on women who created change in their worlds. The keynote address was delivered by animal advocate Terri Crisp, an animal welfare volunteer for more than 25 years who rescued animals from more than 70 major disasters in the United States and around the world. She shared experiences aiding animals through her nonprofit, Noah's Wish, and her current work with the program Operation Baghdad Pups, which rescues dogs and cats from Iraq and delivers them to the soldiers or civilians who cared for them in the war-torn country. The conference also featured Michelle Rhee, former Chancellor of D.C. Public Schools, who discussed her quest to improve the D.C. public school system.

Two professional development sessions were offered to participants. Candi Kaplan, GW B.A. '70, and Sarah Kaplan of Kaplan Financial Group, gave a presentation on "Financial Literacy for Women in a Time of Change," which included tips on investments, saving for retirement and budgeting. In the other session, titled "Stepping Out of Your Comfort Zone," independent psychologist Diane DePalma offered advice on accepting new challenges, both personal and professional, and overcoming obstacles to success.

The conference ended with a panel discussion moderated by Laura Taddeucci Downs, GW B.A. '92, M.A. '95, president-elect of the GW Alumni Association, and featuring panelists Memphis Holland, Mount Vernon College (MVC) B.A. '88, principal of the Holland Development Group; Gillian McHale, GW B.A. '05, secondary school English teacher; and Melissa Alpeter Blair, MVC B.A. '93, owner of Healthy U. The panelists spoke about opportunities and challenges in their professional lives. 

The 8th annual Women’s Leadership Conference was titled "Challenging Limits, Reaching New Frontiers.” Diane Groomes, assistant chief of police of the Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Police Department, began the conference with a keynote address. Groomes discussed her career as one of few women in the law enforcement field, as well as the courage and strength of many women she met on the job. Groomes credited the support of her family and her colleagues, both male and female, in helping her accomplish her dream of a life in law enforcement.

The second speaker of the day was Barbara Hillary, the first African American woman and oldest woman, at age 75, to reach the North Pole. In her speech "Finding Your Own North Pole," Hillary, a former nurse, described her interest in exploration and her efforts to make her trip a reality. During her adventure, Hillary faced hungry polar bears and bitter arctic temperatures.

"My dream was to stand on top of the world and unfurl the red, white, and blue," said Hillary. "Believe me, it took perseverance."

The conference also included two professional development sessions. Margaret Kosmerl, adviser for LPL Financial, gave a presentation on finding one's "power years" upon retirement, by pursuing educational goals, hobbies, or a new career. In the other session, Courtney E. Martin, author of the book Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters, spoke about the ways young women can express themselves through writing and described her own journey to write and publish her book.

The conference ended with a panel discussion featuring broadcast journalist and Director of Public Relations for Saks Jandel Cynthia Steele Vance, Mount Vernon College (MVC) '79; Vice President of News and Washington Bureau Chief for Tribune Broadcasting Cynthia "Cissy" Baker, MVC '78; Dean of the George Washington University's (GW) Columbian College of Arts and Sciences Marguerite "Peg" Barratt, M. Phil. '78; and GW Student Association President Nicole Capp. The panelists talked about the hurdles they have overcome in their professional and personal lives and the ways they find the inspiration and courage to face challenges, including developing and maintaining a network of women.

The 2007 Women’s Leadership Conference, “Agents of Change,” addressed topics such as career building and development, negotiating self-worth, and the personal and professional challenges facing women in the 21st century. Francine Zorn Trachtenberg, president of the Washington D.C. Jewish Community Center and former senior vice president of WETA, Washington’s public broadcasting station, kicked off the conference with a keynote speech reflecting on her impressive career, titled “What I Did with my Liberal Arts Education.” Trachtenberg candidly discussed her life journey, emphasizing the importance of taking advantage of opportunities that come your way. The afternoon speaker was Judy Norsigian, co-author of Our Bodies, Ourselves, the groundbreaking book that helped to launch the women’s health movement in the United States, and executive director of the Boston-based organization Our Bodies, Ourselves

Also on the agenda were two professional development sessions on understanding women’s emotions as leaders and financial leadership. Business management specialist Ruth H. Axelrod led the first breakout session, “Leading from the Heart: Bringing Your Passion to Life,” which focused on getting in touch with one’s inner value system and developing self-awareness. The second workshop, moderated by financial adviser Babette E. Smith of Ameriprise Financial Services, featured three panelists who highlighted the basic tools women need to effectively manage their finances and take control of their lives. The presenters discussed the importance of securing a power of attorney, monitoring credit ratings, and saving early for retirement.

The conference ended with a dessert and panel discussion on “Agents of Change” featuring Mary Cheh, D.C. councilwoman and professor of law at the George Washington University (GW); journalist Dorothy Gilliam, former president of the National Association of Black Journalists and director of the Prime Movers Project, a unique program pairing veteran journalists with students from high schools with large minority or diverse populations in the Washington, D.C., area; and Joanne Holbrook Patton, Mount Vernon Seminary (MVS) ’48, owner and partner of Green Meadows Farm in South Hamilton, Mass. Honey W. Nashman, associate professor of human services and of sociology at GW, served as moderator of the discussion.

The 2006 Women’s Leadership Conference featured keynote speaker Janis Karpinski, author of One Woman’s Army, who discussed her experiences as a brigadier general in the U.S. Army Reserve and the challenges of being a woman in the male-dominated military. Now retired from the military, Karpinski was the commanding officer in charge of three prisons in Iraq, including Abu Ghraib.

The speaker at the conference luncheon was Laura A. Liswood, co-founder and secretary general of the Council of Women World Leaders and senior adviser to Goldman, Sachs & Co. As director of the Women’s Leadership Project from 1992 to 1996, Liswood interviewed 15 current and former women presidents and prime ministers for her book and video documentary, “Women World Leaders.”

Other presenters included Linda S. Paulk, Mount Vernon College (MVC) ’84, former president of the renowned staffing firm Snelling and Snelling, who led a professional development session titled “Getting the Next Job,” and researchers Gail Derrick, Ronald R. Bernier, and Amanda Konradi, who discussed their findings on women’s leadership. Another highlight of the conference was the panel discussion titled “Listen, Speak, Act” featuring Allida Black, George Washington University (GW) professor and director and editor of the Eleanor Roosevelt papers; Stephanie Jason, MVC ’93, principal at the International Forum Institute; Anne Whiteman, air traffic controller at Dallas-Fort Worth Airport; and Leslie Harris, MVC ’99, co-founder of Sojourner Truth Charter High School for Humanities and Technology.

The 2005 Women’s Leadership Conference, “Thinking Globally, Leading Locally,” focused on the difference the leadership of one woman can make. Natalie Ludaway, chair of the D.C. Chamber of Commerce, opened the conference with a keynote address. She spoke on how she draws on her leadership skills in each aspect of her life and turns to childhood memories of her grandmothers for inspiration, strength, and motivation. Ludaway believes an essential quality of women leaders is a caring and nurturing nature. Women approach issues differently than men, she noted, and the sooner they are comfortable doing that, the more successful they will be. Encouraging participants to reflect on their personal mentors, Ludaway emphasized, “We have a duty to support each other and prepare each other for local and global leadership.”

The author of Thereafter Johnnie and the acclaimed and controversial Nappy Hair, Carolivia Herron has been a professor and visiting scholar at numerous prestigious universities, including Harvard and Brandeis. She discussed the difficulties she faced growing up in urban Washington, D.C. and how she fed her hunger for epic poetry to go on to an illustrious literary career. “I never called myself a leader,” she said, “I’ve just done what I want to do.”

A panel discussion was moderated by professor Allida Black, director and editor of the Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project at the George Washington University (GW). Drawing on Roosevelt’s accomplishments, Black illustrated how the former first lady was a “mentor in absentia” for each of the following panelists, who all have varied backgrounds. Laura Neuman, a self-made business leader, who was once named one of the Top 100 Women in Maryland by the Daily Reporter. Forced to abandon her native home when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1962, Gina Hamrah provides education, food, shelter, and medical care to Afghani widows and orphans. A beautician by trade, Hamrah began raising money in her kitchen and has sent over $8 million dollars in aid to her homeland. Cissy Fry Wilson relayed her journey to become the first female mayor of Granbury, Tex., the fastest growing community in America in the 1980s. Wilson’s passion to protect the character of her quaint community during years of unparalleled growth motivated her to enter into public service. Finally, Tu Dang, who was born in Vietnam and fled to the United States, followed her passion of helping others. As a Peace Corps volunteer in the Islamic Republic of Mauritania, she started an Internet training program that put technology in the hands of hundreds of children and, in doing so, taught them about important health issues such as HIV prevention.