Conference celebrates, encourages women in leadership

By: Sarah Rowan, Assistant News Editor

Local businesswomen and University leaders encouraged female students to pursue challenging careers and professional futures during Towson University’s fifth annual Women in Leadership Conference, held in the University Union April 2.

Hosted by the Center of Student Diversity, this year’s theme was “defining your legacy.”

“How do you build a legacy?” Keynote speaker and Towson alum Gboyinde Onijala asked. “By being a woman who is committed to learning, inspiring and fighting hand in hand with her sisters.”
Only 100 students nominated by faculty were invited to attend. The conference included Onijala’s keynote and three breakout workshop sessions with presentations by Towson faculty, alumnae and local businesswomen.

According to CSD Associate Director of Student Diversity and Development Mahnoor Ahmed, the goal of the conference was to “create a space for women to discuss leadership and careers, and to learn to define the many ways that they see success for themselves.”

During the first breakout session, Towson alumna and Catholic Relief Services Technical Advisor for Research and Learning Alexandra Towns spoke on her experiences abroad through her undergraduate, graduate and post-graduate years and encouraged attendees to contribute to their own legacies by identifying opportunities to travel.

“It is really essential to know people all throughout the world and to communicate it throughout your career,” Towns said.

The first breakout session also included a presentation from Casey Baynes, founder of the Casey Cares Foundation, who spoke on the various factors to consider when choosing to work with a non-profit organization and a presentation on establishing financial independence from Ellin & Tucker representatives Aileen Eskildsen and Jessica Kuhn.

La Tonya Dyer, the course development support manager in TU’s Office of Academic Innovation, spoke on developing intrapersonal skills to accomplish professional and personal goals.

In the second breakout session, therapist and life coach Tahna Purnell spoke on creating a personal life vision by reevaluating and adjusting life choices to feel more ordered and peaceful.

“A lot of times people assume things about women,” Purnell said. “They assume you want to get married. They assume you want to have kids. You can’t feel guilty when you don’t live up to other’s expectations. They’re dream-killers.”

She told attendees to move in the direction of their visions, saying that any choice they make has the potential to be successful.

“Do you really know how powerful women are?” Purnell asked. “You will be fine and you will fall on your feet.”

The second breakout sessions also included a presentation on the importance of networking from business growth advisor Susan Katz as well as a presentation on salary negotiation strategies from Towson Career Center Director Lorie-Logan Bennett.

In the third breakout session, Kendall Ludwig, president and principal artist of graphic design company CurlyRed, spoke on the benefits and dangers of working remotely with virtual teams for a single professional purpose. First-year Residence Life Coordinator and former Towson Student Government Association President Brandy Hall spoke on how authentic leadership can impact people’s lives both personally and professionally.

Career Center Associate Director Glenda Henkel spoke on resume-writing strategies, and University of Maryland, College Park Counseling Center Care Manager Simone Livingston spoke on her professional journey from Towson to College Park.

In her keynote speech, Onijala asked, “What do you dare to be remembered for?”

In her time at Towson, Onijala served as a SAGE mentor, and was president of the African Diaspora Club. While in high school, she founded S.I.S.T.E.R.S (Sisters Striving Toward Education, Responsibility and Success), a group that provides young girls of color with a safe space to tackle academic and social challenges.

Onijala now serves as the senior communications specialist for Montgomery County Public Schools and continues to mentor students in her spare time.

“I feel the most fulfilled when I’m doing something to enrich and empower others,” Onijala said. “Now imagine yourself being able to do that for someone else. To be inspired is great, but to inspire someone else is absolutely incredible.”

She asked attendees to continue to be committed to lifelong learning, and to identify core values and priorities. Onijala also stressed the importance of working together as women.

“There is so much work to be done,” Onijala said. “Let’s spend that time fighting together, not fighting each other. Let’s work together to carry forward the work of the women who came before us.”

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