Liberal arts alumnae empower students to be leaders

Last Wednesday, Nov. 8, kicked off a two-day series of events titled Penn State Women: Leaders of Today and Tomorrow. The College of the Liberal Arts hosted a panel discussion and Q&A on Wednesday evening in Foster Auditorium in Paterno Library, followed by a networking reception. Binney Wietlisbach, a 1985 psychology alumna, was the driving force behind the creation of this event three years ago and has hosted the panel each year. This year’s panel was moderated by Nancy Tuana, professor of philosophy and founding director of Rock Ethics Institute, and featured four women who exhibit what it means to be women in leadership.

While the panelists have all gone on to successful careers in a variety of fields, they all got their starts in the College of the Liberal Arts at Penn State. During the panel the women reflected on their experiences in the college and how their liberal arts education helped get them to where they are today.

When asked about two keys to being a successful leader, all of the panelists chimed in to share the traits they found essential to being a leader. From courage and self awareness, to vision and integrity, the panelists offered a variety of thoughtful answers.

Angela Guy, a 1978 psychology alumna, encouraged students to seek mentoring relationships because they are a learning experience for both the mentor and the mentee. Continuing with the theme of mentoring, Debbie Montick, a 1980 political science alumna, noted the importance of keeping in touch with mentors and networking in both college and in the workforce.

Mary Beth Spang, a 2015 English, Spanish and linguistics alumna, said, “Use your mentors and values to ground you as you face different challenges.” Her thoughts were echoed by Karen Hershenson, a 1993 speech communication alumna, who advised students to find a support system and self-care strategies that work for them. When faced with challenges, Hershenson utilizes three tools: her go-to support people, journaling, and self-compassion. The innovation leader for Procter & Gamble’s the clay street project added, “Be nice to yourself, and take care of yourself.” She also mentioned that journaling, which she’s been doing since she was 14, can be a very powerful leadership tool and data source to see how resilient you’ve been when faced with adversity.

Guy, senior vice president of diversity and inclusion at L’Oreal, gave some parting wisdom before the panel ended. She said, “When you don’t challenge yourself, you don’t grow.”

With the conclusion of the panel, Binney Wietlisbach helped to lead the audience into a networking reception with some tips for students on connecting with the alumnae.

At the conclusion of the panel, students and other attendees were all welcomed to a networking reception in the Mann Assembly Room next door. Before dismissing the audience in Foster Auditorium, Wietlisbach, president of The Haverford Trust, shared some advice on networking.

“It’s about communication,” she said. “It’s how you look, not necessarily about what you’re wearing but how you present yourself with your posture and facial expressions. Remember to stand up straight, have a smile on your face, sound positive and speak with enthusiasm.”

She also reminded participants to show initiative and follow up with the panelists after the event.

Women in Politics president Jessica Tatone was grateful for the opportunity to meet the panelists after hearing them speak. “Penn State has such a large alumni network. We have to utilize it,” she said.

Another student in attendance was Olivia Gilfillan, a freshman in the Division of Undergraduate Studies. She added, “It’s really important to have events for women like these. It keeps the sisterhood alive with the alumnae.”

On the morning of Thursday, Nov. 9, students had the opportunity to meet one-on-one with the panelists for 30-minute meetings. This gave students the opportunity to discuss future plans and get additional guidance on academics, careers, post-grad life and more.

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Last Updated November 14, 2017