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College to host Engaging Women Conference

| Wednesday, May 3, 2017

The 3rd Annual Engaging Women Conference, organized by the Women’s Entrepreneurship Initiative (WEI) at Saint Mary’s in partnership with 1st Source Bank, will lead to the empowerment of 250 women. The conference will create a transformative space for women to be educated and to engage with one another, WEI project director Joan McClendon said.

“There’s something for everybody,” she said. “From how to negotiate business deals to collaborative things such as the power of the person, leadership and ‘daring greatly.’ This year we really stepped it up to the next level.”

McClendon said there will be three keynote speakers, four panels and twenty four breakout sessions. The keynote speakers include René Syler, former co-host of CBS’ “The Early Show,” Jan Cervelli, President of Saint Mary’s College and Stephenie Foster, a partner of Smash Strategies.

The four panels include an human resources panel, non-profit panel, women in technology panel and an executive panel, McClendon said. Breakout sessions include a wide range of topics, such as a spirituality component, she said.

The organization of the event is evidence of how the conference has grown in response to feedback, McClendon said. For example, the idea to invite Rene Syler came out of a conversation she had during last year’s conference.

“We hope these speakers empower the women at the Conference to empower generations to come,” McClendon said.

Housed under the Center for Women’s Intercultural Leadership (CWIL), WEI — now entering its sixth year — has three components: the Spark program, the Renaissance Executive Forum and a combination of seminars and training.

McClendon said the Spark program is an eleven week session where women come from the community to learn how to start a business while also learning about self-esteem and relationship building. The Renaissance Executive Forum is a half day peer-to-peer advisory group for women whose businesses exceed a certain gross amount, while training and seminars include events such as the upcoming conference, she said.

“Between Spark, the Executive Forum, training and several other things we have done, over 3,000 women have passed through the doors of Saint Mary’s College because of WEI,” McClendon said. “We’re very proud of what we do. We’re excited about how we help women in the community.”

1st Source Bank has sponsored the conference each year, 1st Source vice president and business banker Julianna Herring said. The conference came from a series of human resource seminars 1st Source had at Saint Mary’s as the Bank looked for ways to support women in business, and ever since it launched, it has continued building, she said.

“I think it’s small enough that people are able to network and engage and not get lost in it,” she said. “That’s one of the goals for when we engage. We want people to feel that intimacy and engage with the speakers and their stories.”

As a member of the committee planning the conference, Herring said they try to speak to a vast array of women.

Herring is connected with a 1st Source program called THRIVE, which evolved at Saint Mary’s and works to partner 1st Source with communities in various regions. Every community is a bit different, and THRIVE seeks to be a connector and resource in communities, she said.

“WEI and this conference connect to the goal of 1st Source to support communities and women in their communities,” Herring said. “It goes with the mission of what we are trying to do as a connector within the community.”

The conference is sold out this year, and both McClendon and Herring are looking forward to the future of the WEI with it’s various components, specifically future conferences.

“As exciting as it is to see the conference scaled, there’s something awesomely intimate that happens with the 250 women who attend this conference,” McClendon said. “It’s not so much what we do next, but how do we keep the intimacy of what happens. Now we work on how do we preserve that and move forward.”


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About Kathryn Marshall

Kathryn Marshall, Saint Mary's College '17, is a Biology and Humanistic Studies double major. Follow Kathryn on Twitter @kmarshallSMC

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