August 18, 2019 | 83° F

Women's Leadership Conference connects professional women with U. students

Photo by Georgette Stillman |

In accordance with Women’s History Month, the Rutgers Women’s Leadership Coalition (WLC) held its sixth annual Women’s Leadership Conference last Friday, March 24, with this year’s theme being "Speak Up, Speak Out: Advocating For Yourself and Others."

According to the event’s pamphlet, the WLC’s mission is to “inclusively bring graduate students together from a variety of disciplines and backgrounds and promote personal, academic and professional development.”

The free, all-day conference offered empowering workshops and discussion panels that gave Rutgers women an opportunity to network for educational and professional opportunities. Although led by an organization geared towards graduate students, the event attracted a decent amount of undergraduate students and faculty members who wanted to be a part of the conversation. 

Being its first year as a University-wide organization, the conference was especially important for professional women and students alike. 

“I came to the WLC conference last year, and found the workshops and panels rewarding and inspiring,” said Sampada Nandyala, who graduated last May with a degree in Public Health. “Since I have just graduated, I felt that it was a perfect opportunity to network.”

The conference was introduced with a keynote address by Suhad Babaa, the executive director of Just Vision, a media collective with a focus on documenting the stories and experiences of Palestinian and Israeli grassroots leaders.

At Just Vision, Babaa works with a team of journalists, filmmakers and media strategists to share the stories of organizations and activists who otherwise get a bad rap by the mainstream media. Just Vision’s upcoming documentary, "The Wanted 18," tells the often unheard story of the women who organized the largest and most successful movement in Palestinian history during the First Intifada.

With a passion for activism and having Palestinian heritage herself, Babaa stressed the power of advocating and storytelling in our everyday lives. 

“When activists take on challenging issues and when storytellers have the foresight to broadcast their message to the world, people’s minds can and do change, and people do get involved,” said Babaa. “It's because of this that I wake up with a fire in my belly, and I wake up every day with a thirst and a hunger to do this well, to do this with nuance and with care, and to feel an immense responsibility to do what I do.”

Two interactive workshops were held in the early afternoon, where attendees could get a hands-on learning experience with professional women.

"Bridging the Divide — Working with Opposing Viewpoints," a workshop held by Dr. Julia Sass Rubin of School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University, was particularly popular in the midst of today’s political climate.

Dr. Rubin emphasized that conflict is not inherently a bad thing, but can be necessary and productive. The community development specialist enlightened the audience on how to tolerate others with different opinions and beliefs, whether it be in the workplace or at the dinner table. "The Organizing for Change" workshop was held by Dena Mottola Jaborska, the director of Organizing and Strategic Program Development at New Jersey Citizen Action. As protesting and activism become widespread among the current generation, Jaborska gave advice on how to organize and network for local and statewide issues.

Not neglecting the organization’s roots in promoting career development, free professional headshots were offered for LinkedIn profiles and resumes, followed by the "Women Leaders in Social Services" panel. Hosted by Dr. Andrea Hetling, a professor in the School of Planning and Public Policy, successful women such as Angela Campos, Rosie Grant, Janice Lilien and Sarah Steward took to the panel to share their experiences as leaders and how to deal with possible challenges when reaching a goal. The conference was concluded with a networking reception at INC American Bar & Kitchen on George Street, where attendees and panelists were free to mingle.

While the conference had a mission to enhance the individual’s personal and professional life, it was an example of women coming together to help one another and to promote teamwork overall. 

“Ensure the courageous women that are leading their communities that they are recognized, celebrated and made visible so that their leadership can grow and continue to gain influence,” Babaa said. 

With its intensive workshops, informative panels and supportive environment, the WLC proved that there’s nothing a woman can’t do.

Clarissa Gordon

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