Nearly 500 young women in grades 9-11 from 12 area high schools gathered at the Montclair State University Conference Center on November 22 to learn about the importance of attending college, healthy relationships, financial literacy, mentorship effective leadership, at the inaugural Young Women’s Leadership Conference.
Spearheaded by the University’s Educational Opportunity Fund Program (EOF), the conference was organized to give young women students the opportunity to learn, engage with women educators and leaders and have some fun with their peers.
“It was suggested that we host an annual Young Women’s Leadership Conference every fall to coincide with the annual Boys to Men Empowerment Conference held in the spring,” says Executive Director of EOF and Academic Development Daniel Jean, who co-chaired the conference planning committee. “The aim is to strengthen our enrollment pipeline with local high schools.”
The program featured a panel discussion, videos, activities and a keynote talk by Christine Carter, CEO of Against All Odds Foundation, a Newark-based, not-for-profit agency that provides essential educational and social service programs to at-risk children and underserved families.
Carter enthralled the audience with a direct and honest account of her life from living on the streets of Newark to being orphaned at age 5, dealing with poverty, violence, drugs and homelessness through high school, and ultimately graduating from college and becoming a successful professional.
“If I could do it, you can do it too,” Carter told the students, encouraging them to follow her example and go to college. “Education should be your number one priority.”
Carter’s story and message clearly resonated with the students leading to a lively question and answer session following her talk. The speaker fielded questions about how she overcame her early obstacles, what gave her the strength to succeed and what kept her emotionally stable through her difficulties, among many others.
The conference also featured a “Professional Swagger” panel discussion and Q&A. “The Professional Swagger Panel included a dozen successful women who volunteered to share their stories and experiences to empower and motivate the young scholars in attendance,” says Peggy Thompson, program assistant for the Center for Academic Development and Assessment and co-chair of the planning committee. Panelists included educators, academic advisors, career counselors, successful EOF alumni and other professionals.
Together with giveaways, food and activities that included an open mic song session and step show, the conference not only served to educate, uplift and empower the young women, but also let them have a little fun. The inaugural event was a great success and will become an annual event in the future.
Cosponsoring the conference with EOF were the Center for Academic Development and Assessment; African American Studies; Residential Education and Services; School of Business; Office of the Provost; President's Commission on Affirmative Action, Equal Opportunity and Diversity; Enrollment Management and Student Academic Services; Teacher Education Advocacy Center; Admissions; Center for Student Involvement; Alumni Relations; and Commuter Student Programs and Services.