More than 400 women from around the state converged on the Montclair State University campus November 15 for the 9th Annual Women’s Leadership Alliance Conference, where they heard from keynote speakers and participated in breakout sessions, think tanks and panel discussions. But an invitation to walk the “runway” and a talent showcase intertwined with upbeat energetic music brought the conference to another level, creating lasting inspiration, motivation and a professional network across generations of women.
According to Montclair’s Assistant Provost for Special Programs, EOF and Academic Success Daniel Jean, highly engaged leaders from the University organize this annual women’s leadership and networking conference to motivate female and female-identifying high schoolers in grades 10-12 statewide to apply to and attend college, develop mentor-mentee relationships, and gain the know-how and confidence to plan their futures.
Accompanied by their high school counselors, teachers and other chaperones, the high school scholars had the opportunity to interact with a panel of female college students who spoke about their experience at Montclair. Students Jezabell DeJesus, Trenyce Hinds and Emily Morales, and moderator Temeshia Lemons, University College’s director of advising, enthusiastically shared practical tips for preparing for college with the goal of communicating “you can do this too.”
Their first-hand accounts of college life were backed up by University leaders who presented holistic guidance on how to make the dream of enrolling in and graduating from college a reality. They discussed strategies for applying to colleges and universities, the steps for applying for financial assistance, and an outline of the life-changing benefits of admission as an Educational Opportunity Fund (EOF) scholar.
Moreover, for the first time in the history of the conference, women professionals were invited to participate in a professional track consisting of an interactive panel led by women in higher education focused on their experiences in advancing in their careers and becoming recognized thought leaders.
Moderated by Carolina Gonzalez, associate dean for Student Success in the College for Education and Engaged Learning, the panelists in the professional track included alumna Nicole Pulliam ’05 MA, ’14 PhD, director of the Social Justice Academy; and University leaders Dawn Meza Soufleris, vice president for Student Development and Campus Life, and Rita Walters, vice president for Development and Alumni Engagement.
Sponsored by the University’s Educational Opportunity Fund, The Future College Graduate Academy and several campus partners, the no-fee, high-energy conference was intentional about creating a supportive and fun-filled space for female high school scholars and professional women to interact and learn from each other.
A powerful component of the women’s conference was a raised “runway” where conference participants were invited to come onto the stage and “walk their future,” encouraged by spirited shout-outs and vibrant music played by DJ Mehki Rivers ’22, alumnus and owner of Khi Rivers Ent. LLC. Announcements about high achievers, school recognitions and a scholar talent showcase, also advanced rapport and networking, and made for a very memorable day.
“The applause, laughter and excitement created by these highly participatory activities is not something people usually experience at an educational conference,” says Montclair EOF Counselor/Academic Advisor Tatiá Haywood, a conference organizer. “Having the attendees come up front, and not only touch the stage, but walk it with immense pride and confidence, furthers our goal of fostering self-esteem in these young scholars.”
Jazmene Mosley, co-organizer for the event and a Montclair EOF counselor/academic advisor, says, “We build and adjust the conference each year based on the post-event surveys we receive. We had some attendees tell us they didn’t want to leave! The feedback also tells us we are touching lives in an impactful way, stimulating female scholars to continue to grow their leadership abilities and plan their life goals.”
Keynote speaker, Marcheta P. Evans, chancellor of Bloomfield College of Montclair State University, counseled, “Any significant movement in this world has been launched by young people. I encourage you to be a voice, not an echo. And if you find yourself in a working environment where your voice is not valued, then that is not a place for you. Make sure the people you are associating with are bringing you positivity and energy.
“If you don’t yet have a mentor, start identifying one. And know that not every mentor can help you with all that you need for planning the next steps in your lives. Be open to having several mentors at the same time and over the life of your career,” she said to both the scholars and professionals in attendance.
Montclair’s EOF Director Rahjaun Gordon says “A key added value of the conference is to build our partnerships with professionals in organizations from throughout the state, to establish critical talent pipelines. We not only want to encourage ambition, self-confidence and solidarity, we also want to develop professional pathways for young women through guidance and networking. This is where the leadership awards we presented at the conference come in. We want our scholars to see what is possible by creating cross-generational opportunities for them to engage with successful women leaders.”
“Trailblazer” awards were presented to alumnae Pulliam and Traffic Anchor Ines Rosales. “Living Legend” awards were presented to Montclair Associate Vice President and Dean of Students Margaree Coleman-Carter and Psychology Professor Saundra Collins.
Sixteen schools were represented: Academy Charter High School, American History High School, Eastside High School Educational Campus, Neptune High School, Newark Vocational High School, Orange High School, Passaic Arts & Science Charter School, Paterson Arts & Science Charter High School, Paterson P-Tech, Perth Amboy High School, Pinnacle Academy, Plainfield Academy for the Arts and Advanced Studies, Plainfield High School, Pleasantville High School, Windsor Preparatory High School, and William L. Dickinson High School.
Story by Rosa Mulryan, communications director for Bloomfield College of Montclair State University. Photos by John. J. LaRosa.