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Conference inspires women leaders

Professional leaders and La Verne alumnae spoke at the keynote panel during the SPARK Women’s Leadership Conference on March 8. Andria Reta, SCAN Health Plan Community Outreach Coordinator, speaks about how important it is for women to have mentors to guide them through their academic and professional careers. / photo by Katie Madden

Professional leaders and La Verne alumnae spoke at the keynote panel during the SPARK Women’s Leadership Conference on March 8. Andria Reta, SCAN Health Plan Community Outreach Coordinator, speaks about how important it is for women to have mentors to guide them through their academic and professional careers. / photo by Katie Madden

Hayley Hulin
Staff Writer

SPARK Leadership Conference offered two days of panels, workshops and group discussions to women students on campus last weekend.

The weekend conference began Friday with a workshop and dinner, and then a movie screening of “Miss Representation,” a documentary on how women are misrepresented in the work force.

“We watched a film that shocked me and showed how stereotypes affect women,” said Laura Sahawneh, sophomore biology major.

“You’d never expect these statistics to affect women the way they do.”

The first panel, called “Keep Calm and Lead On: Oh, the Places You Can Go!” was led by Mary Anne Mendoza, senior political science and speech communication major and student director.

The panel emphasized the fact that “women can have it all.”

The panel consisted of Jerome Garcia, associate professor of biology; Lieutenant Dorothy Howard; Paul Alvarez, director of athletic training; Robin Carder, city of La Verne councilwoman; and Gitty Amini, associate professor of political science, who opened the day.

“I thought it was so smart that they had people from different jobs, ages and men,” said Brittney Boiko, junior speech communication and political science major.

“Can women have it all?” Amini said. “There is already a double standard in that question. You don’t hear men being asked this question.”

Amini emphasized the need for corporate culture to change in favor of balance and flexibility for men and women—balance in regards to work and family.

“The women who choose to balance their work and family lives are always penalized,” Amini said.

The entire panel echoed Amini’s concerns with their own stories and anecdotes. Carder said she spent 20 years being a stay-at-home mom and was highly involved in her children’s school and sports–it was not until later that she ran for city council and acquired her bachelor’s degree.

Howard said it was important that she had a strong support system to help her balance her home life and law enforcement career.

Both Garcia and Alvarez said that the flexibility of their jobs allows them to balance their home and family life, which allows their wives to embrace their careers.

“Dr. Garcia got me thinking; perhaps as we face discrimination, two things are really important,” Amini said.

“You have to do your best work and you have to be just as brilliant,” she said. “But that is not enough. We also have to be our best own advocate. You have to be willing to fight for yourself.”

Next, the women attended a workshop called “Leadership 101: Your Vision and Your Legacy,” curated by Noelle Cozbar, senior speech communication and political science major and student director, and hosted by Loretta Rahmani, dean of student affairs.

The workshop focused on the concepts of leaving a legacy and laws of spiritual success.

“I am so excited that these women have chosen to grow in their leadership,” Rahmani said.

“My purpose is to help them grow and to empower them.”

“We are whole people, and spirituality is one component,” Rahmani said.

“To know your moral compass helps with your leadership.”

After a working lunch and group discussion, the women moved into another workshop called “Putting Your Best Foot Forward: Why Public Perception Matters” which was curated by Yasmine Andrawis, sophomore political science major and student director.

Before ending the day with a networking reception and dinner, a keynote panel called “SPARK ON: Igniting Hope and Inspiring Change” was paneled by Wendy Lau, board member and lawyer for Wood Smith Henning and Berman, LLP; Andria Reta, gerontologist and Northern California community outreach representative at SCAN Health Plan; Cindy Gaytan, special events coordinator for University of La Verne; Gabby De La Cruz, public affairs representative for Monte Vista Water District and Julie Vitale, superintendent of Romoland school district.

“I’ve attended a lot of leadership conferences, but they’ve never focused on women,” said Rosa Vargas, junior biology major.

“This was the first opportunity I’ve gotten to learn how to empower women and get a better understanding of the type of leader I am as a woman.”

“My favorite part of the conference was being able to realize that women are capable of success,” said Cristal Montiel, sophomore kinesiology major.

“It changes the way you view your surroundings.”

Cozbar, Mendoza and Andrawis planned SPARK Conference after they attended a similar women’s leadership conference last year at Scripps College.

“It initially started with an idea in my head, then became a group vision,” Cozbar said.

“After I talked at the Board of Trustees meeting, Trustee Lau reached out to me immediately. Then Mary Anne and Yasmine wanted to help.”

Women who applied were asked the motto of their lives and what they wanted to get from the conference, Cozbar said.

“It’s not just a conference, it’s more than that,” Cozbar said.

“We are trying to build a community.”

Hayley Hulin can be reached at hayley.hulin@laverne.edu.

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