STARKVILLE, Miss (WCBI)- It was a two-and-a-half-hour drive for Jackson State University student Charence Higgins, but she knew she had to come.
“It’s such an amazing opportunity to come together with other women who are not only in the professional field but who look like me,” said Higgins.
Higgins was one of hundreds of students and professionals in Starkville from across the State for MSU’s Women of Color Summit that began Thursday night and ended today.
“Programs like this will ultimately help those ladies provide them tools and strategies and things to help them enhance their life as a student and also their ultimate career once they’re finished in four years,” said Panelist Christinia Townsend.
From the stage to the floor, panelists stressed networking and gaining a mentor through role-playing exercises.
“It’s always important to establish networks. The only way you can do that is having a strong elevator speech where you have a soft sell to be able to tell somebody who you are, who you’re about and what you can offer and benefit them,” said Townsend.
“A lot of people get intimidated by the idea of having a mentor, but it’s really easy. Just call up someone and say, ‘Hey! Can we go to coffee?’ It all starts with a conversation. And once that conversation is granted, have an idea of what it is you want to gain from that conversation and what it is that you want to gain from that mentor,” advised Panelist Aisha Nyandoro.
These women say they share the same challenges but with seminars like this one, they can connect and prepare for whatever society throws at them.
“Who you are and how you carry yourself is definitely going to take you further,” said Britney Clark, a senior at Mississippi State University.
“We’re so underrepresented in a lot of fields and so when we come to these types of summits and we get this information, we can go out and not only apply it to ourselves, but we can take that information and spread it to our colleagues and tell others who may not be able to attend these types of events,” said Higgins.
Speakers also talked to students about the importance of education and the need to increase women of color in higher education.
MSU PRESS RELEASE
More than 550 women gathered at Mississippi State on Thursday and Friday [March 6 and 7] to participate in the university’s 2014 Women of Color Summit: “Changing Lives: Destination Success.”
“We had ladies from all regions of the United States to attend: California to Washington, D.C.,” said NaToya Hill, recruitment, retention and program specialist for the Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion. “We had to close registration approximately three weeks before the actual summit, and I believe we had representation from each county in Mississippi.”
With more than 10 sessions held in Colvard Student Union and better than 20 speakers, women at the summit explored a variety of topics, all of which related to the importance of empowering themselves as leaders and graduating from an institution of higher learning.
RoSusan D. Bartee, professor and program coordinator of leadership and counselor education at the University of Mississippi, focused on leadership. Whether in classrooms, workplace or homes, leadership can expand the numbers of better educated women of color who are economically competitive with their peers, she said.
“As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others,” she said. “Be awakened to the light and the genius that is in each of you.”
Bartee said each of the attendees already posseses the integrity, dignity and courage necessary to achieve success either in classrooms or in workplaces.
Pearl Pennington, director of student affairs for Institutions of Higher Learning, the governing body of Mississippi public colleges and universities, discussed data trends related to degree completion, as well as the numbers of women in administrative and faculty positions.
Pennington examined the statistics related to women of color’s postsecondary success and emphasized the importance of working hard, even in the face of adversity.
“We’re still not reaching the goals that we need to reach for women of color,” she said. “We’re enrolling in record numbers; we’re just not graduating. You can only improve the condition of education if you engage in education.”
Like all the other speakers, Pennington emphasized that women of color should be proud of their heritage and reach out to others, no matter what their gender or color of their skin. As leaders who recognize their own value, women of color can make the changes necessary to increase their college graduation rates and entrepreneurial opportunities.