As Purdue University celebrates 150 years of Giant Leaps, the Purdue Alumni Association’s International Council of Purdue Women hosted its inaugural Women’s Conference in downtown Chicago. On November 1–2, 175 Purdue alumnae and women from across the country attended the two-day networking event to share in the challenges and victories of being a woman in both the workplace and beyond. A handful of inspiring keynote speakers and dozens of varied breakout sessions empowered women to live their best professional, personal, and intellectual lives.
The International Council of Purdue Women connects alumnae around the globe with opportunities to share their skills, knowledge, and leadership to motivate, connect, uplift, and inspire other women. Kathleen Kenehan Henson, Cofounder of the International Council of Purdue Women and Founder/CEO of Agency H5, was thrilled to be the first keynote speaker for an event she described as the mark of an important time in Purdue University’s history.
“To see the International Council of Purdue Women come to life is really invigorating, I’m so excited that an idea that was generated two years ago has finally come to fruition tonight,” Henson said. “It’s incredible to bring all these women together to talk about why we all need one another to lift each other up in our careers, how to inspire one another in our personal lives as well as our professional ones, and to just be supportive of one another.”
Henson, a 1992 graduate of the College of Liberal Arts, shared her journey of starting her own marketing agency and the Council, asking attendees to define their “why.” One of the main things she hoped women would take away from the conference was how vital it is to build support systems among one another.
“Women need to support other women,” Henson said. “We do no good in this world when we tear each other down, so by creating opportunities for women to talk, connect, inspire, and lift up one another, the world will be a better place.”
Support was in full force throughout the conference as women connected and reconnected, shared stories, and attended breakout sessions covering a wide array of topics. From tough subjects focused on strategies for dealing with Impostors Syndrome, balancing motherhood and a career, and gender bias in a work setting to unexpected eye openers such as self-care methods, shaping a physical work space, and why women should read fiction, the breakout sessions offered women a chance to explore their landscapes together.
The council also welcomed 20 new members to The Founders Circle, whose generous contributions will lay the foundation for council programming and events and endow a legacy that will impact generations of Purdue Alumni.
Morning keynote speaker and Purdue alumna Maril Gagen MacDonald, Founder CEO at Gagen MacDonald, offered a powerful message on leadership and shaping one’s life.
“What you focus on manifests itself. This is science. Our brains are trained to focus on specific things. Once they focus on it, they find it,” MacDonald said. “Are you focusing on what’s fabulous? Or what bugs you? If you focus on the greatness in people, it will come out. You manifest your own experience by what you focus on. We have this choice every single day.”
Ellen Ernst Kossek, PhD, the Basil S. Turner Professor at Purdue’s Krannert School of Management, led a plenary session titled “Managing Work/Life – Life Boundaries in the Digital Age.” Kossek helped attendees identify their styles of worker and tackle how to balance their work lives and their personal ones.
“Take a look at your work/life boundaries, think about what would make your life one part better, and find a way to work that into your life,” Kossek said. “This is one way to incorporate more work/life boundaries and improve that ratio.”
While attendees enjoyed a hearty lunch, a panel of women dominated the stage to keep the wheels turning. The lunch panel featured a line of notable Purdue alumnae who have greatly impacted the workforce throughout their lives. The panel included Sherine Abdelmawla, PhD, Co-founder & CEO at Akanocure Pharmaceuticals; Theresa Carter, retired major general, US Air Force, and member of the Purdue Alumni Board of Directors; Vanessa Castagna, former CEO and charwoman of JCPenney Stores, Catalogue and Internet and Purdue University Alumni Trustee; Jennifer Guidry, Vice President Health, Safety & Environment at Precision Drilling; Kim Koeller, President and CEO, Gluten and Allergy Free Passport; and Celina Weatherwax, President of the McMillan Family Foundation Inc.
The panel discussed topics that focused around pivotal moments in their career and common obstacles women face in the workforce. Conversation highlighted a struggle many women face within their careers: being taken seriously. The panel encouraged the room to facilitate meaningful conversations about this battle.
If you're a Purdue alumna and wish to get involved with the International Council of Purdue Women and the Purdue Alumni Association, please visit visit the Purdue Alumni Association Portal.