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LONGMEADOW — Bay Path University announced that real-estate legend, investor, best-selling author, entrepreneur, producer, and Shark Tank shark Barbara Corcoran will be the keynote speaker at the 27th Women’s Leadership Conference (WLC), taking place at the MassMutual Center in downtown Springfield on Thursday, April 4.

“Our conference theme this year is ‘Break Through,’ and Barbara Corcoran embodies this powerful concept of digging deep, pushing yourself beyond obstacles, and breaking through,” Bay Path University President Sandra Doran said. “If you’re a fan of Shark Tank, you’ve seen her dynamic blend of business acumen, storytelling, and humor. Her drive, work ethic, and the lessons she’s learned along the way will undoubtedly resonate with our attendees.”

Corcoran has been an investor/shark on ABC’s four-time Emmy award-winning show Shark Tank for 10 seasons, investing in more than 80 businesses to date. She chronicled her rise from waiting tables in a New York diner to heading a $5 billion real-estate company in her bestselling book, Shark Tales: How I Turned $1,000 into a Billion Dollar Business! She’ll bring her personal brand of no-nonsense wisdom and supportive advice to the more than 1,600 attendees who are expected to attend this year’s WLC.

The WLC will also feature lunchtime speaker Amy Purdy, a three-time Paralympic medalist in snowboarding for Team USA. Throughout her life, Purdy has taken on obstacles and broken through, making her way into the upper echelons of athletics, onto the dance floor of Dancing with the Stars, and onto the New York Times bestseller list as the author of On My Own Two Feet: From Losing My Legs to Learning the Dance of Life. She co-founded Adaptive Action Sports for athletes with disabilities and is the host of the critically acclaimed podcast Bouncing Forward! Her work has led her to be labeled a “hero” by Oprah Winfrey and has made her one of the most in-demand motivational and corporate speakers on the globe.

This year’s conference will also feature breakout sessions led by business experts and authors, including Yvonne Camus, the former COO of SPINCO, Canada’s largest indoor cycling brand and the only female to outperform the Navy Seals in the multi-terrain adventure race known as Eco-Challenge. In addition, the WLC will welcome Sylvia Baffour, an author, podcast host, and emotional-intelligence coach recently ranked by HubSpot among the top 15 female motivational speakers. Additional keynote and breakout session speakers will be announced soon.

Now in its 27th year, Bay Path University’s Women’s Leadership Conference has brought more than 27,000 attendees together, along with prominent speakers such as Barbara Walters, Queen Latifah, Maya Angelou, Robin Roberts, Tyra Banks, and Gloria Estefan. For further information on the 2024 conference, sponsorship information, and ticket sales, visit baypath.edu/wlc.

Special Coverage Workforce Development

Fired Up

By Elizabeth Sears


Betsy Allen-Manning

Betsy Allen-Manning

Tunde Oyeneyin

Tunde Oyeneyin

Robin Roberts

Robin Roberts

The Women’s Leadership Conference is turning up the heat this year.

When Bay Path University’s signature annual conference returns to the MassMutual Center on Thursday, April 6, the theme will be “Ignite” — an extension of last year’s theme of “Reimagine.” The goal, simply put, is to ignite the post-pandemic professional plans of conference attendees and help turn them into reality.

“Last year, it felt important to bring the community back together to reimagine what may come next that may have shifted over COVID and from being away from the office place,” said Melissa Welch, Communications and Content director at Bay Path and co-chair of this year’s Women’s Leadership Conference (WLC). “That went so beautifully last year, with people in the community coming together to reimagine what came next for them. So this year, how do we build on that? How do we bring that same excitement and motivation back to the community?”

Bay Path President Sandra Doran echoed this sentiment.

“We want them to reignite their passion,” she said. “They’re professional women looking to further their career, looking to further their own professional journey, whether it’s in their existing career or looking outside of that. And this is the place to do it.”

The university’s 26th annual conference will feature TV host Robin Roberts and several other speakers (more on them later). The conference typically draws attendees not only from the Pioneer Valley, but from Eastern Mass., Connecticut, New York — anywhere within driving distance, due to the power of the speakers and the power of community.

“This is a new group, a new community … they’ve got their work community, they’ve got their family community, but now maybe they have a professional-development community. That is incredibly powerful,” Doran said. “If you are a mid-level manager or somebody who’s looking to executive leadership, or somebody who’s just entering into your career, and you’re trying to figure out, ‘what are those skills? What are those attitudes? What’s that growth mindset that is going to propel me to success in the workforce?’ Those are the professionals that you will find in the audience.”

“It’s very much experiential. Some people describe it as transformative. Some people describe it as the only conference they go to in any year because of the value that it brings to them personally as well as professionally. “

She explained that people keep coming back year after year because they’ve experienced growth, and they want to share that growth with others in the room. The conference provides a unique environment — a sort of support system — where professionals can share how they’ve grown in their career, and what comes next on that journey.

And this isn’t a conference where people just come and sit in rows to listen to speakers, Doran continued.

“It’s very much experiential. Some people describe it as transformative. Some people describe it as the only conference they go to in any year because of the value that it brings to them personally as well as professionally. I can’t emphasize enough how this is not a conference where we’ve just got 1,400 chairs lined up in a room. It is not that — everybody sits at a table. Every table is a conversation topic around something to do with personal or professional growth.”


Face Value

This is the second year WLC has returned since a two-year absence during the pandemic. With such a deep focus on the experiential quality of the conference, a virtual alternative was simply not an option, so no conference at all was held in 2020 or 2021.

“I think what was telling in the pandemic is a lot of things stopped, so in our case, our conference stopped for two years — and to come back last year and have 1,400 people come … people missed it so much over those two years,” said Karen Woods, Bay Path’s assistant vice president of Brand Strategy, Marketing, and Integrated Communications and WLC co-chair.

In addition to individuals who buy tickets to attend, Woods noted that companies call in inquiring about the upcoming conference far in advance. Businesses eagerly await to hear who the speakers each year will be and buy tables for their employees, knowing the professional-development value the conference holds.

Sandra Doran emphasizes the interactive nature of the conference, which is not a place to sit in rows and just listen.

Sandra Doran emphasizes the interactive nature of the conference, which is not a place to sit in rows and just listen.

Indeed, this year’s keynote speakers come from vastly different backgrounds and careers, but share something in common: the ability to ignite motivation in others.

The conference will begin with a motivational and humorous talk from author and speaker Betsy Allen-Manning that will guide attendees through exercises that aim to set the tone of the conference and ignite a day of learning. The founder of Corporate Culture Training Solutions, a leadership-training company, she specializes in creating positive employee experiences as well as developing leaders who are equipped to handle a hyper-competitive marketplace.

“Success doesn’t necessarily mean the top person in the company,” Woods said of the first keynote session. “Every single one of us needs that secret sauce to our own success, and how do we get there?”

The luncheon keynote talk will be given by Tunde Oyeneyin, a cycling and bike boot-camp instructor from Peloton who has become known for her empowering and motivational cycling sessions.

Oyeneyin was a professional makeup artist for 15 years, but after lifting the confidence of her clients through her beauty skills for so long, she realized that her true calling was in motivating others. She became a cycling instructor in Los Angeles and ended up being hired onto Peloton’s instructor team. She trains up to 20,000 riders per day through her live motivational classes. Now, she’s taking to the WLC stage to spark the energy of attendees and bring forward their inner passions.

“When you’re going to ignite new business plans, and you’re going to bring those forward, whether it’s personal or professional goals, you really need to have that ability to trust your gut — to find your voice, to be able to advocate for what’s next in your career,” Woods said.

The day will end with a keynote talk from Roberts, well-known as a Good Morning America co-anchor, Emmy Award and People’s Choice Award winner, author, entrepreneur, and Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame inductee, among other achievements. She’s going from the screen to the stage for a moderated Q&A session with Doran.

“We are so excited to introduce Robin Roberts to our WLC audience,” Woods said. “Everything she has done has been a way to ignite what’s next. From the court, when she played basketball, through all of her interviews, those that she’s spoken with and worked with over the years, to writing books — award winners — she’s the perfect person to end our day.”


Breaking Out

The conference will also feature four breakout sessions offering lessons and activities designed to give attendees valuable takeaways that can be applied to their professional lives.

Session A, titled “Forging and Managing the Hybrid Workspace” and led by Alexandra Samuel, will address how attendees can better navigate the hybrid workspace culture that emerged post-COVID. Samuel is an author and digital-workplace expert who seeks to help her audience solve the puzzle of balancing in-person and remote work in hopes of making the now-popular hybrid format a more viable piece of their workday.

Session B is called “Igniting Your Innovation and Understanding Your Onlyness” and will be presented by author and speaker Nilofer Merchant. She will discuss the concept of ‘onlyness’ — identifying what you alone bring to the table that somebody else can’t, what makes you stand out in the workplace, and how to find power in this self-knowledge. Merchant will help attendees discover their ‘onlyness’ and teach them how to socialize it to create real change.

Session C is titled “You’ve Got the Seat at the Table, Now What?” and will be led by Pirie Jones Grossman, a TedX speaker, author, and life-empowerment coach. She will offer an extension to the common conversation of how to reach corporate positions as a woman — and what to do once there. Sharing her research, she will challenge the idea that successful women in the corporate world need to show up like men, instead offering information on the unique leadership instincts and strengths of women’s brains.

Session D is called “The Power of Inclusive Leadership,” and will be led by Juliet Hall, an advisor, leadership consultant, speaker, and author. Objectives of this session include how workplaces can transform their leadership teams to build a strong foundation and promote equity, how workplaces can adjust their internal work teams to create a more inclusive environment for their employees, understanding unconscious bias and microaggressions, and how leaders can remodel internal culture.

For more information on the 2023 Women’s Leadership Conference, visit www.baypath.edu/events-calendar/womens-leadership-conference.

Education Event Galleries

Women’s Leadership Conference

‘Reimagine’ was the theme for the 25th Bay Path University Women’s Leadership Conference on April 1, a day-long event that drew more than 1,300 women and men to the MassMutual Center in downtown Springfield. The conference featured three keynote speakers and a number of educational breakout sessions, as well as networking and a message from Bay Path President Sandra Doran about the university, its 125th anniversary, and its future.

Photos by Leah Martin Photography


Mechanic and Girls Auto Clinic founder Patrice Banks takes the stage as the luncheon keynote speaker

Mechanic and Girls Auto Clinic founder Patrice Banks takes the stage as the luncheon keynote speaker


Tyra Banks, the closing keynote speaker, answers questions from conference attendees

Tyra Banks, the closing keynote speaker, answers questions from conference attendees


author and speaker Christine Cashen kicks off the 2022 conference with laughter and advice as the morning keynote speaker

Doran addresses the audience

Doran addresses the audience


Springfield Mayor Dominic Sarno welcomes attendees to the city of Springfield

Springfield Mayor Dominic Sarno welcomes attendees to the city of Springfield



Special Coverage Women in Businesss

Reimagine the Possibilities


In many respects, the Bay Path University Women’s Leadership Conference that will unfold on April 1 at the MassMutual Center is the same one that was put together for early spring 2020 and then canceled by COVID-19 — and then canceled again amid a surge in early 2021.

Indeed, most all the speakers, including keynoter Tyra Banks, the model and media maven, are the same as those originally scheduled probably 30 months ago.

But the day-long event, expected to bring more than 1,300 people to downtown Springfield, simply can’t be the same as the one blueprinted back in 2019, said Sandra Doran, the school’s sixth president, who took the helm just a few months after the 2020 event was canceled.

And that’s because the world has changed so much in the interim, she told BusinessWest, and the conference needs to reflect that.

“Before the pandemic, people talked about being adaptive, they talked about thinking outside the box; the pandemic has changed the way people think about all those things,” said Doran, adding that the changed landscape, and the response to it, is reflected in the new theme for the conference: Reimagine. “What was considered adaptive two years ago is now considered routine today. This concept of really being prepared, with a plan A and a plan B … in the past, we might have had a couple of different strategies; now we have 10 different strategies because we know people’s needs are changing, the needs of employers are changing.”

“Before the pandemic, people talked about being adaptive, they talked about thinking outside the box; the pandemic has changed the way people think about all those things.”

Karen Woods, assistant vice president of Brand Strategy, Marketing, and Integrated Communications at Bay Path, agreed.

The original theme was ‘Own Your Now,’ she explained. “The idea was, ‘wherever you are in your life … own it, move forward, make decisions, and decide what’s next.’ But the pandemic changed a lot for people, so to ask people to ‘own their now’ seemed trite; the past two years not only affected the Women’s Leadership Conference, they affected women.

“And so this year, we have the theme of ‘Reimagine,’ and reimagine is really a gift,” she went on. “Because no matter where you are and what you’ve been through, you have this opportunity to come together, to network, to connect, to be with other women, and really start to think about what is the future, not just for you as an individual, but for our community.”

Sandra Doran, president of Bay Path University

Sandra Doran, president of Bay Path University

That theme, ‘Reimagine,’ will be threaded through a full day of programming that will include Banks’s keynote address at 3:15 p.m.; a luncheon talk featuring Patrice Banks, founder of Girls Auto Clinic; and the morning keynote, featuring Suzy Batiz, founder of Poo~Pourri and supernatural (more on them later). And it will also be incorporated into a series of break-in sessions, with titles ranging from “The Misfit’s Guide to Managing, Surviving, and Thriving at Work” to “Staying Sane with Disruptive Personalities in the Workplace.”


Face to Face

The return of the Women’s Leadership Conference (WLC), especially in its in-person format, is an important development for the region, said Doran, noting that, during its 25-year history, it has not only brought provocative speakers and historic figures to Springfield — a list that includes Margaret Thatcher, Madeline Albright, Rita Moreno, and many others — it has given attendees invaluable insight to bring back to their homes and offices.

Doran told BusinessWest that, while some thought had been given over the past two years to staging a WLC remotely, it was quickly determined that such a presentation would simply not be in keeping with the many goals — and expectations — for this conference, which has become a tradition in Western Mass.

“We made the decision that this was an event that was really focused on professional development, networking, and helping senior leaders in the grow,” she explained. “And the real power of this particular conference is in the face-to-face component of it.”

As organizers of the event saw COVID easing, with cases declining across the country, the decision was made to move forward with a live event, one that will have some restrictions, including proof of vaccine or a negative test to enter the MassMutual Center, as well as masking up when not eating or drinking.

Woods said ticket sales have been brisk, and a turnout similar to what has been the norm over the past several years is expected.

“We’ve been following the trends and the local, state, and federal guidelines,” she said. “Normally, we would start our advertising in the fall, and we were really looking at this spring. In speaking with our sponsors, exhibitors, and those buying tickets, we sense that people are feeling comfortable and ready to come back out for a gathering like this.”

As noted earlier, the overall lineup of speakers for the 25th WLC hasn’t changed since that event was originally blueprinted in 2019. But what has changed are the times, and some of the challenges being faced by women — and all those in the workforce.

And the speakers have been asked to reflect on what has transpired and incorporate these changes and mounting challenges into their presentations, said Doran, noting that the 25th WLC, like those before it, will leave attendees with plenty to think about as they consider how to reimagine their own lives and careers.

Indeed, the three keynoters are all successful entrepreneurs and innovators, who took decidedly different paths to success.

“Before the pandemic, people talked about being adaptive, they talked about thinking outside the box; the pandemic has changed the way people think about all those things.”

The day will start with what promises to be an inspirational, and entertaining talk by Batiz, founder of Poo~Pourri and supernatural, brands she has transformed into a more than $500 million business empire.

Featured in Forbes, Fast Company, and Entrepreneur, Batiz has been named one of Forbes’s “Richest Self Made Women in America” (2019) and EY’s Entrepreneur of the Year (2017). But to get there, she had to overcome some of life’s lowest lows — poverty, sexual abuse, depression, two bankruptcies, and a suicide attempt — which led to what she calls “the luxury of losing everything.”

The luncheon keynote speaker, Patrice Banks, is credited with opening up the male-dominated automotive industry and bringing a fresh perspective to that business. Girls Auto Clinic offers automotive buying and repair resources, services, and products by women to women. Prior to establishing GAC, she worked for more than 12 years as an engineer, manager, and leader at DuPont, a science and technology company.

Karen Woods

Karen Woods says the conference was rethemed from the one canceled two years ago to better reflect pandemic realities.

Frustrated with the lack of resources educating women on car care and her inability to find a female mechanic in the Philadelphia area, Banks enrolled in automotive- technology school to learn how to work on cars. Her mission with Girls Auto Clinic was to create a place she wanted to bring her car for repair and maintenance. She has since made it her mission to educate and empower women through their cars.

By telling her story, she continues to make history, through engaging talks, interactive workshops, authoring an informative car-care guide, and the successful running of a repair garage with female mechanics and a nail salon.

The day’s programing will conclude with a keynote talk by Tyra Banks, the supermodel who has become a serial entrepreneur as well. She created and executive produces America’s Next Top Model, has an Emmy Award-winning talk show (The Tyra Banks Show), hosted America’s Got Talent, and is consistently ranked by Time magazine as one of the world’s most influential people.

Banks is CEO of the Tyra Banks Company, a multi-faceted corporation focused on beauty and entertainment. In 2012, she graduated from the Owner/President Management program at Harvard Business School, from which she created her one-of-a-kind cosmetics experience, TYRA Beauty. She recently developed Fierce Capital, the investment arm of the Tyra Banks Company, which invests in early-stage companies, including firms that are female-led or female-focused.

Her passion is the TZONE Foundation, a nonprofit organization that invests in young women to help them realize their ambitions and approach life’s challenges with fierce determination. The TZONE now takes residence at the Lower Eastside Girls Club Center for Community in New York City and focuses on five core pillars: entrepreneurship; financial literacy; elocution and self-presentation; health and wellness; and self-esteem, beauty, and body image.


Breaking Out

As noted earlier, the conference will also feature a number of breakout sessions designed to both inform and inspire.

Session 1 takes the title “The Misfit’s Guide to Managing, Surviving, and Thriving at Work,” and will be led by Jennifer Romolini, a writer, speaker, senior digital-media strategist, and author of the book Weird in a World That’s Not: A Career Guide for Misfits.”

She will essentially debunk the theory that office-politicking extroverts are best set up for success. The session will help attendees understand, among other things, how to stop feeling like a freak at work, how to start using one’s misfit nature as a strength in the workplace, and how one’s sensitivity and empathy can make her a boss who not only succeeds, but effects real change.

Session 2 is called “The Power of Meaning: Making Your Life, Work, and Relationships Matter,” and will be led by Emily Esfahani-Smith, author of the book The Power of Meaning, which outlines four pillars essential to living a life that matters: belonging, purpose, transcendence, and storytelling.

In this breakout session, Smith will present the latest in psychology and neuroscience (as well as the wisdom of great philosophers) to help attendees live more satisfying lives, and focus in on those four pillars.

“We made the decision that this was an event that was really focused on professional development, networking, and helping senior leaders in the grow. And the real power of this particular conference is in the face-to-face component of it.”

Session 3, titled “The Real Role of Gut Instinct in Managing Complexity and Extreme Risk,” will be led by Laura Huang, a professor at the Harvard Business School and author of the book EDGE.

In her talk, Huang will discuss her research on decision-making in organizations and why the question shouldn’t be about data-driven decisions versus gut-feel-based decisions. Instead, effective organizational outcomes are the result of understanding the set of rules that are inherent in any complex decision, which dictates whether more data actually helps us make better decisions. Bringing her diverse work and research background (having conducted dozens of interviews with investors and observing pitch meetings with entrepreneurs) to analyzing the role of gut instinct in making choices, Huang developed an in-depth understanding vital role that gut feel plays in managing complexity and risk — and the difference between big wins and playing it safe.

Session 4 is titled “Staying Sane with Disruptive Personalities in the Workplace,” and will be presented by Dr. Ramani Durvasula, a licensed clinical psychologist in Los Angeles and professor of Psychology at California State University, Los Angeles. In 2019, her book, titled Don’t You Know Who I Am: How to Stay Sane in the Era of Narcissism, Entitlement, and Incivility, was released. She is also the author of the modern relationship survival manual Should I Stay or Should I Go: Surviving a Relationship With a Narcissist, and You Are WHY You Eat: Change Your Food Attitude, Change Your Life.

Session objectives include understanding what a disruptive personality style looks like and how it may affect oneself; learning how to manage disruptive personalities in the workplace, and what works (and doesn’t work); understanding how systems and people enable disruptive personalities in the workplace, and becoming familiar with a 10-step plan designed to provide the tools to manage disruptive personalities.

For more information on the conference, visit www.baypath.edu/events-calendar/womens-leadership-conference.


George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]