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The Power of Choice

Bay Path Women’s Leadership Conference Set for April 29

Women make many decisions throughout their lives that impact their present and future situations. Some are well-thought-out, while others are made quickly or without much deliberation.
But the attitude and the way women think about their choices can have a strong influence on how they feel, which is one of the reasons the theme for the 16th Annual Women’s Leadership Conference at Bay Path College is “The Power of Choice.”
The event will be held April 29 from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. in the MassMutual Center in Springfield, and more than 1,000 women are expected to attend.
“Everyone takes something away at the end of the day they can use immediately because they are inspired by the speakers and the themes,” said Bay Path President Carol Leary, adding that past participants continue to tell her that the conference changed their lives.
“The day is a gift women give to themselves,” she told BusinessWest. “This conference will give people the opportunity to reflect on what the power of choice means to them and about the choices they are making in their personal and professional lives. By not making a choice, they may not have control over their own destiny.”
Critical life choices women make include whether they will seek higher education and, if so, in what field, as well as whether to have a family and stop their career to raise their children. “Women are at the center of families all their lives and make very critical choices about the paths people take, including their parents and in-laws,” said Leary. “So, at this conference, we have carefully selected speakers who made very important deicisions about how they were going to lead their lives.”
Victoria Kennedy is the keynote speaker for the afternoon. The accomplished attorney and wife of the late Sen. Edward Kennedy is a strong believer in women’s rights and has worked on issues ranging from domestic violence to education. Leary said Kennedy’s marriage was an active partnership, and she chose not to sit on the sidelines.
“When Ted Kennedy passed away, many people thought she would step into the race for the Senate,” Leary said, adding that she was disappointed Kennedy did not make that decision. “But I respected what she did. She made a very clear choice for herself.”
Leary noted that she served on the advisory board for the Western Mass. Women’s Fund with Kennedy, and was impressed that she traveled to the Pioneer Valley to attend the meetings. The goal of the fund is to empower women to reach their full potential through grants and strategic initiatives.
The morning keynote speaker is Wes Moore. He was a paratrooper and captain in the U.S. Army, serving a combat tour of duty in Afghanistan with the elite 1st Brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division in 2005-06. His career has been illustrious; he is recognized as an authority on the rise and ramifications of radical Islamism in the Western Hemisphere, served as a special assistant to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, is passionate about supporting U.S. veterans, and formed the organization STAND!, which works with Baltimore youth in the criminal-justice system.
He is also the author of The Other Wes Moore, which he wrote after discovering another man from his city by the same name who was two years older than him and was arrested for the murder of an off-duty Baltimore police officer during an armed robbery.
Moore wrote to him, visited him in prison, and discovered that, although they shared difficult childhoods in the same neighborhood, they had made very different decisions in their lives.
“I am intrigued by his extraordinary story,” Leary said, adding that Bay Path’s entire freshman class read Moore’s tome, and the conference will span generations as college students and professionals mingle together.
“This conference transforms lives,” she told BusinessWest. “This one day can really make a difference in a woman’s life.”
The third keynote speaker is Alison Levine. Despite the fact that she was born with a life-threatening heart condition so severe she was not even allowed to climb stairs until she had surgery at age 13, she was team captain of the first American Women’s Everest Expedition and skied across the Arctic Circle to the geographic North Pole.
In January 2008, Levine made history as the first American to complete a 600-mile traverse from West Antarctica to the South Pole on skis while hauling 150 pounds of her gear and supplies in a sled harnessed to her waist.
“She is a courageous woman who pushed herself. She could have let her childhood heart problem define her,” Leary said.
Conference participants can also choose a morning and afternoon breakout session. The topics are: “Women, Stress, and Fatigue: Best Solutions” by medical journalist Dr. Dolly Atkinson; “True Grit: Can Conscience Be Taught?” by Angela Duckworth; “The Seven Wealthy Habits of Successful Women” by author Deborah Owens; and “Meaning: How Remarkable Women Lead” by Catherine Tweedle.
The conference has a new offering this year. There will be a Career Center in the Exhibit Hall, and in addition to purchasing books and other materials, women will have the chance to meet with speed coaches, have mock job interviews, and receive tips from the coaches, Leary said. They will also be able to have their résumés reviewed.
“The purpose of the conference is not only to inspire and motivate people and provide opportunities for women to use what they learn, but also to help them advance in their careers,” Leary explained. “The coaches will be very honest. The economy is improving, but women may still need or want to find jobs or change careers, and this is an opportunity for them to leave with valuable information.”
There will also be time for networking. In addition, human-resources professionals and recruiters from a number of local firms will be available to talk to women about their careers. Bay Path is undergoing accreditation for a new Physician’s Assistant program expected to open in June 2012, and the director will be there to speak about it.
Students will volunteer during the conference, and Leary said their participation in the past has yielded laudable results. “After Mia Farrow spoke about atrocities in Africa, students started a campus organization to raise money to help women in Sudan,” she noted. “There will be time during this conference for women to think, network, and sit back and absorb everything. The conference hits a chord and meets a need in a lot of women who return to it every year.”
The cost of the conference is $300. For more information, visit baypath.com.

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