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Agnes Scott to hold women’s leadership conference focused on visibility and social mobility


Agnes Scott to hold women’s leadership conference focused on visibility and social mobility

FILE PHOTO USED FOR ILLUSTRATION PURPOSES: Agnes Scott College held its third annual Women’s Global Leadership Conference on Thursday Oct. 13, 2022. This year’s topic was “Leading Inclusively: Transformative Change Across the Globe.” Speakers included global and local leaders. Photo by Dean Hesse.

Decatur, GA — Agnes Scott College will be holding its fourth annual Women’s Global Leadership Conference on Oct. 18.

Agnes Scott president Lee Zak said that the conference is an outgrowth of the college’s overall focus on women’s leadership development and global learning. Agnes Scott’s core curriculum, called SUMMIT, includes built-in leadership and global learning components. 

Previous conference topics included voting rights, climate change, and inclusive leadership. 

This year’s conference is amplifying the work that we’re doing under a Mellon grant to focus on laborers and those who contributed to the success of institutions, corporations, governments, locations, but who were never seen,” Zak said.

Zak said that the theme was inspired by a discovery: When the college began the process of renovating Main Hall, which is the oldest building on campus, they learned that the bell tower had been created by a Black tradesperson named Samuel Harper.

Harper had strong ties to the local Black community that existed just across the railroad tracks. Oliver Street, now called Commerce, was named after his wife’s family. However, the street names and buildings associated with that community no longer exist. Zak said that Agnes Scott worked with Story Corps and the Beacon Hill Alliance for Civil and Human Rights to gather stories about that community.

“One of the things we wanted to do is to honor him and others who would have done work on our campus, who would have helped create our campus. We talked about them as being our invisible founders,” Zak said.

Some conference speakers are connected to the themes of the conference through their work. The Center for Civic Innovation, represented by Jill Savitt, highlights the work of community members with their annual Good Trouble awards among other projects.

Zak said that speakers like Saadia Madsbjerg, president of the Coca-Cola Company Foundation, and Fay Twersky, president and director of the Arthur Blank Family Foundation, will be there because of their contributions to the people they serve.

“In particular, moving from invisibility through social mobility to success,” Zak said.

Others have more lived experience. President of AT&T Venessa Harrison started as a telephone operator, while keynote speaker Dr. Amani Balfour hid an entire hospital in a cave in order to treat patients during the Syrian civil war. 

Zak said that the theme is very relevant to Agnes Scott’s student body, many of whom are first-generation college students and Pell Grant scholars. The college is recognized as #2 in the country for social mobility by US News & World Report. Zak says the college achieves that by focusing on professional success.

“When they leave Agnes Scott [we ensure] that they’re prepared for graduate school and jobs,” Zak said.

Zak says that she hopes that one of the things that students will get out of the conference is the diversity of Agnes Scott’s history as well as its current student body, and that success comes from the support of a community.  She said that Agnes Scott was created by many people who are not always seen.

“Oftentimes, it takes all of the people around to be successful and we have to acknowledge them and recognize them,” Zak said.

Zak said that she wants Agnes Scott to be recognized as a thought leader, and that part of that is the recognition that diversity is not just an afterthought.

“Agnes Scott is a place that has no majority on its campus. As a result, it’s a place that has a great deal of diversity. It’s important to acknowledge that diversity,” Zak said.

Zak said that the diversity of thought on campus leads to better decision-making and makes the college better overall.

“It prepares our students for the world around them,” Zak said.

Students from other colleges and universities as well as other members of the community can register for the conference here.

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