BETHANY, W.Va. – “Women and leadership. Why is that something that so many of us struggle with? Why do we question our self-worth as leaders? I know that many of us in this room struggle with answering these questions, and that is why it’s so important that we continue to push for spaces that amplify women’s voices, not tear them down,” said Vice President for Institutional Advancement, Marketing, and Communications Lori Weaver during her opening remarks for the eighth annual Ann Wilkin Trombadore Women & Leadership Symposium on Friday, April 21.

These questions, and many more like them, are what brought students, alumni, speakers, and panelists to the event. The theme for the weekend was ‘Be Courageous,’ and women in leadership roles used their voices to share their trials, tribulations, successes, and experiences to inspire attendees to be all that they can be and more.  

Those distinguished guests, keynote speakers, and panelists included Carolyn McDonald ’79, Caryn Foster Durham, 

Judge Joyce Chernenko ’78, Jill Wilson, Sara Witmer ’13, Melinda Elliott ’80, Julie Keehner, Diane Thompson ’82. Also in attendance was the founder of the Women & Leadership Symposium Scarlett Foster ’79.  

Durham, senior director of corporate communications for Kaleo, was the speaker for Friday evening. Durham shared her experiences and ways she felt she was courageous in her field, then went on to share ways to build a foundation for courage. She reflected on the time when she quit her job as CEO of a company, saying “What I found on the other side, was having that courage to want something more, allowed me to walk away from things that were holding me back. At the time, I didn’t even understand they were holding me back. So, what I’m saying is have the courage to be able to say to yourself ‘I deserve more,’ and you will get more.”

Also on Friday, Scarlett Foster was met with quite the surprise as her friends and former classmates, Carolyn McDonald, Melinda Elliott, and Diane Thompson announced an endowed scholarship would be awarded annually in her name to a student who has shown remarkable leadership during their time at Bethany—the Scarlett Foster Women and Leadership Award. This award will keep Foster’s legacy alive and will allow the students awarded to use it for their professional development.  

“This is an incredible thing to do for our women, and I am honored to be a part of it,” says Foster. “Bethany women are courageous, period, and incredibly accomplished for a school of this size. To have the number of people who have gone on for the level of success they have is really pretty remarkable.” 

The winner of the inaugural scholarship was announced on Saturday. Senior Sophie Morey took home a $1,000 check and says she has grown in her confidence from attending the symposium the past four years. 

“I really love, you know, the topics that we’ve chosen. Be brave, be courageous, have confidence. I myself suffer sometimes from having those doubtful voices in your head and just knowing that other people, other alum, other students have been through the same thing. And, you know, look at these amazing alumni today. They’re doing amazing things and that just gives me hope. I’m excited for what my future holds,” Morey said.  

A panel discussion was held on Saturday that featured advice and lessons from personal and professional success. They spoke on positive habits for leadership, time management, positive work-life balance, mistakes they learned from, and the importance of maintaining connections and stepping out of your comfort zone. 

The symposium ended with an address from Julie Keehner, owner of Keehner Consulting, LLC. Keehner reflected on her over three decades in higher education, and the lessons she learned in her personal and professional life. She stressed the importance of having the courage to not only celebrate your accomplishments but also in owning your mistakes. 

“People notice when you have the courage to own up to your mistakes,” said Keehner. “People notice when you do something different like being strong and courageous. So, I promise if you make those decisions, they may not always be easy, but they will make a difference in your career.” 

Keehner went on to discuss times when she faced adversity and stood up for herself and others, times when she knew she had to remain true to herself, and when she had to step out of her comfort zone to do what was right.  

She ended by saying “I hope that all of us embrace lifelong learning. The world is changing so rapidly that none of us are going to be good at what we do unless we embrace continual learning. That’s so important to each of us, and that’s how we will move up in our careers. Read as much as you can and attend conferences and symposiums as much as you can. Know that we are never done learning.”

Nearly 180 students, alumnae, faculty, and staff registered for the event. The symposium is named for distinguished Bethany alumna Ann Wilkin Trombadore, a native of Wheeling, W.Va. She graduated magna cum laude from Bethany with a degree in economics in 1951 and received her law degree from the University of Michigan in 1954. 

Trombadore was an active member of the Bethany College Board of Trustees for more than two decades, was the recipient of the Distinguished Service to Alma Mater award in 1996, and was made an Emeritus Life Trustee member after the 1998-99 school year. 

The goal of Women and Leadership Weekend is to unite students and alumnae to promote the role of women and leadership and to create mentorship opportunities.

You can view all of the photos from this weekend here.

You can also watch the full two-day event recording here.