STARKVILLE, Miss.--About 200 women gathered to discuss the qualities that make great leaders during the 2013 Women in Higher Education Mississippi Network Spring Leadership Conference held at Mississippi State University on Thursday and Friday.
Relatability, integrity, courage, accessibility, passion and composure were among the traits speakers emphasized that can help people succeed in their careers. While Mississippi faces a host of challenges related to education, strong leadership will be the catalyst underlying the development of long-term solutions.
"Our goal is to provide the opportunity to network, to share ideas and to learn from some of our finest leaders," said WHEMN coordinator Amy Tuck, vice president for campus services at MSU. The conference offered panel discussions, interactive workshops and individual presentations.
Each speaker explored the qualities of leadership and success while focusing on the importance of postsecondary education, both in community colleges and universities.
Four higher education presidents spoke at a keynote panel discussion on Friday: MSU President Mark E. Keenum, Jackson State University President Carolyn Meyers, Jones County Junior College President Jesse Smith, and Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College President Mary Graham. Their remarks were focused on inspiring and motivating attendees and encouraging leadership traits.
"You've got to have the patience of Job. You've got to have the courage of David. You've got to have the wisdom of Solomon. You've got to have the stomach of a Billy goat," Keenum said, quoting former Mississippi Gov. William Winter. "What he meant by that: To be a leader, you've got to eat, literally and figuratively, things that you never thought you'd have to deal with."
He emphasized that the way to change poverty rates in Mississippi is through education. The only way to change economic dependency is through education. The only way to compete in the 21st-century global society is through education.
"Education is the key to success in Mississippi," he said.
Meyers emphasized the time for change is now: Women in higher education must network and learn from one another, she said. Numerous opportunities, as well as massive challenges face postsecondary administrators, faculty and staff, but by focusing on successes, remaining bold and courageous, and maintaining balance, students will get the leadership they need to exemplify those same qualities as they become adults.
"It's not the money you share with people, it's the encouragement," Graham said. "Focus on the things that matter.'
With a strong work ethic, ability to learn from others, and remaining passionate about the call to educate students, female higher education leaders can be on the front lines of creating a shift in national trend in education reform and improvement.
Following the presidential panel, Tuck presented the 2013 WHEMN Leadership Award to Jackson State University's Loretta A. Moore, associate vice president for research and scholarly engagement.
"She is a mentor and role model for all ages," Tuck said.
Additional speakers emphasized leadership qualities to WHEMN representatives. Camille Scales Young, MSU National Alumni Association president opened the two-day conference by encouraging the attendees to look for opportunities to impact individuals through leadership.
"You can't reach everyone, but you can make a difference for someone," she said.
Likewise, Amy Whitten, former Board of Trustees member for the Institutions of Higher Learning, encouraged her audience to become more effective leaders by finding ways to think outside the box and influence their colleagues, supervisors and assistants.
"If we begin with all the layers of influence that everyone in this room has and begin to introduce the idea that positions don't matter, we're going to unleash potential in people who are natural born leaders," she said.
Sam Haskell, former worldwide head of TV at William Morris Agency, also offered an inspirational presentation based on his book, "Promises I Made My Mother."
"I spend every day of my life looking at what's positive," he said. "If you can look at the world that way, people will start looking back and see what's positive about you."
Blake Wilson, president and CEO of Mississippi Economic Council, echoed Haskell's upbeat speech.
"You can make all the difference if you take the road less traveled," he said. "Think about the communities that you want to make a difference in. If you will make that commitment to the community, you can and will make all the difference. All your dreams really can come true if you have the courage to pursue them."
MSU's First Lady Rhonda Keenum also was among the conference's speakers, emphasizing that, no matter what WHEMN members' differences in background, coming together in the spirit of fellowship allowed them to expand their individual identities.