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Women's Leadership Breakfast marks 20 years of the Women's Center

The Women’s Center has a remarkable past, an evolving present and a promising future. On May 7, nearly 140 people started their day at the 11th annual Women’s Leadership Breakfast “Celebrating 20 Years of The Women’s Center at TCC” on the quad of the Portsmouth Campus.

The morning began with TCC President Edna Baehre-Kolovani, who reminded attendees that the Women’s Center started as a single office on the original Portsmouth Campus in Suffolk. She marveled at the expanding programs and services for women that are ready to take another step forward. Baehre-Kolovani announced that the benchmark programs of the Women’s Center, International Programs, International Student Services, study abroad and other academic initiatives will be brought together under an umbrella program titled the Office of Intercultural Learning. The collaborative effort, she explained, “will amplify the Women’s Center mission, core commitments, and goals, and better connect its programs and services to the curriculum.”


From left, Carol Curtis, Peggy Layne, Catherine Wass,
Linda Samuels and Jenefer Synder

Jeanne Natali, interim coordinator of the Women’s Center and director of International Programs, emphasized the Women’s Center’s future as a significant component of the Office of Intercultural Learning. “Looking forward to the next 20 years, the Women’s Center will continue to offer comprehensive specialized services to educate, empower, enhance and engage women so they can define, pursue and achieve their goals and it will increasingly focus on leadership in a global community,” she said.



Jeanne Natali, left, and Mary Pat Liggio
In 2012-13, the Women’s Center served 1,642 students, and 1,386 students participated in one of several educational programs. Eight students completed the Women Inspiring Self-Empowerment (WISE) leadership development program and are set to travel at no cost to the National Conference of College Women Student Leaders at the University of Maryland later this month. The Network for Empowering Women Students (N.E.W.S.) offered its unique career coaching program, Instant Career Coaching and Exploring Career Opportunities, and mentorships for TCC students on each campus. Student Ruth Artis, who attended this year’s breakfast, said she has taken advantage of many of the resources the center offers, noting, “They help you with the whole person, and I totally appreciate that.”

A longtime supporter of the Women’s Center, Carol Curtis, the guest speaker at the breakfast, talked about her professional journey, which started at TCC more than 30 years ago as a student. Today Curtis is president of Noah Enterprises, a $20 million general contracting business.

“Part of Noah’s paying it forward has involved working with the TCC Women’s Center,” Curtis said. “Over the past seven years, that has included participating in several “Women Can!” events as a panelist and a presenter. I encourage each of you to reach out and get involved; be that person that helps to pay it forward and makes the difference in a woman or a family’s life and their future. ”

Curtis has worked with the Women’s Center as a mentor and recently with TCC’s Office of Development to create a match donation program for the Women’s Center.


From right, Portsmouth Mayor Kenneth Wright
with Daniel DeMarte and Susan James

Following Curtis’ address, N.E.W.S. member Amy Spangler announced the 2013 Mary Pat Liggio Student Leadership Award winner, Monica Harps-Wilson. This award, named for the founding coordinator of the Women’s Center, recognizes an academically successful student who has demonstrated leadership on campus and in the community.


Monica Harps-Wilson with President
Edna Baehre-Kolovani
Harps-Wilson persevered though the legal studies program at TCC, overcoming depression and even a semester without textbooks. She dedicated the award to her 7-year-old son, Zander, also in attendance, and talked about the value of attending Women’s Center events. “Being accepted to and participating in the Women Inspiring Self-Empowerment leadership development program and eventually serving as a career coach for N.E.W.S. are the highlights of my community college career,” Harps-Wilson said. Urging students to take advantage of all the opportunities the Women’s Center presents, Harps-Wilson concluded with, “From here, you really can go anywhere. I’m living proof of that.”

Laura Soulsby, educational programming and communications coordinator for the Women’s Center, presented the inaugural Dr. Alexsandria Manrov STEM Awards to students Kristine Adriano and Kathleen Copeland-Fish. Named after the former TCC biology professor, the award, made possible by a gift bestowed to the Women’s Center, recognizes the academic achievements of women pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering or mathematics. Adriano graduated in May with an associate of science in engineering with plans to pursue mechanical engineering at Virginia Tech this fall. Copeland-Fish, who also graduated from TCC in May, will transfer to George Mason University to pursue her bachelor’s in environmental science.


Manrov award-winner Kristine Adriano, left, and Laura Soulsby

Manrov award winner Kathleen-Copeland Fish,
right, with her sister Molly

Following the awards, Soulsby went off the program to invite Catherine Wass, N.E.W.S. chair, to the stage. On behalf of N.E.W.S. and the Women’s Center, Wass surprised former N.E.W.S. chair Peggy Layne with an art piece (created by Ed Francis, an instructor at the Visual Arts Center) to thank her for her many years of service to the Women’s Center. Layne, recently appointed to TCC’s Educational Foundation Board, is stepping down from N.E.W.S.

Layne closed the program stressing the need for support in order for the Women’s Center to be at the forefront of women’s leadership. She explained that financial support and volunteering time and energy can make a significant impact on the lives of TCC students just like Monica Harps-Wilson. Layne concluded by thanking attendees and event sponsors, including U.S. Trust, Financial Designs of Virginia, Optima Family Care, N.E.W.S. members, and ambassadors.

Following the breakfast, U.S. Trust’s Jane Short, a longtime supporter of the Women’s Center, said she continues to be inspired by its mission, “It starts with one woman but spreads to one child, one campus, one nation, one world.”


Wass, left, surprises Layne with a gift
from the VAC