The college welcomed nearly 200 students, alumni, faculty, staff, working professionals, and invited guests to the Inn at Virginia Tech for the Women in Natural Resources: Leading, Mentoring, and Connecting conference in October. “This conference was part of a continuing effort by the college to enhance our understanding of diversity and inclusion in natural resources,” said Dean Paul Winistorfer. “Women are underrepresented in our disciplines, so we invited inspirational and successful women to campus to interact with our faculty, students, and alumni.”

Alumni Panel
The alumni panel discussion “Lead from Where You Are” was very well received. Front row (L-R): Dana Zambrotta, Charisa Morris, and Anne Zimmermann. Back row: Michele Deramo (moderator), Teresa Martinez, Kathryn Prociv, and Bettina Ring.
It was inspiring and invigorating to be around so many smart, interesting, accomplished women in the natural resources field.

Emily Hutchins, the college’s chief advancement officer, said, “I was hearing from alumni and working professionals that they really wanted to connect with current students. The process of hosting the conference has truly been a cross collaboration between staff, faculty, students, and alumni, with a diverse range of voices at the table.”

Backyard tour
Alumna and retiree Suzie Leslie (in orange shirt) welcomed attendees to her home to learn about creating an urban backyard habitat. Other outings included a drone demonstration at Kentland Farm, a virtual reality severe weather tour in The Cube at the Moss Arts Center, and a tour of the Center for Packaging and Unit Load Design.

The conference agenda, designed to appeal to a range of interests, included guest speakers, concurrent sessions, an alumni panel, and networking opportunities, as well as field trips, a vendor showcase, an evening campfire mixer, and a sunrise yoga class.

Keynote speakers included author Carolyn Finney, an assistant professor of geography at the University of Kentucky, who has built a career exploring how diversity and privilege impact participation in decision-making processes designed to address environmental issues, and Kathy Abusow, president and CEO of Sustainable Forestry Initiative Inc., whose address was titled “You Don’t Have to Be a CEO to Lead.”

A key element of the conference, which was made possible by donations to the college’s annual fund, was fostering mentorship relationships between current students and alumni. “We’re very cognizant of opportunities to engage alumni in meaningful ways, and we want to connect them with our students,” Hutchins explained. “When donors support the college annually, it allows us to do things like this. Every gift matters, no matter the size.”

Women's Conference Photo Booth
Attendees enjoyed the conference photo booth, including (L-R) Amy English, Julie Spapperi-Morton, Michelle Prysby, and Becky Winters.

“This conference was absolutely amazing,” said alumna Sara Murrill, conservation program coordinator for the Student Conservation Association. “It was inspiring and invigorating to be around so many smart, interesting, accomplished women in the natural resources field. Women face unique challenges in our careers, and it was great to be able to get together for a conference like this — it was both a bonding and empowering experience.”