Women of Lehigh gathered for the Soaring Together Women's Summit to hear a keynote from Jackie Joyner-Kersee and participate in a number of breakout sessions led by their peers. Here is what they said about the full day experience.

Julia Pardee speaks with a womanJulia Pardee ’21
Venture Associate, Cyber Mentor Fund
Member, Young Alumni Committee

“It’s really helpful to be around women with completely different backgrounds, who are in completely different industries than I am, to talk about the problems that we're facing. …It's at first disappointing to see we’re facing similar problems, but it's also really reassuring to hear actual strategies that have worked from them and how far the world has come since when they were first starting out and graduating from Lehigh. You sometimes have the feeling that what you have to say isn't as important or as insightful as you think it should be. But that doesn't mean it's not worth saying. Your voice should always be heard. Hearing that truth from really established women – and having them call out my insecurities -- was really helpful and supportive.”

Kendall O'Brien speaks into a microphoneKendall O’Brien ’84
Lehigh University Trustee

“In the two sessions that I went to, it was amazing how everybody was so open. They shared their personal stories. They shared their challenges. Everyone was so supportive, which was, I think, the spirit of what we were hoping for when a group of women started talking about this.”

Patricia Stephenson stands in front of the Soaring Together backdropPatricia Stephenson ’78 ’08P
Breakout session leader
Retired Medical Officer, Cigna Healthcare

“This event reinforced the power of networking and connecting us. Everybody in the room got together to encourage each other and lift each other up. It was just so inspiring, which is why I think this is just so important for Lehigh to bring women together. We're only going to succeed by connecting and working together."

Raven Gaddy speaks with womenRaven Gaddy ’15
Breakout session leader
Administrative Officer, U.S. Department of Justice
President, BALANCE

“Lehigh has this vast network of amazing, accomplished, intelligent, rockstar women. And we need more opportunities to connect with one another and to be able to enjoy one another's visions and company and insights. My advice would be not to let your past Lehigh trauma, whether that's based on your gender or your race or any identity, stop you from engaging with the Lehigh community. There are so many wonderful women who are part of this institution, so don’t let your past experiences shortchange you from experiencing the family that we have.”

Ginelle Jackson speaksGinelle Julien-Jackson ’94
Breakout session leader
VP, Global Services, Service Excellence, and Experience, Johnson & Johnson

“I used to say things like, ‘I’ll sleep when I’m dead,’ or, ‘I eat stress for breakfast.’ I promise you, when you're laying in a bed five hours before you have a life saving surgery, you’re not going to remember the big assignment. You're not going to remember the projects and the promotions. You're going to be asking yourself, have I lived my life to the fullest, and told the people I love that I love them… We need to bring this conversation to the table and check on each other, and be willing to be vulnerable and to give ourselves grace. As much as we were there to co- facilitate these sessions, we got so much out of that. The beauty of bringing women together like this is the networking: No matter where you are in your career or your journey there's always information that we can share. We were making business connections right there in the room, outside of the topic, just because of who we are and what we're doing. And we agreed, this is the reason why we do this.”

Mary Beth Tully poses for a photoMary Beth Tully '84 '21P '21P
Breakout session leader
President, Lehigh University Alumni Association Board

“I'm continually impressed by the depth and talent of Lehigh women, and the breakout session demonstrates that. We’re community of women who can take on everything that Lehigh prepared us to do. I think everybody has moments when they feel like they shouldn’t be in the room they’re in, and what you have to remember is this: if you're in the room, you're absolutely qualified to be there.”

Mayra Juarez Gutierrez stands in front of the Soaring Together backdropMayra Juarez Gutierrez '15
Associate, Wells Fargo

“It was really valuable to get to speak to women at different stages in their careers, about some of the same things that affect me, and hear their advice. Sometimes when you are in a male-dominated industry, it feels a little lonely because you are the only woman. But doing things like this conference helps me realize that other people are facing the same thing and it’s not uniquely you dealing with things like gender biases. So I think it was really valuable just to have that discussion and hear how other people deal with it, because it just helps educate you and the women who come after you.  I guess I never really thought about that. I always thought, Oh, you just have to get to the table. But these women, who are years ahead of me, are sharing that that's not all that’s important. It’s not just getting to the table. It's what you can do once you’re there.”

Sandra Denton smiles Sandra Denton '83
Organizer, breakout session leader
Lehigh University Trustee
Vice President, Channels and Alliances, Pipefy, Inc

“From a big picture standpoint, I wanted attendees to have three takeaways. Number one is that Lehigh can provide value to them as alumni. Number two is that they're not alone – meaning they're not the only ones with the same challenges. And then number three is that they do have a voice and they need to stand up for themselves.

My favorite executive question is this: If the universe gave you one extra hour in the day, every day for yourself, how would you use it?  I learned to ask that question because I was overwhelmed by so many things. People would always say, you're always helping others, so what are you going to do for yourself? I had to stop and think about that. I needed to carve out time for myself, because the only way everyone else can get the best part of me is if I can be my best self.”

Jessica DeSantis-Berg stands in front of the Soaring Together backdropJessica DeSantis-Berg ’03
College Counselor, Basecamp

“It’s incredibly meaningful to be able to get together with women and to discuss the challenges that we face and possible solutions because we normally don't have those outlets. It's just refreshing to have that moment of expressing some of the feelings that you have, and also supporting each other and being able to say, ‘Yes, I felt that too.’”

Jessica Huertas sits at a table and smilesJessica Huertas ’94
Clinical Operations Lead, Accolade, Inc.
Former president of Lehigh University Alumni Association
Former president, BALANCE

“There’s power when women get together to get things done. There’s a very palpable energy to knowing what we can do and what we can accomplish together.”

Jessica McCarthy sits at a tableJessica McCarthy ’04
Founder and Clinical Director/Clinical Neuropsychologist, Elements Psychological Services

“I think we as women need to be very clear on our ‘why’ – why are we doing what we're doing and what is influencing our lives… Can we be mindful about our own values, our own boundaries in terms of who we are and our growth and who we want to be personally and professionally? When we can use our Lehigh resources and our own personal communities and friends and tap into that, that’s what’s going to help us grow to the next level.”

Nishika Vidanage-Lulejian poses in a busy roomNishika Vidanage-Lulejian ’07
Breakout session leader
Public Health Professional, CDC
Board member, Lehigh University Alumni Association

“It’s just so invigorating to be around women from all different walks of life and different career paths, but we're all kind of yearning and looking for the same thing like support and just being energized by women and what our fellow peers are doing.”

Kerry Mallet makes a point while speakingKerry Mallett ’15
Content Program Manager, Tinuiti
Member, Young Alumni Council

“I used to work in nonprofit space. So for me, I love that Jackie Joyner-Kersee was able to share her experience growing up and that, after all the success that she's had, she gives so much of her time and resources to people who need it. That was something for me that was really inspiring - and staying grounded in that way too, and not just giving lip service, but really investing and supporting people.”

Lynne Davis shares an idea at a tableLynne Davis ’87 ’17P ’23P
Breakout session leader
Managing Director, Global Head Business Continuity & Disaster Recovery, Jefferies

“I’ve gotten to points where I've had to say, ‘You know, I'll do this, but it doesn’t mean it’s part of the track to managing director.’ Then, hearing your boss agree or say, ‘hey, it's gonna help me in my career’ – that can help you understand the value more, and maybe actually turn something that was a non-promotable task into a promotable task because of how important it is to the organization. But it's about having to create transparency and understanding.”

Celeste Varricchio smilesCeleste Varricchio ’73
2023 Eugene R. Grace Award recipient

“The Women’s Summit was, for me, the perfect kickoff to all the festivities coming for Reunion.”

Maureen Rinkunas listens intentlyMaureen Rinkunas ’02 ’04G ’14G
Director of Open Innovation, Corbion
Board member, Lehigh University Alumni Association

“One of the things that I just heard across so many of our speakers in the panels was the importance of staying true to who you are, and being confident as a female leader.”

Deidre Martin stands before the Soaring Together backdropDeidre Martin ’06
Real estate agent, Van Dyk Group
Former Lehigh University Trustee

“Jackie Joyner-Kersee was great – so thoughtful in her responses. It was nice to hear about her experiences and the women who influenced her to get to where she is. The day’s breakout sessions were really awesome. It was great to hear and share our stories. I was able to learn and take away something meaningful from them. It was also great to network and meet so many women from different backgrounds.”

Christine Seymour smiles in front of session participantsChristine Seymour ’89 ’21P ’25P
Breakout session leader
Senior Director, Global Regulatory Chemistry Manufacturing and Controls, Pfizer Inc.

“You have to have confidence in yourself. If you don't walk in the room and sell yourself, who is going to?”

Alissa Marushak speaks before a groupAlissa Marushak ’02
Breakout session leader
Executive Director, Individual and Family Plans Product, Aetna, a CVS Health Company

“75% of female executives have experienced imposter syndrome in the workplace. And where men with impostor syndrome will dial back, women just go, go, go – we'll keep accomplishing and doing things, waiting for the recognition to come or whatever kind of validation we think we need. As women, we assume that we would come across as bragging or egomaniacs if we acknowledged our accomplishments and told people all the great things we’ve done. But all of the men are doing that, so you do it, too! If you don’t do it, someone else will, and they’re going to get ahead of you.”

Ellen Stone leans on a podiumEllen Stone ’87
Breakout session leader
Executive Vice President, Cable Marketing, NBC Universal

“Self-doubt really inhibits productivity. It inhibits collaboration. Because if you have self-doubt, you're not talking. If you're not talking, the other people can't actually innovate off of what you're saying. So imposter syndrome affects not just you, but your entire team at work.”

Jessica Scott makes a point during a discussionJessica Scott ‘15
Breakout session leader
Associate Partner, Global Sustainable Supply Chain Executive, IBM Corp.

“A broader idea of sustainability, which we really define as fulfilling the needs of current generations without compromising the needs of future generations across the economic side of things, environmental side of things, and social side things”