June 19, 2012 | Borough of Manhattan Community College
The spirit of sisterhood was truly embraced when 50 female BMCC students joined staff and faculty members for the 11th Annual Women’s Leadership Conference (WRC) and Retreat.
The event, held the weekend of June 8th, was developed and coordinated by the Women’s Resource Center and Sisterhood Society. The corporate sponsors were L’Oreal USA and Maybelline New York.
This year’s theme was “What’s Your Story? How Can You Make it Better?” and provided programs to develop women’s leadership skills.
Day One of the conference and retreat began with a Friday morning check-in Breakfast at Richard Harris Terrace.
The attendees then boarded a bus to Fairview Lake YMCA in Stillwater Township, New Jersey, where they spent the rest of the weekend attending workshops focused on fitness, leadership, confidence, and more.
Each participant received a purple leadership T-shirt and hat, a backpack, a Maybelline gift bag, and, of course, endless support from other women. The students brought their own sleeping bags, pillows, and additional overnight supplies.
Liberal Arts major Mariem Sanoe was the first to register for the event.
“It’s great to just do something different—and this conference is free,” she said at the Breakfast. “BMCC has so many amazing opportunities; you just have to find them, by volunteering and meeting people.”
Noura Mohamed, a Liberal Arts major, registered because she “loved the idea of empowering women.”
“I’m looking forward to bonding with other women and stepping out of my comfort zone. I’ve never been camping before,” said Mohamed, who was eager to “learn more about myself through this entire experience.”
Sporting a purple ‘Sisterhood Society’ hat, Debbie Parker greeted guests at the Breakfast.
“Sisters!” she shouted, as the students shouted back, “Warriors!”
“That’s what I’m talking about!” said Parker, embracing the Sisterhood Society empowerment cheer.
Street smarts prevail
The Leadership Conference and Retreat’s Guest Speaker was Lisa Carvalho, Vice President of Public Relations for Maybelline New York.
Carvalho said she was a “proud community college graduate,” with a degree in Theatre from Long Island’s Suffolk Community College.
After graduating, Carvalho realized acting wasn’t for her.
“The business world is where I belonged—but I still love theatre and have a creative job that allows me to incorporate aspects of theatre and the arts.”
Carvalho shared some of her favorite inspirational quotes and anecdotes, and made many students smile when she said although she loved her job, that morning she’d rather be talking with BMCC students “than talking about lipsticks.”
“I once commented to a colleague that I felt intimidated by my Ivy League co-workers,” said Carvalho. “That co-worker told me to never speak so negatively about myself and that you can’t teach someone how to be street smart or how to read people. He said, ‘give me someone smart, not someone intelligent.’”
Carvalho encouraged students to find a mentor; male or female, famous or not famous. It could even be a TV personality or a politician.
Carvalho, who described herself as a “voracious news reader” is a big fan of MSNBC anchor Rachel Maddow.
“She’s one of my mentors. Who knows, maybe Rachel will meet me for lunch one day…or maybe not…but what if? You never know. Sometimes mentors come from the most unexpected places.”
Another one of Carvalho’s mentors showed her the importance of moving on with life after a mistake or trauma.
“Ask yourself, ‘what’s the worst that can happen?’ Accept your failures and learn from them,” she said. “Everyone has had something traumatic happen to them, when they’ve felt they just can’t go on one more day. That fear or loss will drive you forward. Never go back, it’s about going forward.”
The new supermodels…
After reminding the women about the importance of giving back by reciting the quote, “We can’t build our future without helping others build theirs,” Carvalho got down to business by talking about the power of kinship, friendship and connecting with other women.
“I like the quote: ‘Be yourself because everyone else is already taken,’” she said. “Don’t look at other women and say ‘ugh.’ There will always be someone richer or prettier than you are.”
Carvalho relayed a story about appearances and confidence.
“I remember watching Cher on TV when she first started out and thinking, she’s not really beautiful but wow, does she stops a room when she walks into it,” recalled Carvalho. “It’s about perception. Of course, it’s not always easy. I will tell myself to stand tall, but I still have poor posture sometimes,” she admitted, adding that although she’s wary of social networking sites that focus on appearances, “Geeks are the new supermodels.”
Carvalho said she recently had lunch with “a group of very accomplished women who’ve worked on Broadway.”
She was shocked that “every one of them said they were still trying to prove themselves and accomplish more. I kept thinking, ‘What? You? No way!’ And all the women were humble and gracious. Nothing replaces the kinship of smart women.”
Think like a man, but…
Carvalho’s husband is a former professional basketball player who taught her to, “Think like a man, but act like a woman.”
Carvalho said, “I’d watch my husband and his teammates break each other’s noses and then have a drink together. My point? Be as competitive as you want with women, but she’s still your sister and your friend. And don’t run away from tough love—sometimes we need tough love to remind us we’re not little girls. Additionally, remember that you come first—the people who love and support you will be there for you no matter what.”
After her motivational speech, officers from Sisterhood Society presented Carvalho with a purple hat, inducting her as an honorary member.
“I promise to wear this,” said Carvalho, reminding the students that, “as women, we share some of the same foundations as nurtures, mothers and businesswomen. This weekend, stick together and don’t drive each other apart.”
Suzie Davidowitz, SVP Corporate Communications at L’Oreal USA, also attended the check-in Breakfast. A cherished friend to BMCC, Davidowitz helped coordinate the guest speaker, and arranged for L’Oreal to sponsor mentoring breakfasts in the past for BMCC students.
Michael Hutmaker, Dean of Student Affairs, and Dr. Sadie Bragg, Senior Vice-President of Academic Affairs, also addressed the “sisters” before they boarded the bus.
“This experience is an extension of your educational experience. Mix, mingle and be a resource to each other,” said Hutmaker.
Bragg said that role models are everywhere; she had one in college who encouraged her to never abandon her love of mathematics.
“I really wish I could come along this weekend,” she added.
The BMCC students, staffers and faculty members enjoyed their time at the YMCA campgrounds, sleeping in sleeping bags, going on hikes, engaging in crafting projects, and more. One group task was to create a sister-inspired, colorful quilt.
The weekend’s itinerary included health sessions led by Dr. Lesley Rennis, Zumba classes led by Tiah Barnes, and Story Power workshops led by Dr. Precious Sellars-Mulhern.
Lucky student Umeda Narzieva, a nursing major, won the weekend’s biggest raffle prize—a Kindle, kindly donated by L’Oreal USA.
“I was so excited when I won the Kindle—more books for me!” she said, adding that she enjoyed meeting new sisters, attending Zumba and empowerment workshops, and rowing on the lake.
“We were all there in sweatpants and sweatshirts, very casual, laid back, no makeup, it was nice to just be on a campgrounds outside of Manhattan without feeling any pressure to look or act a certain way,” said Narzieva, adding, “I’m definitely going again next year; it was wonderful.”
The WRC and Sisterhood Society would like to thank and acknowledge: L’Oreal New York, Maybelline USA, Dr. Olivia Cousins, Virginia Gadson, Sussie Gyamfi, Penelope Jordan, Dr. Aimee Record, Donette Sandiford, Dr. Precious Sellars-Mulhern, WRC staff and volunteers, student leaders, and co-facilitators Tiah Barnes, Daisy Mendez, Michelle Payne, Dr. Lesley Rennis, Cecilia Scott-Croff, SGA, and Vice President Marva Craig.