Behind the Scenes at the Simmons Leadership Conference

On Wednesday April 23rd Simmons hosted its 35th Annual Simmons Leadership Conference. The conference hosted a number of inspirational speakers, including Entertainer Rita Moreno, Biological Anthropologist Dr. Helen Fischer, Journalist Rana Foroohar, Astronaut Mae Jemison and Humanitarian Activist Zainab Salbi, to name a few.

With Hillary Rodham Clinton as the keynote speaker, the conference sold out within a day. However, a number of Simmons students, alumnae and staff were able to volunteer at the conference, and I was lucky enough to be one of those volunteers. This opportunity to have access to these powerful and influential women was truly priceless.

One of the biggest benefits of volunteering at the Simmons Leadership Conference was the ability to take advantage of all the opportunities the conference makes possible. The volunteer hours are generally divided into morning and afternoon shifts, allowing volunteers to view the presentations when they are not working.  I worked the morning shift and was able to spend the afternoon listening to a number of amazing lectures.  

One of the popular breakout sessions that I was able to sit in on was Dr. Helen Fischer's presentation, The Female Mind: The Biology of Leadership.  During the presentation, Dr. Fischer described how women's biologically based aptitudes for gathering information, taking a broader perspective, and plotting a long term course are essential  leadership qualities. This lecture proved to be a perfect companion to the coursework discussed in my Leading Individuals and Groups course.

I also had the opportunity to watch the vivacious Rita Moreno.  Moreno amazed the audience by sharing her story while singing and dancing on stage, despite being in her 80s.  As a winner of every major entertainment award (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony), Moreno was able to rise to success in the face of discrimination and typecasting within the entertainment industry. Moreno's strength, wit, and passion were inspirational.  

As an additional bonus, all volunteers were given the opportunity to stand in on Hillary Rodham Clinton's keynote speech.  Clinton spoke eloquently about her dedication to helping women.  She described her continued fight for equal pay and a fair living wage, and encouraged all women to continue to challenge the economic discrimination we still face.  Clinton also described her work with the Women in Public Service Project (WPSP) which she founded in 2011.  She particularly highlighted Simmons' involvement with Mount Holyoke College and Smith College in hosting the upcoming two-week institute, "Reconstructing Societies in the Wake of Conflict: Transitional Justice and Economic Development".  The project will bring together emerging women leaders from post-conflict societies who are working to rebuild their communities and promote sustainable economic livelihoods following political violence and human rights violations.

Although the presentations were by far the highlight of the conference, an equally valuable experience as a volunteer was being able to connect to the wider Simmons community.  Prior to the conference, volunteers were gathered for a training session, during which I was able to make amazing connections with people in the Simmons community I would have never met otherwise.

The greater Simmons community is also able to benefit from the Simmons Leadership Conference, as all proceeds from the event goes to fund scholarships for Simmons Graduate students. This additional scholarship funding allows Simmons to continue inspiring leadership well past the conference.

The Leadership Conference, had volunteers from several of the graduate programs, as well as staff members from various departments on campus.  The varied assignments allowed me to expand my knowledge about the school and community, and network with other Simmons students I would not normally meet.

I truly loved being a volunteer (despite the early morning start) and it was clear that the feeling was shared by many.  While the volunteer positions were in great demand this year (thanks to the keynote speakers), it is clearly a treasured experience that draws volunteers year after year.   Many of the organizers and managers have been volunteering for the conference for over a decade, and  were able to pass on their passion and experience to the first time volunteers.  I can't wait to volunteer again at next year's conference