Last night I had the honor of attending Susquehanna University’s 2023 Women’s Leadership Panel, centered around celebrating authenticity. The panel was part of the Women’s Leadership Initiative supported by the Signe S. Gates ’71 and Dawn G. Mueller ’68 Women’s Leadership Fund. We got to hear from three amazing alumni who serve in leadership positions: Dr. Courtney Allen ’08, Megan McMullen ’02 Blue, and Ashley Spoto ’17.

Dr. Courtney Allen is the director of community standards and student engagement at Harrisburg Area Community College. While at Susquehanna, she studied public relations but got her doctoral degree in educational leadership from Clemson University. Courtney talked about the importance of integrity and being human. She discussed how when dealing with people you oversee, you need to remember that the way you say something matters. On the job search front, she told us that while first impressions are incredibly important, it’s just as important to stay true to yourself and not “sell yourself out” to an organization that doesn’t respect your values. When dealing with adversity, Courtney said you have to recognize the need to engage differently with different groups and push back when necessary. It’s alright to make people uncomfortable sometimes because that’s how they learn that what they did or said wasn’t right. She also urged us to do something everywhere we go. “Legacy is loaded,” she said, encouraging us to find a way to leave our mark.

Megan McMullen is the senior director of the major gifts team at the White Plains Hospital. She double majored in advertising & public relations and political science at Susquehanna, then later earned a master’s degree in public policy from George Washington University. Megan explained that humans are incredibly complex creatures, and “we are not a fixed person.” She explained the need to be an advocate for yourself and not be discouraged from not succeeding. Mistakes are life’s biggest learning opportunity, and failure means you tried. Megan motivated us to think back and ask ourselves what life has taught us. For herself, she said she learned that people always remember how you made them feel.

Ashley Spoto is the manager of technical function upscaling at L’Oreal. At Susquehanna, she self-designed her luxury brand communications & marketing major, then attended Rutgers’ Graduate School of Education to earn a master’s degree in education in adult and continuing education and teaching. Ashley started out by urging us to remember that we are not objects and to not let ourselves be perceived that way. Finding out who you are is more important than climbing any corporate ladder. She remembered the pressure to be involved in as much as possible in college and reminded us to prioritize self-care practices. “Self-care is glamorized now,” she said and empathized that self-care isn’t just fancy skincare routines or having a bowl of ice cream. Self-care is helping yourself become a better person, and that can be as simple as taking a shower or reading a book. On adversity, she urged us to not let anyone tell us we can’t do something, with a reminder that you also don’t have to achieve something to prove someone wrong. Ashley told us that there’s still plenty of time left in our lives to build a legacy. She described her desire to be remembered for more than what she accomplished, citing a funeral where she had an awakening. “I don’t only want to be known as a hard worker,” she said. She asked us, “Who are you outside the people you serve and your accomplishments?” reminding us that we need to “wake up in the morning and just be you.”

When asked about the silent competition between women in the workforce, all three panelists stressed the importance of lifting each other up. Courtney emphasized the need to “run your own race” instead of comparing yourself to others. “Jealousy is a ‘them’ problem;” she said, “competition can be healthy and still push you.” Citing her participation in the panel as an example, Megan encouraged us to always “pay it forward” in our lives. The playing field between men and women is not yet even, and the best way to appreciate the help from other women we’ve received in our journey is to help others in return. Ashley spoke of comparing herself to her own siblings and concluded that everyone’s life path is different; at the end of the day, you just need to be yourself.

The closing remarks included my Professional Development professor, Professor Shuman, sharing her “knowledge nuggets” from the night. She highlighted Courtney’s mention of the importance of your word, Megan’s urge to think about how you are a leader, and Ashley’s discussion on authenticity. Moderator Christiana Paradis ’11, Susquehanna’s director of Title IX compliance, brought the panel to an end by encouraging us to find our call to action from the night and to always be vigilant of opportunities around us.

I had the pleasure of sitting at Dr. Courtney Allen’s table at the reception after the panel. While waiting for our food to arrive, we got to exchange stories about how we balance relationships with our views of the patriarchy and about her encounters with prejudice in her career. I also had the opportunity to make friends with a few other student leaders and exchange advice about the internship search and course selection. I loved getting to hear girls talk about their Global Business Perspectives teams and laugh with them over the memories from our own time in the group-project-based first-year seminar class last fall.

I am so happy to have taken part in this year’s Women’s Leadership Panel, and I can’t wait for the next empowering Leadership Initiative event!

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