Leadership summit returns to in-person celebration

The fifth annual Women & Engineering Leadership Summit welcomed students, faculty, staff and alumni to campus for networking and development opportunities

Danielle Lacey 
More than 120 people attended this year's event, which was the first time it had been held in-person since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
More than 120 people attended this year's event, which was the first time it had been held in-person since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Women & Engineering Center at the McKelvey School of Engineering hosted its fifth annual Women & Engineering Leadership Summit March 3-4. More than 120 students, faculty, staff and alumni came together for an opportunity to connect through conversation, learning opportunities and service.

This was the first year the summit was held in person since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The highlight of the summit was getting to connect with WashU alumni,” said Christina Alexakos, a sophomore majoring in chemical engineering. “Everyone I spoke to was open, supportive and willing to talk. McKelvey Engineering supports a strong network of women, and it was rewarding to meet them.”      

Dwana Franklin-Davis, who earned a master of information management in 2009 and is now CEO of Reboot Representation, gave an address and led a fireside chat at the summit’s welcome reception March 3. Franklin-Davis also serves on the school’s National Council.

“When Dwana was speaking, she told us that she was ‘born with confidence’ and that really struck me,” Alexakos said. “To be confident, you first must make the choice to believe in yourself. Hearing Dwana speak about her achievements with such pride and sureness was uplifting. Her attitude is one that I aspire to have.”

Cheryl Stoddard, who earned a master of engineering management in 2016, delivered the event’s keynote lecture March 4. Stoddard is president of Technology Integration Engineering (TIE) and has more than 25 years of experience in design and construction.

“Cheryl’s story of resilience and commitment to WashU is inspiring,” said Christine Dearmont, director of the Women & Engineering Center. “She participates in our Women & Engineering mentor program and continues to use her engineering skills as an entrepreneur in the St. Louis area.”


Following the keynote lecture, McKelvey Engineering faculty, staff and alumni presented panel discussions and workshops that covered topics such as allyship and career development.

“My favorite event was the sponsorship and allyship panel because of the insight and experiences discussed that I hadn’t heard before,” said Jean Brownell, a doctoral student in the Department of Energy, Environmental & Chemical Engineering. Sponsorship is when allies proactively advance the interests of others, including members of marginalized communities, by using their influence and network to build connections.

“I appreciated panel members discussing ways they have benefited from sponsorship, as well as how they try to incorporate it in their own roles,” Brownell said.

The summit concluded with a service project in support of the YWCA Metro St. Louis, the largest provider of services in the region for women who have experienced sexual and domestic violence. Attendees sorted donations, collected by Mastercard and the McKelvey Engineering community on behalf of the Women & Engineering Center, for women and families served by the YWCA.

The summit is one of many program options offered through the Women & Engineering Center, which aims to connect McKelvey Engineers through mentoring, events, networking opportunities and more.

“I’m excited for Women & Engineering to be a part of my tenure at WashU as a hub of support,” Brownell said. “Through the mentorship program, I have a great mentor who has already helped me make decisions surrounding my rotations.”

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