Anonymous donor endows $200,000 to Women’s Leadership Symposium

Cecilia Gutierrez, CEO of Miami Children’s Initiative, speaks during the Women's Leadership Symposium in the Shalala Student Center Saturday morning. Erum Kidwai // Staff Photographer
Cecilia Gutierrez, CEO of Miami Children’s Initiative, speaks during the Women’s Leadership Symposium in the Shalala Student Center Saturday morning. Erum Kidwai // Staff Photographer

The annual Women’s Leadership Symposium (WLS), organized by the Butler Center for Service and Leadership in collaboration with other sponsors, reached a new milestone on Saturday. Thanks to an anonymous donation, the one-day symposium was endowed to honor one of UM’s most accomplished senior administrators, Vice President for Student Affairs Patricia Whitely.

Provost Thomas LeBlanc announced the $200,000 donation from “a Cane family” will endow the event, in perpetuity, as the Patricia A. Whitely Women’s Leadership Symposium.

“I am delighted to be here to honor my friend and colleague Dr. Patricia Whitely, vice president for Student Affairs at UM,” said LeBlanc while addressing the symposium participants. “She is a woman who embodies the ideals of the Women’s Leadership Symposium and exemplifies effective leadership in higher education.”

The donation will allow WLS to expand in future years. As Planning Committee Chair Mikayla Farr explained, being endowed means that the planning committee no longer needs to see budget as a burden and can consider initiatives like bringing speakers from across the country or catering to a larger student population.

“It’s really honoring to just be a part of a program that now has Dr. Whitely’s name attached to it,” Farr said. “I hope in the future the committee is able to dream big and let those dreams be accomplished, because WLS is definitely an amazing program and a lot of times, programs like WLS will struggle for funding just because it’s the nature of it. The fact that this program has been made a priority and that funding isn’t going to be an issue is very exciting.”

The 2016 WLS also came with a handful of new elements to enhance the participant experience. For the first time, the symposium took an all-digital approach by using Guidebook, an application that allows you to create an event and post the day’s schedule with session descriptions, among other features. The initiative was piloted during ‘Canes Summit,’ a fall semester leadership program, and proved to be extremely successful.

Farr also announced that a $500 scholarship would be available for one of the WLS participants. Farr explained that when the planning committee offered keynote speaker Cecilia Gutierrez monetary compensation for her talk, she declined, and proposed that a scholarship fund be created instead. Gutierrez is the President and CEO of Miami Children’s Initiative, a nonprofit organization that works to develop Liberty City. She shared her struggles and successes with participants on Saturday.

“The keynote speaker was beyond amazing,” first-time participant Jeremy Penn said. “Her story just absolutely blew me away. Every once in a while, you get a speaker that you just feel bare after hearing them and that was the keynote speaker for me.”

Besides the keynote speaker, participants took part in a networking brunch in the morning, two workshops with themes ranging from business etiquette to self-care, as well as wellness sessions to end the day.

“WLS really strives to serve as a catalyst for leadership development for both male and female student leaders,” Farr said. “We just want to empower student leaders and help them be comfortable with their own personal leadership philosophies and really help them start their journey of leadership development.”