Recap of Otterbein University Event – Women & The New American Dream

by Sean Kesluk   •  

“We need to be the change we want to see, and we have to drive that change…We have a voice, and we need to exercise it.”   These were the words shared on stage by Kerrii B.  Anderson, former CEO and President of Wendy’s International, at the Opportunity Nation: Women & the New American Dream Summit at Otterbein University this month.  This message of empowerment was a common theme during a weekend of optimism and inspiration at what was by all accounts an incredibly successful event. 

According to the summit’s website, “Over 200 collegiate and community partners participated at the summit in regional dialogues about the role of higher education in ensuring future opportunities for women.  At the summit, we created an open collaborative space in which participants shared, re-imagined, and built innovative new pathways for women’s social, political, and economic mobility.  At the culminating Town Hall, we envisioned a strategic regional action plan for higher education and our partners to prepare women to succeed in the 21st century.”  

Opportunity Nation recognizes the critical role that both women and students play in the future of opportunity and social mobility in this country.  The Opportunity Scholars program engages and supports students across the nation in their work to raise awareness about these issues and generate real opportunity in their communities.  Hannah Bisig, Casey Buckler, and Theresa Hubbell are three student leaders at Otterbein University who helped put this incredible event together and elevate the pursuit and practice of these ideals.

Participants at the summit heard from speakers from an array of fields and backgrounds, including Jo Luck, former president of Heifer International, Chris Jansing, a current news anchor and veteran journalist on MSNBC, and Justice Evelyn Lundberg Stratton of the Supreme Court of Ohio.  Seminars and workshops held throughout the summit were geared toward cultivating “meaningful and sustainable community partnerships” to “unleash resources to transform the everyday experiences of women and girls,” according to the event program. 

Elizabeth Clay Roy, Deputy Director of Opportunity Nation, gave the welcome address to kick-off the day’s activities.  Promoting opportunity, social mobility, and expanding access to opportunity and the American Dream for women is an vital part of the ON vision.  Ms.  Roy expressed her hope that at the event “individuals from various sectors can feel they can make a difference…but also sense that there is a new partnership that they can make that they didn’t know about before.”  The event successfully highlighted our capacity both as individuals and as a community to affect positive change in our world.

One of the main organizers at the event, Melissa Gilbert, shared a powerful moment at this historic gathering of women and allies in the Midwest.  The “World Café” session included images on the table “of women chained to their houses and big bold words like POWER and DIVERSITY” drawn amongst them.  When posed questions about enhancing opportunity and leading social change, “like popcorn, the women stood up, one by one, sharing bold new strategies for social change work…From the teenager came the idea of a new mentoring program.  From the CEO, came the need for more alliance-building in her local city.  Networks are created in rooms like this, but are fueled by the innovative ideas generated by their participants.

Hannah Bisig, a student at Otterbein and one of the Opportunity Scholars involved in the event, described the inspiration she drew from the summit: “The summit was wonderful…I had the opportunity to meet with men and women with different professions and think through ideas in how to fight economic and gender inequality.”  Bisig also got the chance to lead a workshop with fellow Opportunity Scholar Casey Buckler and engage with other students: “It was inspiring to see younger girls getting involved in the topic…so they can better understand themselves and therefore be better at communicating and initiating action.”  

The leaders who gathered at Otterbein for this summit took an important and powerful step advancing the cause of economic opportunity and social mobility for more than just women.  The example they set paves the way not only for students and women, but also communities across the country to come together and challenge themselves to pioneer a new way forward.  The Opportunity Nation: Women and the New American Dream Summit at Otterbein University was a tremendous success, and I’m sure we can all look forward to hearing about again next year. 

Sean Kesluk

Opportunity Nation

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