Georgetown University Women in Leadership, a club founded by two current sophomores, is only in its second year on campus. Yet, the young student group has already partnered with the Office of the President and Bloomberg L.P. to put on an all-day conference featuring 28 speakers, ranging from journalist Alex Wagner and the inspiration behind Olivia Pope of “Scandal,” Judy Smith, to journalist Maria Shriver (CAS ’77), the former first lady of California.
The Own It Summit, led by Co-Chairs Kendall Ciesemier (COL ’15) and Helen Brosnan (SFS ’16), will take place in the Rafik B. Hariri Building on Saturday.
Events co-sponsored by the Office of the President usually take place in conjunction with another academic department or administrative arm, like University Information Services or the Office of the Provost. It is relatively rare for the president’s office to so prominently join with a student group for an entirely student-run event.
The Office of the President referred all comment to the Office of Communications, which sent a statement clarifying that the conference would be broadcast online Saturday.
“Once we had gotten Bloomberg as the official sponsor of the event, that partnership opened a lot of doors for us. For some reason, Georgetown all of a sudden wanted to be involved,” Ciesemier said. “It suddenly became a big thing on everyone’s radar, and everyone was talking about it.”
Brosnan, who completed two Bloomberg internships spanning nearly half of 2013, pitched the summit to the company’s events team last semester. After receiving the sponsorship, the summit’s organizers connected with university administrators to discuss the possibility of expansion.
“Bloomberg came on and they had talked about a media plan and a press plan and all these sorts of things like expanding the conference to more than we had imagined in the beginning, which was awesome,” Brosnan said.
GUWIL has worked with the Office of the President, the Office of Advancement, the Office of Communications and the Office of Financial Affairs to develop the summit.
Provost Robert Groves, Vice President for Mission and Ministry Fr. Kevin O’Brien, S.J., Chief Information Officer Lisa Davis and Senior Advisor to the President for Faculty Relations Lisa Krim are among the summit’s hosts. University President John J. DeGioia is both a speaker and a host for the event.
The $20 tickets went on sale Feb. 28 and sold out by the next day. The conference released 15 additional tickets April 1.
Over 100 leaders were invited to present their viewpoints at the conference, with Saturday’s summit featuring 28 speakers from a variety of fields, including politics, media, business and technology. Although most invitees declined, the feedback was largely positive.
“Most people were more than happy to do it, but a lot of them had conflicts,” Own It Summit Director of Speakers and Host Committee Liz Buffone (COL ’14) said.
The summit’s organizers utilized their connections with female business leaders to create a large network of potential speakers.
Ciesemier started by reaching out to eBay Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer Richelle Parham, whom she met at a Google conference during her freshman year.
“I reached out to her just for advice and I thought that maybe she’d come, but I didn’t even ask her if she’d come. We set up a time to talk on the phone and she said she would love to come,” Ciesemier said. “I hadn’t assumed she would want to just because she has no relation to Georgetown, but she was super pumped about it.”
Parham connected the organizers with Smith, the crisis management expert who served as the inspiration for Olivia Pope of “Scandal.” The conference attracted Kara Swisher (SFS ’84), a technology columnist for the Wall Street Journal, who also connected GUWIL with her wife, Megan Smith, a vice president at Google, as well as both former CEO and Chairman of America Online Steve Case and Case Foundation CEO Jean Case.
Through this kind of networking by GUWIL members and between speakers, the Own It Summit expanded its list of participants to the final 28.
Shriver, who founded the Shriver Report, which focuses on cultural and societal changes affecting women, was one of the first people to sign up for the host committee to serve as a moderator last summer. After promoting women’s leadership initiatives in California, Shriver wanted to expand her efforts to her alma mater. She already participates heavily in the community, including speaking at an Office of Advancement event in Los Angeles last year. Her daughter, Christina Schwarzenegger (COL ’13) graduated last May.
“I had met her … and she told me that she had wanted to start something like this at Georgetown, or do a women’s conference at Georgetown,” Ciesemier said. “As a first lady of California, she had done a lot of women’s conferences. This is a very natural fit for something that she would want to be involved in.”
Dee Dee Myers, who served as the first-ever female White House press secretary during the first two years of President Bill Clinton’s administration, is one of the event’s keynote speakers and will be presented with the Own It Award at the summit.
“[The award is] given to a woman who really exemplifies a 21st-century leader and owns all of the hard responsibilities that come with her job, but most importantly … we’re giving it to a woman who is a ‘first’ in her industry or a ‘first’ in her position,” Brosnan said.
Steve Case and Jean Case will give the other keynote presentation.
The event will also include four panel discussions focusing on policy, media, business and science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Throughout the day, participants will attend experiential sessions hosted by speakers that will focus on key issues such as self-promotion, salary negotiation and women of color.
“We want to have a lot of like-minded men and women come together and gain this new sense of empowerment and confidence to go set the world on fire,” Buffone said.
GUWIL plans to continue to work with the university in the future to promote female leadership at Georgetown.
“[The university] really wants this to be not just a one-year thing. They’re rallying together all these different groups of people to make a much more succinct and sustainable women’s leadership initiative on campus,” Ciesemier said.
Although Summit committee members have not yet begun plans for their post-summit endeavors, Ciesemier said that she envisions unifying pre-existing efforts to promote women in leadership at Georgetown. Apart from the summit, GUWIL has continued its meetings and programming as a student group.
“We should see some real unification happening after the summit and a more formalized effort,” Ciesemier said. “The goal is to create an umbrella organization that would house all of these different initiatives.”
Such pre-existing efforts include an initiative led by Davis to promote leadership among female faculty members.
“I’m an advocate for women leaders in any capacity and am especially proud of the GU women who put together the Own It Summit,” Davis wrote in an email. “Their leadership in putting together the summit and rallying men and women across the country to participate exemplifies the positive impact that can occur when women take ownership of a larger societal need.”
Correction: An earlier version of the article stated that the summit would take place in Gaston Hall. It will be held in the Rafik B. Hariri Building. Additionally, Richelle Parham did not connect organizers with Kara Swisher. Swisher expressed interest to better connect with her alma mater.