An Overview of Defining Her Future 2017

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Earlier this month, Women in Business held our 2nd annual Defining Her Future: a Women in Leadership Conference. This year, the conference generated over 350 attendees consisting of Cal Poly students, visiting professionals, local high school students and other SLO community members. Over the past few weeks, the Wire spent some time getting to know the featured speakers at DHF and shared several speaker biographies in anticipation for the event. During the conference itself, each WIB Wire team member covered a specific portion of the event in an effort to provide a comprehensive collection of takeaways from this year’s program.

Read below to get an in-depth debrief of the keynote speech, breakout sessions and the Dynamic Diversity Panel. The Wire also focused on the ancillary events that were not so readily visible to the average conference goer, including the high school program and the recipients of the Defining Her Future collegiate scholarship.

Video Credit: Level Studios


By Nikki Kong

In her keynote address titled Millennials Rule the World, 24-year-old Stacey Ferreira shared her myriad of experiences as an entrepreneur, author, and student. Ferreira moved chronologically, speaking first of MySocialCloud, an online repository for usernames and passwords that she founded with her brother. In a single summer, Ferreira successfully launched the company, gained one million dollars in funding from Sir Richard Branson, Alex Welch and Jerry Murdoch, and paid back the four-thousand dollar loan she procured from her father in order to meet Branson in the first place. In the subsequent years, she co-authored a book on millennial entrepreneurs, went to, and subsequently dropped out of, college, and received the Thiel Fellowship. Lastly, Ferreira spoke of her most recent endeavor: a mobile app that allows employers and millennials to work together to create flexible work schedules.  

Though her resume is quite impressive, Ferreira’s job history is not what would make the most lasting impression on DHF attendees. Rather, it is her determination and entrepreneurial spirit that persisted after the auditorium cleared out.

Ferreira is bold, unapologetic, and incontrovertibly committed to ushering in a new generation of innovators. Indeed, she believes that even the prospect of failure is not something to fear. Her advice? “Fail early and often, don’t give up, and reach out to people in your support system.”

There is no question that Ferreira lives dynamically, and with her keynote address, she encouraged others to follow suit. She is the personification of every positive trait expounded in entrepreneurial literature, and even of some that aren’t. In concluding her speech, she had one, final piece of advice for the attendees: believe in yourself, and the rest will follow.

Breakout Sessions

By Aliyah Purnell

The first breakout session featured Chris Kite, Taryn Stanko, and Dana Curran — three professionals from vastly different industries. Between these three women, they have degrees from top schools like Cal Poly, MIT and UC Irvine, as well as decades of job experience.

Chris Kite, the VP of Global Business Finance at Oracle, spoke about the concept of adaptability in her talk titled ‘Adaptable You’. She explained the correlation between being a good leader and being flexible and resilient, as well as how to increase self awareness in practicing adaptability.

In Phillips Hall, Dr. Taryn Stanko, a professor of management at Cal Poly, led a workshop that focused on the important skill of negotiating. Negotiation is vital to career advancement, yet so few women negotiate or know how to do it effectively. Dr. Stanko gave practical tips on how to successfully negotiate with future employers, leaving attendees with tools for success in future negotiations.

In the PAC, Curran, a Cal Poly alumna, delivered a speech on a subject familiar to many professional women: imposter syndrome. Considering some of the most high growth industries like technology, engineering and business are still male dominated, even the most intelligent and qualified woman may still feel inadequate. Curran was able to share key pieces of advice with attendees, like how the best time to ask questions is in the beginning of your career and knowing your ultimate goal will help guide you.

In the second breakout session, attendees had the choice of listening to a panel, a duo, or a single speaker on more personal topics. The first breakout consisted of a panel of female professionals from Stryker, a biomedical technology company. Jessica Winter, Annie Heath, Kim Larson, and Shane Parington spoke on the topic of work life balance. Considering all panelists have had more that 15 years of work experience and achieved senior-level roles, each provided valuable advice on how they’ve achieved work life balance themselves and the importance of keeping it a top priority.

The second breakout consisted of of two recent Cal Poly graduates, Jacqlyn Westhusing and Sara Rianda. The pair held an open, question oriented session, which centered around the transition from college into the workforce. Being only three and five years out of college, they were able to relate well to the questions asked by student attendees. Both speakers stressed the importance of self-awareness, being a “yes” person, and trusting yourself and your decisions.

Lastly, Nicole Huffman’s session was titled “The Art of Resilience.”  With the experience of presenting at TEDxCalPoly last year, Huffman spoke to the process in which she developed her resiliency and emphasized how we are all shaped by our experiences. Nicole’s session was relatable to those unsure about where they want to take their life and career, and reassured that, even after mistakes and failures. we all have the capability to bounce back.

The Dynamic Diversity Panel

By Catherine Ryan

The Dynamic Diversity panel concluded the conference, providing insights from industry leaders that challenged our definitions of diversity and the roles we can play as allies and advocates.  A guided discussion of issues facing women and minorities in the workforce gave attendees the opportunity to reflect on commonly held beliefs and misconceptions of diversity. The key takeaways from the panel include:

Reassess your definition of diversity. Avital Arora, panelist and Senior Director of Engineering at Salesforce, provided a standout example of this, explaining that when YouTube first began, every video taken by a left-handed person was uploaded upside down because everyone on YouTube’s team was right-handed. Diversity is more than race and gender, and can be the difference between a good and great company.

If you want an advocate, be an advocate. When you enter a new company or team, look up, see if there’s anyone above you who will advocate for you. If there is, seek this person out and foster that relationship. If there’s not, recognize the need for one and become that advocate for others.

Diversity programs are not working. These programs are widespread but one dimensional, and they will not work without inclusion. It’s not enough to invite people into a company or team, but they must feel respected and valued through an inclusive culture that celebrates their differences.

Be open to others’ points of view to truly engage in discussion. The panelists used the recent presidential election as a distant example of if you find yourself in the minority opinion of a decision or viewpoint, try to understand the other side before engaging in debate.

Thank you to Christine Noffz, Charmaine Farber, Avital Arora, Caitlin O’Connor, and moderator Jana Colombini for an enlightening panel that challenged the audience’s understanding of diversity, and any lingering pre-conceived notions of what it means to be ‘diverse’.

High School Program

By Anjana Melvin

They nervously shuffled in, around 60 of them, into the PAC. Among the college mentors and other members of the conference was a group that looked a little different, a little younger, a little out of their comfort zone. But the sophomores and juniors from high schools around San Luis Obispo county, including Nipomo High, Grizzly Youth Academy, Arroyo Grande High, SLO High, Pacific Beach High and Morro Bay High brought with them boundless potential and the eagerness to learn about what the future could hold for them.

They sat in their groups, eating donuts and writing answers to questions like “What makes you smile?” and “What do you hope to be in 5 years?” on post-its that would be stuck on a board. Words like “successful” and “happy” took up most of the space.

After a couple ice breaker activities, the high schoolers were taken to see the keynote speaker, Stacy Ferreira.  

“The first speech motivated me a lot especially since she is so young and [because of] all that she’s accomplished, [especially] when she was talking about how she made the choice to move away from her parents and become financially independent,” Nipomo sophomore Taylor Roberston said. “That’s brave, especially for an 18 year old. I think that’s what most people were motivated by, was just that she had the courage to take that step and follow her dreams.”

Ferreira’s speech was easily a favorite among the high schoolers. Grizzly Youth Academy senior Natalia Lara felt that it touched her on a personal note.

“What I took away from the speech is to use my failures as motivation, instead of just ‘Oh whatever, I failed’ and that’s it,” she said.

After the first breakout session and a short lunch, the students were taken to the high-school panel, where they had the opportunity to to ask questions about admissions, advice about how to choose a college and what to do during the first year of college, among other things. The conference ended with a tour of Cal Poly campus, and the high-schoolers left motivated and with a sense of purpose.

Scholarship Winners

By Carolyn Pires

In honor of the 2nd annual Defining Her Future Conference, Cal Poly Women in Business invited women across campus to apply for the Defining Her Future Scholarship. In their submissions, the applicants were posed two questions:

  1. What does it mean to be dynamic? How do you exemplify this trait?
  2. How would you encourage diversity and inclusivity if you were promoted to a senior management position in the future?

The scholarships were awarded to three individuals who conveyed a keen passion for leadership. But it was not only their persistence in using their opportunity and intelligence to pursue positions of power and influence, it was also the conviction with which they stated the type of leaders they hoped to be. Collectively, the recipients identified respectfulness, open-mindedness, balance, compassion, patience, inclusivity, attentiveness, honesty, perseverance, and support as some of many attributes they hope to exemplify through their words and actions.

The first recipient was Clarisa Kusumonegoro, a Business Administration major with a concentration in Information Systems. Clarisa describes herself as a friendly, enthusiastic, strong person who knows how and when to lead and is not afraid of being exactly who she is.  She acknowledges challenges that she has faced that have led her to further accept that being true to herself and her values is more important than impressing others.

The second recipient is Yasi Agah, a third year Business Administration major with a Marketing concentration. Yasi knows that part of being a dynamic person is being open to change and other opinions. Being part of a sorority has taught her about teamwork, respect, and compassion for others among other things. She has embraced leadership in her life by being someone who considers the ideas of those she leads and making choices she believes in.

The final recipient is Robyn Ribet, a first year Mechanical Engineering student. Robyn identifies ways that she is able to pose questions and challenges for herself and others that help move organizations she a part of toward creative solutions. She has witnessed her ability to change the lives of others if she is willing to ardently pursue what she believes in.

Congratulations to Clarisa, Yasi, and Robyn, who eached received a $500 scholarship for their commitment to upholding the Women in Business values. Each recipient is dynamic in their own way and have great potential to become leaders we all would follow.


Thank you to all who attended or supported Defining Her Future this year — we hope to see you again next year!

Additionally, thank you to all of our sponsors!

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