Women’s empowerment panel: Local leaders bring advice to business students

Category:  News
Wednesday, April 4th, 2018 at 5:12 PM
Women’s empowerment panel: Local leaders bring advice to business students by Hannah McDonald

Thursday night, Pogue Student Center hosted two events to complete the celebrations of Women’s History Month, one of which was the Women’s Empowerment Panel. 

The newest installment of this annual panel hosted a brand new group of women from the local area who were leaders in their businesses, organizations and community.  

Put on by the school of business, the panel took place in the Pogue theater at 6 p.m., in front of a nearly full house of students — both under graduate and graduate — faculty, staff and alumni.  

The four local women invited to speak – Debra S. Hayes, Shannon Hokaj, Joy Fronzoli Knapp and Hannah Kirby – worked in businesses and non-profit organizations in and around the Erie area. Led by Dr. Jingze Jiang and Dr. Shuang Feng of the business department, the panelists offered insight into their experiences as leaders, women and entrepreneurs through a series of nine questions.  

Those nine questions were focused on three highlighted areas, according to the event description: challenges and opportunities for female entrepreneurs and leaders, strategies for starting and managing a woman-led business or organization, the risk taking for female entrepreneurs and leaders, and mentoring and networking.  

Through this, a discussion into these women’s lives was opened to the students. 

Hayes was the first woman introduced. She has been working in the financial sector since she “was very young," Hayes explained.  

The panel moderator, Jiang, went on to explain that, “Hayes is currently the assistant vice president and client advisor for PNC Wealth Management,” and works doing investment management, retirement planning and investment brokerage services, among other things.   

Kirby sat to Hayes’ left on the panel table. Kirby began her career in engineering. After just about a decade of this, Kirby decided she didn’t just want to be involved in her community, but engage the community as well.  

“What I realized was that I needed community engagement,” Kirby said, going on to explain the difference between community engagement and community involvement. Involvement is participating in activities, volunteer work and other programs. Engagement is being the force that initiates these activities and brings people of the community together, so they can then be involved. 

“What better a way to engage the community than serving coffee? Everyone loves coffee,” Kirby said. “So that was really kind of — that was the switch for me,” Kirby continued. 

Kirby decided to open Ember + Forge, a coffee shop on State Street in Erie, Pennsylvania three months ago.  

While Kirby is bringing in business to build community and Hayes is managing individual’s personal economies, Knapp is working to strengthen an economy most of us interact with daily but unknowingly.

Knapp “is the co-chair of the Northwest Pennsylvania Green Economy Task Force,” Jiang said. “NWPAGE (pronounced new page) is a collaborative network of resources and partnerships committed to promoting the development of the regional green economy.” 

This field of work mixes green technology and eco-friendly initiatives that not only benefit the environment, but also businesses.

The fourth panelist, Hokaj, the owner of Earth Shine in downtown Edinboro, could not be in attendance due to a family illness, but was still able to share her experiences with the audience due to a pre-event interview with the panel organizers. 

The majority of students in the audience were business students. One, Lindsey Baker, was coming to the panel for the second time in her college career.  

“I am a business administration major with a concentration in marketing. I went to the women’s panel last year due to it being an extra credit opportunity for one of my classes, and I went again this year for a reason beyond that,” Baker said. “I went to the panel again this year, because I found the panel to be a knowledgeable experience of hearing what it’s like in the outside world to run, or work, in a business from people who have had on-hand experience.” 

“What stuck out to me at the panel was the discussion of passion.” Baker continued: “They’ve always known what they wanted to do, and that, no matter how long or hard the road was, that they were too passionate to give up their dream. I found that to be inspiring, because passion was the sole purpose of their success, and that they did whatever they had to do to get there.”

Hannah McDonald can be reached at eupnews.spectator@gmail.com.

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