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Students Organize, Manage Major Women's Conference on Campus

The annual Powerful Women Paving the Way conference—last year’s Penn State Outstanding Program of the Year—is well-attended by both women students and professionals. But what many people don’t know is that it is student-run and organized.
April 10, 2014

The annual Powerful Women Paving the Way conference—last year’s Penn State Outstanding Program of the Year—is well-attended by both women students and professionals. But what many people don’t know is that it is student-run and organized.

The conference is a program of the Women in Business (WIB) student organization, a group of Penn State women in the Smeal College of Business dedicated to increasing recruitment and retention of women in Smeal and who come together to discuss personal and professional issues pertinent to women in the corporate world.

Leah Virbitsky, the 2013-14 president of WIB, and Carter Tobin, this year’s conference director, have been working hard with their teams since last summer to make sure that this year’s conference is better than ever.

“We worked together over the summer to organize the date and the venue,” said Virbitsky. “We needed to ensure it was a good weekend, based on other Penn State-related events like Blue-White Weekend.”

Once the date and venue are set, the pair tackled the task of lining up keynote speakers and guests to lead breakout sessions. The students worked closely with Meg Brower, assistant director for corporate outreach in Smeal’s Career and Corporate Connections office, and a group of alumni to help identify possible speakers.

“Women in Business also has a lot of corporate sponsors, so we worked with them to find connections as well,” said Virbitsky.

Tobin added, “Every year after the conference, we also have people reach out and ask how they can help for next year, so that often gives us a pool of people to draw from.”

Virbitsky and Tobin have put a great deal of time into developing this year’s conference—approximately 20 hours a week, they estimate. But they haven’t done it alone. They’re assisted by about 35 general WIB student members, divided into five committees, who manage tasks related to marketing, donations, logistics, and more.

Though the conference planning process has been a very involved experience, Virbitsky and Tobin say that it has helped prepare them for the business world.

“There are so many details we didn’t really realize, and when you go on break, you still have to keep on top of planning details. It’s been really good experience for us to get ready to graduate,” Virbitsky said.

Tobin added, “It’s been really great for me personally because I’ve accepted a position at PricewaterhouseCoopers, and before I start I’ll have met the CEO [keynote speaker Bob Moritz].”

The Powerful Women Paving the Way conference will be held on April 24-25 on Penn State’s University Park campus. Melissa Gonzalez, founder & CEO of the Lionesque Group, will kick off the event with a networking reception.

Keynote speakers will include PwC’s Moritz as well as Beth Brooke, global vice chair of regulatory and public policy at EY, and Karen Carter, executive vice president of BP North America Gas & Power Trading. Breakout sessions will include tracks aimed at both professionals and students.

Tobin, a Supply Chain and Information Systems major, will begin her position in security consulting at PwC this summer. Virbitsky, a dual major in Supply Chain and Public Relations, has a summer internship in procurement with Altria.

For more information on the conference and to register, visit

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