Bryant’s Women’s Summit empowers local women, students

Bryant’s Women’s Summit empowers local women, students

Ten Smithfield High School students attended Bryant University’s Women Summit last Friday to hear keynote speakers and attend workshops. Attending were, front row, from left, Taylar Graziano, Karleigh Lamoureaux, Jessica Nicholson and Megan Nicholson. Back row, from left, Dianne Carrie, Jenny Petiote, Jennifer Kroeung, Samantha Roasnio, Megan Hall, and Catherine Swanton. (Breeze photos by Jacquelyn Moorehead)

SMITHFIELD – Ten female Smithfield High School students attended the 22nd annual Bryant University Women’s Summit last week, sitting in the front row at an event intended to promote professional, personal and financial empowerment.

With 23 thought-provoking sessions to chose from, ranging from a variety of topics from “Developing the Power of You,” “Body Language: the Secret to Executive Presence,” and “Coaching and Mentoring Skills,” those who attended learned leadership skills and business strategies from top women executives and leaders.

With a theme of “Move Forward and Make Change Happen,” the sold-out Women’s Summit hosted keynote speakers such as Reshma Saujani, founder and CEO of Girls Who Code, Shelley Zalis, founder of OTX Online Testing Exchange, and international speaker Sarita Maybin, to lead a discussion about the education and leadership of women.

More than 1,000 women attended the event.

The Women’s Summit also held several networking events with guests speakers throughout the day, including a luncheon with Marie Ghazal, CEO of the Rhode Island Free Clinic.

“Right now, there is no more important issue than health care for all,” Women’s Summit Director Kati Machtley said.

Machtley said Ghazal is a “shining example to all on how to drive meaningful change that makes a positive difference in the lives of so many.”

Awarded Bryant University’s New England Businesswoman of the Year during the Women’s Summit last Friday, March 15, Ghazal spoke about how she managed to expand free, comprehensive health services to more than 10,000 patients each year on a $1.2 million annual budget, even opening a dental program for uninsured adults last year.

When Ghazal began running the clinic in 2010, lines of ill or injured people formed around it, reflecting the sad truth, she said, that more people needed treatment than the clinic could handle each day.

Ghazal said the clinic used a lottery system of letting people in, but said she could not shake the look of disappointment on the faces of the many who “lost” the lottery and would not be seen that day. It was heartbreaking, she said.

“I knew we had to change so everyone could have access,” Ghazal said.

To Ghazal, correcting the situation at the clinic, located at 655 Broad St. in Providence, meant using three life lessons she learned over the years: vision, perseverance, and people.

She said having a vision, such as seeing the need and possibility to change the way the clinic operated, and the perseverance to work to see her vision through, is how she was able to make change happen.

Ghazal said by adding trained volunteers and giving staff extra training, the clinic was able to see all the patients that came through the doors.

“I work with many great people,” Ghazal said. “Invest time and energy and work with people who you can learn with and learn from.”

Smithfield High School junior Jessica Nicholson said she found the speech especially empowering after presenting her own essay on the disparities between women and men in sports at school earlier in the day. The presentation left her feeling discouraged, and she felt the male students in her class did not agree with her arguments that women athletes are not always treated equally to men.

“All the guys in the room shook their head and rolled their eyes while I gave my presentation,” Nicholson said.

She said being at the Women’s Summit gave her a new perspective on her role in the world. She said she does not need the approval of the male students, and feels validated by her work instead.

“It’s empowering being here, being around so many women,” she said.

SHS Junior Karleigh Lamoureux said Assistant Principal Kenneth Hopkins chose students to attend the Women’s Summit based on their leadership skills, determination, and self-motivation.

Women’s Summit Director Kati Machtley, left, hands Marie Ghazi the Bryant University New England Business Woman of the Year award at the 22nd annual Bryant University Women’s Summit held Friday.