Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment will hold a Women in Natural Resources: Leading, Mentoring, and Connecting conference Oct. 27-28.

Designed for students, alumni, working professionals, and faculty and staff, the conference will highlight the important role women have to play in natural resources management and provide opportunities for participants to engage with others to be inspired, challenged, and prepared to pursue or further their careers.

“We held a national diversity conference in June 2013, and this conference is in part a continuing effort by the college to enhance our understanding of diversity and inclusion in natural resources,” said Paul Winistorfer, dean of the College of Natural Resources and Environment.

“Women are underrepresented in our disciplines, and we are bringing inspirational and successful women to campus to interact with our faculty, students, and alumni,” he continued. “Response to the program has been nearly overwhelming, as registration filled in just two weeks. We are pleased that the college can bring this important event to women in every stage of their careers.”

The conference, which takes place at The Inn at Virginia Tech, will feature keynote speaker Carolyn Finney, assistant professor of geography at the University of Kentucky. Finney, author of “Black Faces, White Spaces: Reimagining the Relationship Between African Americans to the Great Outdoors,” has built a career exploring how diversity and privilege impact participation in decision-making processes designed to address environmental issues.

Emily Hutchins, the college’s chief advancement officer, got the inspiration for the conference while traveling last summer.

“I was hearing from alumni and working professionals that they really wanted to connect with current students,” she said.

“When a small group of us attended the Virginia Women’s Conference hosted by Sen. Mark Warner last fall, we came back energized to attempt something similar in the college,” Hutchins continued. “We quickly formed a planning committee and hit the ground running. The process has truly been a cross collaboration between staff, faculty, students, and alumni, with a diverse range of voices at the table.”

“One of our main goals is for the conference to serve as a platform for students to connect with women working in the field of natural resources,” Hutchins explained. “We want to provide all the participants with tools to succeed in their careers.”

The conference agenda, designed to appeal to a range of interests, includes guest speakers, concurrent sessions, and networking opportunities, as well as field trips, an evening campfire mixer, and a sunrise yoga class.

The eight concurrent sessions were designed to help participants hone real-world skills. In Negotiation Skills for Women in Natural Resources,  participants will learn salary negotiation skills and practice those skills in a mock negotiation. Forging Pathways in Natural Resources Careers, a discussion on exploring the career opportunities available to women in natural resources, will help both students and professionals navigate the process of establishing their careers.

Other concurrent session topics include the value of mentorships, creating an inclusive environment, exploring diversity, and money management. A moderated panel discussion features college alumni from a range of backgrounds who will share tales of leadership wins, losses, inspirations, and frustrations.

Kathy Abusow, president and CEO of Sustainable Forestry Initiative Inc., an independent, nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting sustainable forest management, will give the lunchtime address, titled You Don’t Have to Be a CEO to Lead. Abusow is a founding member of Nature Canada’s Women for Nature initiative — a partnership of 75 women of influence who demonstrate their passion for nature and pass their values on to others to drive change.

Participants can choose from several field trips: an urban garden tour to discuss the use of native plants in developing a backyard wildlife habitat; a visit to The Cube, a black box theater at Virginia Tech’s Moss Art Center, where visitors can walk through a 3-D simulation of a severe storm; a trip to Kentland Farm to see a demonstration of how unmanned aerial systems (commonly referred to as drones) aid in natural resources management and research; and a tour of the Center for Packaging and Unit Load Design’s facilities to explore how packaging influences everyday life.

A key element of the conference will be fostering mentorship relationships between current students and alumni. “We’re very cognizant of opportunities to engage alumni in meaningful ways, and we want to connect them with our students,” Hutchins explained.

The conference was made possible by donations to the college’s annual fund.

“When donors support the college annually, it allows us to do things like this,” Hutchins explained. “We need to spread awareness that every gift matters, no matter the size, and alumni participation is a critical component to helping us maintain the No. 1-ranked natural resources and conservation program in the nation.”

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