On paper, Virginia Tech alumnae Holly Means and Mary Beth Keenan don’t seem to have a lot in common.

Means graduated in 1989 with a degree in accounting and for nearly 20 years was a top executive at Johnson & Johnson. Now an independent marketing strategy consultant, Means live in Newtown, Pennsylvania.

Keenan graduated in 2015 with a degree in human development. She resides in Blacksburg, Virginia, and is Reading Hour program coordinator with the Virginia Tech AmeriCorps network.

What unites these women is a desire to help other Virginia Tech women succeed personally and professionally.

Means and Keenan are two of the 14 women who make up the Inspiring Women in Lifelong Leadership (I WILL) council, a group that comprises alumnae, friends of the university, and faculty and staff representatives interested in developing leadership education opportunities for women at Virginia Tech and beyond.

For two years, the group has met and planned, quietly working behind the scenes to improve prospects for women leaders. Now, as the university celebrates 95 years of women at Virginia Tech, the I WILL initiative is ready to launch.

“Ultimately, the goal of I WILL is to foster a mindset, especially among young women, that leadership is about making a difference,” said Means. “As part of the inaugural advisory council for I WILL, I have been particularly inspired by young women, like Mary Beth, who have an incredible sense of self and purpose early on in their careers. I WILL provides an opportunity to support young women when they are developing skill sets for their personal and professional growth as they embark on their careers.”

Encompassing women from different backgrounds, ages, career fields, and expertise, the I WILL council is intentional in its focus on diversity of leadership opportunities and styles.

“I am excited that I WILL’s work will highlight the stories of many women, doing many different things, in many different spheres in our society,” said Keenan. “I find it to be true that if you do not see someone who looks like you filling a specific role, you are less likely to think you are capable of that role. By telling many stories, I WILL can show that women are capable of any role. Telling stories that give students wisdom, motivation, and excitement for life after college is so important.”

I WILL’s vision is simple: Inspire women; impact the world. The mission calls others to ignite, connect, and celebrate women, inviting them to make a difference in their own ways.

“At the heart of this phrase is the belief that everyone, and anyone, has the ability to make a difference in the world — for someone, for a community, for society,” said Means. “Even the smallest act can have a big impact. Everyone has the ability to lead in their own way.”

“I love the energy it invokes,” added Keenan. “It shows the power that we have as women to impact our worlds. By continuing to inspire each other, we can make bigger and bigger ripples for good in our communities.”

The success of I WILL relies on alumni involvement in the endeavor.

“Alumni can serve as a tremendous resource for current students in their college experiences, with information about career paths, key factors for success, and pitfalls to avoid,” said Means. “I have enjoyed reconnecting with Virginia Tech and seeing all the ways and spaces in which the university is leading. Virginia Tech is on an incredible trajectory under the leadership of President [Tim] Sands and leaders like Dr. Perillo [Vice President for Student Affairs Patty Perillo]. It is a privilege to serve. It is exciting to be a part of it all, and it even makes me want to be a student again.”

"The Hokie Nation and the stories of students, alumni, and friends, are so inspiring to me. They motivate me to keep seeking opportunities to write the story of my life in a way that will make my alma mater proud,” said Keenan. “I want to make sure that future Hokies can feel that same sense of hospitality I did and see the many routes to self-awareness and Ut Prosim (That I May Serve).”

Read the full interview with Holly Means and Mary Beth Keenan. 

Written by Sandy Broughton

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