HACC Hosts first ‘Women United’ Event during Women’s History Month

HACC gave their female leaders an opportunity to share their personal experiences, educate students, and promote female diversity and inclusion.

Caleb Steindel, Contributing Writer

Workplace challenges, discriminatory experiences, and occupational achievements were among the top issues discussed when six diverse female HACC leaders gathered virtually last month to honor Women’s History Month.

HACC, Central Pennsylvania’s Community College, gave their female leaders an opportunity to share their personal experiences, educate students, and promote female diversity and inclusion in the form of the school’s first-ever Women United event. Taking place at noon on March 4, the roundtable-style discussion was led and moderated by HACC Assistant Director of Student Development Cindy Strawbridge and featured a diverse group of women leaders at HACC. Attendees were limited to HACC members, and they had the opportunity to ask some of their own questions at the conclusion of the event. 

With classes still primarily online and the campus mostly closed, HACC leaders utilized virtual communication to convey the experiences of women and minorities to their students. According to the organizer, Cindy Strawbridge, the purpose of this dialogue was to discuss the challenges, celebrations, and complexities that women experience in leadership in a way that both informed men and encouraged and inspired women.

“Women’s History Month is an annual declared month that highlights the contributions of women to events in history and contemporary society. Therefore, I wanted to celebrate the Women of HACC who are making a difference here and in the surrounding community. Each one of these ladies was chosen because of their commitment to impact, equip and encourage both students and colleagues alike,” Strawbridge said.

Three doctors of philosophy were present; Radecki Appiah-Padi, Ph.D. and Assistant Vice-President for Learning Enhancement, Anju Singh Ph.D. and Adjunct Faculty, and Armenta Hinton, Ph.D. and Vice President of Inclusion and Diversity. Academic Advisor Laura Nalls and Assistant Vice President of Facilities and Real Estate Kathleen Brickner were also present.

One of the most common topics addressed by the women was perseverance. Each panelist stressed the importance of pushing forward, making themselves known, and breaking barriers. 

“There are going to be delays, there are going to be obstacles, there are going to be challenges,” said Dr. Singh. “Be okay with detours and delays, but don’t give up on your dreams just because you’ve had challenges. The final destination is the grave, what’s the rush to get there?”

Vice President Brickner agreed, stressing the cruciality of becoming self-sustaining in your field of choice. 

“Do your research and gain experience where you want to be. Be the one for someone to go to when they’re looking for knowledge.”

Strawbridge asked the panelists how they achieved success in their specific fields and what steps they took to get there. Nalls responded by speaking to the importance of immersing oneself in clubs, internships, and unique skills, but networking was at the top of her list. 

“I really urge you to network – you don’t know where life’s going to take you, so networking is so important to get you into the path you want to follow,” she said. 

Brickner added that surrounding yourself with those whom you look up to is also important.

“My first mentor was really my mom,” she said. “Listen to those around you. Establish a good mentorship with others. You don’t always want to be the smartest person in the room.” 

Most of the panelists also spent a great deal of time addressing the challenges and obstacles that they face on a consistent basis. Singh said that she had a traumatic background that included immigration from India, domestic abuse, being a single mother, and losing a brother to suicide. Nalls said that her motherhood challenge turned into motivation, and Appiah-Padi said that being true to yourself and not compromising who you are is sometimes the most difficult challenge of all. Armenta Hinton also encouraged women to not hesitate to “shake things up” when needed. 

“Allowing your actions to speak for you isn’t always possible. Sometimes you have to make noise,” she said.

One audience member asked the panelists how men could join the fight in promoting female diversity and inclusion, a question that sparked a relatively lengthy dialogue.

“If there is a woman in your circle, take a moment to applaud her and recognize her for her effort,” said Singh. Don’t feel intimidated or insecure if a woman is doing well.”

One male HACC leader that Strawbridge took time to recognize for promoting female diversity and inclusion was John J. Sygielski, Ed.D., HACC’s President, who is known by many as “Dr. Ski.” Sygielski himself was present as an audience member for the duration of the event, and he in turn thanked the women for their participation. 

“On behalf of the entire leadership team at HACC, we honor you and celebrate you for promoting diversity at HACC,” he said.

The event’s attendance number peaked at around 25, a total that pleased Strawbridge given the time of day. She added that more Women United events are likely to occur at a later date. 

“I was very grateful for the turn-out considering it was over the lunch hour,” she said. “Based on the positive feedback we received, I am sure we will have more in the future.”

The audience included some faculty, but it was mostly comprised of students, including plenty of men who appreciated the insight into experiences they weren’t familiar with.

“I learned that there are women out there who still feel like they don’t have the proper recognition or livelihood they desire in a ‘men’s world’”, said 2nd-year communications major Dylan Bowman. “I know there will always be, but I am surprised that some women still feel held down even after all the progress that has been made. It was very interesting to learn of their stories.” 

However, Bowman also said he expected a more action-oriented roundtable. “I wish that they would have talked more about what they see the world doing about it or they themselves doing about the whole situation rather than just talking about their personal life stories.”

Another HACC communications student (who wished to remain anonymous), expressed her gratefulness for the event and her desire to learn more. 

“I’m so grateful to Cindy and all the panelists for their inspiring narratives,” she said. “I’m looking forward to learning more and connecting with them soon!”

For more information on Women United and future Student Involvement events, attendees are encouraged to visit the HACC Events Calendar. Click here for additional information on Women’s History Month.


This article was originally written March 12, 2021.