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President Ann McElaney-Johnson welcomes guests, students and alums to the 2015 Women's Leadership Conference at Mount Saint Mary's University.

Self-determination & fierceness: The 2015 Women’s Leadership Conference

On Saturday, Sept. 19, more than 400 emerging women leaders had the opportunity to learn first-hand lessons from rocket scientists and nonprofit heroes. Acclaimed chefs and media leaders. MacArthur geniuses and business gurus.

What brought all this talent and wisdom within one place? The fourth annual Women’s Leadership Conference at Mount Saint Mary’s University in Los Angeles.

The tone for the conference was set from the start. The day’s opening speaker was Lateefah Simon, program director of the Rosenberg Foundation. A high-school dropout at age 16, she became executive director of San Francisco’s Young Women’s Development by age 19 and the youngest-ever recipient of a MacArthur Genius Fellowship.

Simon shared how she followed her convictions to become a leader in her community: “If I give you nothing else today, if there are policies or things you find innately wrong, remember that we don’t just win justice, we fight for it,” she urged the crowd of guests, students and alums.

“Be fierce, because if not you, who? If not now, when? Always keep your self-determination and your fierceness. These things will keep you alive when you think all else has failed.”

Practical skills were also taught in interactive workshops and networking opportunities abounded. The true strength of the conference showed in the depth and breadth of experience possessed by the dozen-plus women who shared their personal insights on succeeding, failing and rising again.

“You need to be visible, you need to be at the table,” said closing speaker Marcie Edwards, general manager of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. “Be confident. Capability is not knowing everything already. It’s having the belief in yourself that you can figure out what needs to be solved.”

The Women’s Leadership Conference grew out of the Women’s Leadership program at Mount Saint Mary’s, one of the oldest women’s leadership programs in the nation, celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2015. The program offers a wealth of leadership opportunities to University students, preparing them to become women of influence and agents of change.

“At Mount Saint Mary’s, our promise to our students is that we will empower them to reach their highest potential to better themselves and others. To help them discover what it takes to be unstoppable,” says Mount Saint Mary’s President Ann McElaney-Johnson. “This leadership conference allows us to extend that promise to the public and to offer a true leadership experience for women from all over southern California.”

To learn more about the public leadership conference, visit To learn more about student leadership opportunities on campus, visit Women’s Leadership & Student Involvement.

Below are the talented leaders who shared their time and first-hand experience as part of the 2015 Women’s Leadership Conference:

Lateefah Simon, program director, Rosenberg Foundation (opening speaker)
Kajsa Alger, chef, Mud Hen Tavern (lunch ‘n learn speaker)

Marcie Edwards, general manager, LADWP (closing speaker) 

Stacy Blake-Beard, professor of management, Simmons College

Marie Da Silva, founder, Jacaranda School for Orphans in Malawi

Carolyn Horwitz, executive editor, Entrepreneur magazine 

Jessica Jackley, co-founder, Kiva 

Rosalyn Kempf, director of women’s leadership, Mount Saint Mary’s University 

Olympia LePoint, rocket scientist and author 

Ann McElaney-Johnson, president, Mount Saint Mary’s University 

Gina Montoya, vice president, Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund

Kate Mulling, co-founder, Thrive Market 

Lindsey Trimble O’Connor, professor of sociology, CSU-Channel Islands

Sande Smith, director, ConnectEd: The California Center for College and Career

Linda Davis Taylor, CEO, Clifford Swan Investment Counsel

Nichol Whiteman, executive director, Los Angeles Dodgers Foundation 

Bri Winkler, reporter and meteorologist, ABC7

Alum panelists:

Susan French '79, health educator, St. Anne's Maternity Home

Brittney Plascencia '12, assistant director, social media and commuter services, Student Programming and Commuter Services at Mount Saint Mary's University

Margarita Rivas '03, Office of the Attorney General, California Department of Justice

Avygail Sanchez '01, senior business development representative, Parsons

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