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ASPEC hosts dinner to empower students

By Ashlyn Fransen '24
Published April 3, 2023
Categories: About Eckerd, Alumni

The Academy of Senior Professionals at Eckerd College celebrated International Women’s Day, March 8, by hosting a women’s leadership and empowerment dinner in the James Center for Molecular and Life Sciences Wrenn Hall. The event was sponsored by Eckerd’s Women’s Resources Committee and Rigg Center, ASPEC, and the General Education Program.

Students, faculty, staff and ASPEC members gathered to share a meal where sounds of chatter and clinking silverware filled the space as introductions were made and conversations began.

Three speakers offered insights regarding career paths and success in the workplace. The first, Melissa Seixas ’92, president of Florida operations at Duke Energy, was introduced by her faculty mentor from when she was a student at Eckerd.

Seixas talked about her liberal arts education and how it paved the way for her success in her long career at Duke Energy. She had graduated from Eckerd with a degree in American history and acknowledged how strange it sounded for a history major to work in the field of energy. But she went on to explain that her experience in the humanities has allowed her to serve as an interpreter, to translate the technical world. It also fostered her empathy, which is so important in customer service and enabled her to climb the corporate ladder.

She concluded with advice to students: “Eckerd is a very special place. Take advantage of this experience, and allow it to seep into everything you do.”

The second speaker was Dr. Jane Petro ’68, a surgeon and former member of the Eckerd College Board of Trustees. At this Dine and Discuss event, she ate with her first-year roommate. Petro talked about the evolution of women’s rights during the course of her career, especially in terms of leadership. As a result of discriminatory gaslighting, she and thousands of other women don’t often think of themselves as leaders, she said. In preparation for this event, she began to challenge that belief pattern in herself. She was the “first woman” to accomplish many impressive feats during her career as a surgeon. She also was the only “out lesbian” in many of her circles for quite some time. Petro said that curiosity has been a fantastic gift in her life. That’s what got her where she is, and she has her liberal arts education to thank for that. She concluded, “Eckerd has made me proactive and thoughtful.”

The final speaker was Wendy Snyder, an ASPEC member and a former distinguished lawyer. She used her time to give empowering pointers to students. She told the entire story of her career, all the shifts and changes she had to overcome while earning her powerful reputation. The most notable tip came about halfway through her speech when she said, “Make sure the company you work for shares your ethical values, and if it doesn’t, leave.” This notion segued into the question-and-answer portion of the event and facilitated discourse among all three speakers. They were equally passionate about fighting for what is right.

Junior literature and philosophy student from Birmingham, Alabama, Olivia Knowles asked the speakers for advice as she gazed out at the sea of possibilities. “I have no idea what I want to do with my life, but I know I want to do something,” she said.

Seixas told her to trust her instincts; Petro suggested focusing on the next right step instead of trying to plan for the rest of her life; and Snyder emphasized knowing what she’s worth.

Olivia said their words brought her great comfort, and she is excited to see what her future holds. “I only hope to be as successful as each of these women.”