A special event showcasing the legacy—and, more significantly, the future—of women’s leadership was also the occasion for announcing the launch of a new center focused specifically on advancing women at the forefront of supply chain and business, engineering and technology, infrastructure and design, and space and astrophysics.
“We are building a special place for women leaders to come together and learn, innovate, challenge old models, and create new possibilities,” said Ann M. Drake, Chicago business leader and president of Lincoln Road, an organization dedicated to women’s leadership. Drake is also the Chair and President of the new Women’s Leadership Center rising at Williams Bay, WI, located just outside the city of Lake Geneva. “In this special setting,” said Drake, “women leaders will be able to spark the high-impact ideas and connections that lead to global solutions for complex problems. I want the Center to be a place where conversations happen that change the world.”
The celebration pulled together women—many with storied careers in academia, politics, business, space exploration, engineering, architecture, technology, the arts and more—to share personal stories about the challenges and opportunities they have faced while advancing in historically male-dominated fields. Approximately 300 guests gathered in the outdoor pavilion on the campus of George Williams College of Aurora University in Williams Bay to hear their dialogue as part of the celebration, which took place September 4, 2022.
The event opened with a grounding in the unique history of the area, offered by Dr. Rebecca Sherrick, President of Aurora University. Explaining that “History is Herstory,” Dr. Sherrick connected the Ice Age origins of Geneva Lake to Native American traditions in the region to the emergence of Williams Bay as the birthplace of modern astrophysics plus numerous educational and church-affiliated summer camps. “If we don’t tell the stories of the roles women played in all of this, we can’t know who we really are,” said Dr. Sherrick.
Other speakers added to that theme. Hillary Clinton—former New York state senator, U.S. Secretary of State, Democratic Party nominee for president, and global advocate for women’s rights—talked of attending weekend retreats in Williams Bay and being inspired by a youth pastor who encouraged them to make a difference in the world, a mission she carried forward into her career. The willingness of women to literally push the boundaries of time and space was explored by former NASA astronaut Cady Coleman and by University of Chicago astrophysics professor and Dean of the Physical Sciences division Angela Olinto in a conversation led by Chevy Humphrey, President and CEO of the Museum of Science & Industry. Women’s leadership in the arts was demonstrated by Yuan-Qing Yu, one of the finest violinists in the world today and the first woman to hold a concertmaster-rank position in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
A dialogue about the future of women in leadership was moderated by Dorrit Bern, renowned retail executive, who led a conversation with four rising stars in their respective fields—Aria Griffin (architecture), DeLaine Mayer (sustainability), Yailynn Melendez (supply chain), and Dijita Sundi (engineering)—about the values their generation holds dear as they go forward. The celebration concluded with a conversation between two honored, award-winning designers—branded interiors designer Eva Maddox and internationally renowned architect Jeanne Gang—about the power of the spaces we build to shape human interaction.
A highlight of the celebration was Ann Drake’s announcement from the stage that Jeanne Gang and her firm, Studio Gang, have been chosen as the architects for the Women’s Leadership Center. In Ms. Gang, says Ms. Drake, she found a creative partner who immediately understood her vision for the Center and who shares her respect for the site, plus is aligned with her mission of supporting women in leadership. “Jeanne’s sensibility for sustainable design that’s both beautiful and inspiring is extraordinary,” said Ms. Drake. “Her team is developing concepts that mesh perfectly with the history and feel of this special piece of land.”
The event concluded with a reception that encouraged speakers and guests, Williams Bay leaders and supporters of the new Center, to mingle. Among the guests was a group of local high school girls who’d been invited to witness these living examples of women leading and making a difference.
“Can we please go to more events like this?” one of them begged her chaperone.
Learn more about the Women's Leadership Center at Williams Bay at womensleadershipcenter.org.