Current Leaders Inspire Next Generation at NBHS Women’s Leadership Conference

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The next generation of women leaders from area high schools including North Branford, Branford, East Haven, and Coginchaug Regional gathered with current leaders to learn from their experiences, and find their own paths to success, during an inspirational Women’s Leadership Conference hosted by North Branford High School (NBHS) on March 26. Pam Johnson/The Sound

NBHS students (l-r) Isabella Warren, Aaliyah Rizzuti, and Lily Ardito moderated a discussion on stage with special guests Jessica A. Herrington, a U.S. Department of Defense criminal investigator/special agent; and Kris Ford, a natural foods industry chief marketing officer. Pam Johnson/The Sound

The large group of future female leaders in the North Branford Auditorium was inspired the day’s keynote speaker, State Senator Christine Cohen. Pam Johnson/The Sound

The next generation of women leaders gathered with current leaders to learn from their experiences, and find their own paths to success, during an inspirational Women’s Leadership Conference hosted by North Branford High School (NBHS) on March 26.

The conference invited area schools to register interested female high school students, from those who already embody the spirit of leadership to others who may be interested and inspired by hearing powerful voices. The day’s student participants included groups of high schoolers from NBHS, Branford High School, East Haven High School, and Coginchaug Regional High School, as well as a group of North Branford Intermediate School eighth-grade students.

The large group of future women leaders was inspired by the day’s keynote speaker, State Senator Christine Cohen. Immediately following Cohen’s talk, NBHS students Isabella Warren, Aaliyah Rizzuti, and Lily Ardito moderated a discussion on stage with special guests Jessica A. Herrington, a U.S. Department of Defense criminal investigator/special agent; and Kris Ford, a natural foods industry chief marketing officer.

As Herrington and Ford shared their experiences as women in leadership, and landed salient points about not apologizing, using your voice, taking time for self-care, work-family balance, and other advice for students, audience members showed their appreciation by waving expression cards stating, “HEARD!” and “YAAS!” or a hands-shaping-heart emoji image.

Ardito also served as the conference’s student emcee.

“I am beyond excited to be able to participate in this wonderful opportunity and learn from such amazing, powerful women,” said Ardito. “We are so grateful for the amazing women who have taken the time out of their busy schedules to join us today and help mold the future women leaders of tomorrow.”

The conference also involved impactful breakout sessions, in which smaller groups met with still more women leaders representing an array of professions and skills. The sessions and presenters included Feminism and Beauty Standards with Desiree Savo; careers in STEAM (a process-driven focus requiring soft skills in addition to academic STEM knowledge) with Kayla Jump and Lauren Paul; Women and Wellness with Julia Tucker Wood; Women in Healthcare with Dr. Victoria Chamberlin; Engaging in Your Community with Kris Ford; Imposter Syndrome with Gayle Sims; Sports Leadership with Becca Main; Intersectionality with Jessica Harrington; Fostering Positive Relationships with Carsin Connor; Mastering Strategic Communication with Megan Lee; and Vision Boards with Gayle Sims and Jill Feltus.

NBHS assistant principal Megan Lee said months of planning went into the conference. Lee kicked off the conference’s opening in the North Branford Auditorium with her thanks to all of the students, teachers, and presenters in attendance.

“We are so fortunate to have everyone in the room today celebrating what it means to be a woman in leadership,” Lee said.

In her keynote address, Cohen noted many of today’s high-profile women, from Vera Wang to Ina Garten, followed a decidedly non-linear path to success. Cohen also shared the story of her own student and corporate journeys. The paths eventually converged to bring her to her current roles as a State Senator, CEO of a family business started with her husband, and mom of three.

“What is so cool is that life is fluid,” said Cohen. “One pathway can lead to another, and another. There are no wrong turns, but different ways to get to an end result. So whether you’re sure of where you want to be in five or ten years, or simply have no idea, just allow for the exploration. Allow yourself to feel the potentiality of where you are in this moment; where you are in any moment.”

Looking out among the highly engaged young women in the auditorium, Cohen said, “As I stand here today, I see a room filled with future leaders. You’re all brimming with potential and limitless possibilty. You may face challenges along the way, in fact, I’m sure of it. But I urge you to never let those challenges dim your light or deter you from your path. Embrace every obstacle as an opportunity to learn and grow. For it’s through adversity that we often find our greatest strengths.”


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