“Surround yourself with women who will mention your name in a room full of opportunities.”

That advice, which teacher Vonita Brim said she once received from her mentor, is at the heart of Women Impact Virginia, a program that aims to connect professional women across the commonwealth and give them the resources they need to succeed.

Brim, a special education teacher in Martinsville, offered that guidance to a roomful of women in Patrick County as part of a series of regional events leading to the inaugural Women Impact Virginia Summit on Oct. 12. The summit, which will be held at the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden in Richmond, will feature a full slate of female speakers, including keynoter Nancy Howell Agee, president and CEO of Carilion Clinic.

“As we celebrate 100 years of women at Virginia Tech, the summit is an amazing opportunity to provide women the space to connect, learn from one another, and build a community of supportive leaders who strive to share their struggles and successes as inspiration for others,” said Sarah Wray of the Reynolds Homestead, which collaborated with the university’s Commonwealth Campus Centers in Richmond, Roanoke, Newport News, and Abingdon to develop the program.

Virtual tickets to the summit still are available for $79.

Women Impact Virginia was born at the height of the pandemic as professional women faced multiple challenges that left them struggling to find a balance between work responsibilities, caretaking, and personal obligations.

“We watched as thousands of women, and especially mothers, left the workforce or took demotions to just survive the global health crisis,” Wray said. “We wanted to provide a program that supported women during difficult times and created space to celebrate and share times of success and valued upskilling and resource sharing.”

During its first year, the program offered a quarterly half-day virtual series. This year, the program transitioned to in-person regional gatherings with each region tailoring its event to its own unique challenges and opportunities.

The Roanoke Center, for example, tapped into technology by teaming up with WoTech and the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center’s Game Changer Week for a hands-on coding activity taught by Ashley Sloan, lead instructor at Roanoke’s Qualcomm Thinkabit Lab. Meanwhile, the Richmond Center invited women from a variety of industries to discuss the importance of mentorship, the Newport News Center focused on the value of community, and the Reynolds Homestead addressed the challenges of leading in a rural environment.

Brim said an atmosphere where women can network, make change, and meet other like-minded women while encouraging them to win together was refreshing.

“I think at times women are taught to feel threatened by each other, which hurts us all. It was so nice to be around women from within my local community and surrounding towns whom I had not met but who were all equally transparent and willing to share themselves and discuss important topics that needed to be acknowledged,” Brim said.  

Mallory Tuttle, associate director at the Newport News Center, said each regional gathering provided an opportunity for women to come together to network, learn from one another, and explore the assets and challenges of their region while also building energy for the fall summit.

“The summit will bring those familiar faces back together and introduce new ones, building connections that help women find the confidence to push boundaries, take risks, and realize their full potential,” Tuttle said.

In addition to Agee, the summit will feature Nneka Chiazor, vice president of public and government affairs at Cox Communications, as well as other business leaders from across the commonwealth. A Hokies Highlights panel will include Anna Lomascolo, co-director of programming with the Women’s Center at Virginia Tech; Reyna Gilbert-Lowry, senior associate athletics director for inclusive excellence and alumni engagement; and Pamela Gilchrist, director of K-12 programs with the Innovation Campus.

The Commonwealth Campus Centers and the Reynolds Homestead are all part of Outreach and International Affairs.

Share this story