Virginia Tech’s VT Women Connect has expanded to the university’s Health Sciences and Technology campus in Roanoke. The newly formed group, Roanoke VT Women Connect, is off to a strong start with more than 75 women attending a kick-off luncheon late last fall.

“In an information gathering session last spring, we heard what women wanted and needed here on the Roanoke campus,” said Leanna Blevins, associate vice president for health sciences academic affairs based in the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC. “From there, we formed a planning committee and have been intentional about focusing on advocating for women in science and health.”

The provost’s office provided one-time start-up funding for an event in Roanoke as well as one in the greater Washington, D.C., area, which is still in development.

“We have great programming for women on the main [Blacksburg] campus but it doesn’t always extend to the university’s other sites,” Blevins said. “University leadership has been supportive of our efforts to include our distributed campus sites, and I appreciate that so much.”

Blevins is statewide chair of the Virginia Network of Women in Higher Education, a part of the American Council on Education, which has the mission to develop, advance, and support women in higher education. Heidi Lane, assistant dean for clinical skills at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine, serves as an institutional representative to the group, along with Mary Grace Campos.

Lane said the empowerment of women has been a subject she has been passionate about since she was in college in the 1970s.

“Even with legislation like Title IX, Violence against Women Act, and Roe vs. Wade, women continue to have fewer opportunities than men in the work world and lower salaries for the same positions,” she said. “We need to learn to advocate for ourselves by learning from others who have gone ahead of us, had some of the same issues and succeeded. For me, this is what Roanoke VT Women Connect is all about - support and advocacy coupled with a lot of fun.”

A room full of women with their attention aimed at the front of the room.
Nearly 100 women gathered for the first meeting of Roanoke VT Women Connect at the Health Sciences and Technology campus in Roanoke. Photo by Ryan Anderson for Virginia Tech.

A key need that was identified early on was a means for women on the Health Sciences and Technology campus as well as those at the Virginia Tech Roanoke Center to come together, network, and build community.

“Women make up the majority of the global health workforce, but we only hold about a quarter of leadership roles,” Blevins said. “Women want leadership development, and that will be one of our areas of focus. That’s why groups like ours are so vital. We can learn from each other and support each other.”

The group has a number of events planned for this spring, including a self-defense workshop, a lecture on balancing parenthood and career challenges for women, a viewing of the "Live to 100" Netflix series, as well as collaborations with other women’s, STEM, and outreach groups on the Roanoke campus.

“I’m excited about the feedback and the response we’re getting from the women in Roanoke,” Blevins said. “As we gather socially and professionally, we can learn a lot from each other.”

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