Excelling and making a difference was a common theme among the five women who shared their stories with attendees of Brenau University’s fourth annual Women’s Leadership Colloquium Friday afternoon.
Emcee and Dean of the Women’s College Debra Dobkins encouraged the women and men in attendance to apply what they learned.
“You can invent the selves you were meant to be,” Dobkins said.
Catherine Dixon, Mary Kathryn Wells, Kelley Castlin-Gacutan, Amy Whitley and Patty Wolfe have varying degrees of connection to Brenau.
Wells, Castlin-Gacutan and Wolfe are all alumni. Each thanked the school for helping them get to where they are.
Dixon’s grandmother was a highly involved alumnus and Whitley serves on the school’s Board of Trustees.
Keynote speaker Dixon, principal at the ghSMART management consulting company, talked about precious metals and gems. Pearls, diamonds and gold all take work to come out, she said. Pearls are made through adversity, diamonds take immense pressure to form, and gold needs mining, much like people need to find their strengths and weaknesses.
Women who hope to be leaders also need these three components to be a successful leader, she said.
Wells graduated with a musical theater degree and began working in that world. The Brenau graduate and her mother were once at a conference for amusement park big wigs where Dolly Parton spoke.
“My mom leaned over and said, ‘This is your shot,’” Wells said.
After the speech, Wells gathered her courage and gave her resume to Parton. That turned into her dream job of performing at Dollywood.
She encouraged the crowd to have courage, network their way to success, keep a growth mindset and be persistent.
Possessing all of these qualities, Wells said, got her to where she is as the founder of her company Wells Marketing Agency.
Castlin-Gacutan also kept an open mind and left her dream job for the better. Since she was 6 years old, she knew she wanted to be a first-grade teacher. She got the job eventually, but after a few years taught third grade.
“You learn the importance of leading with a purpose … which serves as a driving force to achieving dreams,” Castlin-Gacutan said.
Castlin-Gacutan is now an educational consultant, former superintendent of Birmingham City Schools and a mother of four.
Whitley has two children and recently moved to Gainesville after retiring as vice president of Human Resources and Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer for UPS.
Including women in the workplace was a part of every day for Whitley.
“We didn’t know what the men would think at first,” Whitley said.
The men, however, became more and more involved in the process.
When she started as a driver for the company, she knew she wanted to be in a human relations position.
The company values hard work and learning about the business from the ground up, so she did just that. It took a few years, but Whitley made it to the top through her perseverance.
Patty Wolfe was one of very few women in the Navy.
“Women veterans are very much trailblazers in what they do,” Wolfe said.
At one point in her career, she was one of four women on a ship of 800. Wolfe retired as a rear admiral of the Supply Corps.
Her suggestion to the crowd was to knock down glass ceilings, even if it’s with combat boots on.