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Evening with 'Women Who Lead' Presented at Chesapeake College

Posted on Monday, March 09, 2009

WYE MILLS – Five women - all of them leaders in their respective fields - will gather for a lively evening of conversation about their experiences and views on Wednesday, March 25 at 7:30 p.m. in the Todd Performing Arts Center at Chesapeake College.

The "A Conversation with Women Who Lead" panel discussion is scheduled as part of the celebration for Dr. Barbara A. Viniar’s inauguration as Chesapeake’s fifth president. Co-sponsored by the Women and Girls Fund of the Mid-Shore, this event is free and open to the public.

The discussion panel is comprised of Susan Sygall, founder of Mobility International; Rev. Allison Stokes, founder of the Women’s Interfaith Institute; Victoria Jackson-Stanley, mayor of Cambridge; and Karen Harris Oertel, owner of Harris Crab House. Dr. Viniar will serve as moderator of the panel.

"These women have few things in common other than that they are all inspiring," said Dr. Viniar. "I’ve known two for many years and two for only a short time, but I find all four of them inspirational. I know that many people will enjoy hearing their stories."

The inspirational theme of these women’s stories led to a partnership for the event with the Women and Girls Fund.

"The Women and Girls Fund is pleased to be partnering with Chesapeake College for the panel of inspiring women. As the college’s first woman president, Dr. Viniar has chosen to share women who inspire her with the community," said Women and Girls Fund President Val Lamont. "These accomplished women are respected role models and leaders. Since helping to create strong role models for women, girls and families is part of the Fund’s mission, we were pleased to be invited to participate in this event."

The event will be informal with lots of interaction between the panel members, the moderator and the audience.

"I’ll ask some questions, the audience members will ask some questions, and the panel participants will engage each other," Dr. Viniar said. "This will be an interesting format in which to feature fascinating people."

Rev. Allison Stokes founded the Women’s Interfaith Institute in 1992 as a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting understanding, peace, cooperation and women’s leadership. The institute, now located in Seneca Falls, New York stands next to the visitor’s center of Women’s Rights National Historical Park. Rev. Stokes is the organization’s director and visionary leader. A Methodist minister and writer, Rev. Stokes is the author of "Shalom, Salaam and Peace," a book about breaking the cycles of violence, embracing diversity and building a culture of world peace.

Susan Sygall, co-founder and CEO of Mobility International USA, is an internationally recognized expert in the area of educational exchange and leadership programs for persons with disabilities. Sygall, who uses a wheelchair, has had a personal and professional commitment to disability rights and women’s issues for more than 25 years. A passionate advocate, Sygall has lectured throughout the United States, Latin America, Europe and Asia on topics related to international exchange and disability rights. She received a MacArthur Fellowship in 2000 and was awarded the Rotary Scholar Alumni Achievement Award. In 1995, she was awarded the President’s Award from President Bill Clinton for her leadership in international exchange programs for people with disabilities.

Cambridge Mayor Victoria Jackson-Stanley broke two barriers when she was elected to the post last year. She is the first woman and the first African-American elected mayor of Cambridge. The mayor earned a bachelor’s degree at Salisbury University and a master’s degree from Howard University. She is a licensed certified social worker and is employed by the Dorchester County Department of Social Services. A native of Cambridge, Jackson-Stanley grew up during the tumultuous Civil Rights struggle and now leads the city that was once a hotbed of racial tensions. The self-described "small-town girl who thinks big" will share her unique perspective on the region’s history and government.

Karen Harris Oertel is the owner of Harris Crab House and a partner in her family’s other business, W. H. Harris Seafood. The Harris family is on its seventh generation of living and working on the Eastern Shore. A native of Queen Anne’s County, Oertel has contributed her years of experience and deep knowledge of the seafood industry to numerous statewide boards and agencies. She has been a member of the Chesapeake College Board of Trustees since 2004. Oertel is also a member of the Maryland Chamber of Commerce and serves as vice chair of the Chamber’s agriculture and natural resource committee. The recipient of numerous awards, Oertel was named to the Maryland Chamber of Commerce Hall of Fame in 2008.

For more information about the panel discussion, please call Anita Simpson at 410-827-5802 or e-mail


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