Jill Biden, alumna Brittany Packnett headline ‘She Leads’ conference

Biden and Packnett
Jill Biden (left) and Brittany Packnett will speak at "She Leads," a two-day conference hosted by the Olin Fellowship Program.

Jill Biden, wife of former Vice President Joe Biden and a lifelong educator, will deliver the keynote address of “She Leads,” a new two-day event featuring female leaders in technology, finance, public service, medicine and other fields.

The Spencer T. and Ann W. Olin Fellowship for Women in Graduate Study at Washington University in St. Louis is hosting the event Oct. 24 and 25. Registration for “She Leads” is open to the public and includes panels, workshops, a networking lunch, cocktail hour and dinner at the Ritz Carlton, St. Louis. 

Brittany Packnett, a 2006 alumna, co-host of the award-winning podcast “Pod Save The People,” and co-founder of Campaign Zero, a policy platform to end police violence, will kick off “She Leads” with a talk at 4 p.m. Oct. 24 in Graham Chapel on the Danforth Campus. Washington University senior and activist Kayla Reed will join her. The event is free and open to all. 

Biden will deliver her remarks at a dinner Oct. 25 after a full day of programming with 72 leaders from across the nation, including  Katie Burlingame (MS ‘12), a NASA flight controller; Nicole Adler Kaplan (BA 92), founding partner of Silent Spring Ventures, a private equity firm that invests in ventures that remediate waste and contamination; Yamiche Alcindor, White House correspondent for “PBS NewsHour”; and Abby Cohen (BS ‘13), co-founder and co-CEO of Sparo, a digital health company. Sessions cover a range of issues from securing venture capital to mentoring the next generation of female leaders to negotiating effectively. 

“By bringing together so many interesting women to share their experiences and successes, we aim to inspire not only members of the Washington University community but the broader community as a whole,”  said Diana Hill Mitchell, director of the Olin Fellowship. “My hope is that the participants leave knowing they can have an impact in their respective fields and communities, too.”

In the past, the Olin Fellowship has hosted small conferences primarily for its members. But last year, it hosted Tarana Burke, founder of the “Me Too” movement, at a standing-room-only Assembly Series lecture. This year, in celebration of  its 45th year, Olin leadership  revamped the conference to more closely align with the women of the fellowship — bold and impactful.  More than 600 Olin Fellows, alumnae and St. Louisans are expected to attend “She Leads” events.

“We really want to expand and strengthen the networks of all women,” Mitchell said. “As a member of the St. Louis community, we at Washington University don’t want to be insular.” 

The Olin Fellowship is a highly selective and unique program for exceptional female graduate students. Incoming fellows receive an annual stipend of $33,000 and a $600 travel award. Fellows represent all schools and are selected for both their academic excellence and their commitment to making a difference in their fields. 

The fellowship has an interesting history. In 1838, Capt. Benjamin Godfrey built the Monticello Female Seminary, one of only four institutions of higher education for women in the nation. Godfrey, a father of eight daughters, once said, “If you educate a man, you educate an individual; educate a woman and you educate a whole family.” The school, then called Monticello College, closed in 1971, and its buildings are now part of Lewis and Clark Community College in Godfrey, Ill. The proceeds of the college’s sale established the Monticello College Foundation, which in turn established the Olin Fellowship 45 years ago.

“Although, of course, much has changed for women since Monticello’s founding, women still lag behind men in earnings and opportunities in many fields,”  Mitchell said. “That’s why it’s important to have programs like the Olin Fellowship, where women can work together, to network and to support one anther. ‘She Leads is an extension of that legacy that started so long ago.”

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