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Our History​




YWLI grew from a conversation about leadership at a 2013 event for the St Lawrence County Branch of the American Association of University Women (AAUW).  The event host, Lynn Fox, suggested that college women might be interested in programs about leadership development. Soon thereafter a volunteer task group gathered to create a one or possibly two day conference aimed at encouraging young women to seek out leadership positions in the private and public sectors.  The conference would feature panels of women in leadership positions at the local, state, and national levels to offer their own stories and perspectives.  Participants in the early discussions included women from the area’s four universities along with representatives from AAUW and the League of Women Voters (Lynn Fox, Brenda Papineau, Kathleen Stein, Jennifer Ball, Courtney Bish, Tina Flanagan, Priscilla Leggette, Ruth Policera).
The planners intended that the initiative grow “organically,” that is to develop in keeping with the goals and interests of the participants.  Focus groups with students in the spring of 2014 confirmed student interest and provided insight into the topics and issues of concern to them. During the summer, the organizers discussed the project with professionals in college-age women’s leadership programs, including director of SUNY Potsdam’s Women and Leadership Program and St Lawrence University’s Center for Civic Engagement, to gain insight into program development, critical content, volunteer management, student recruitment, and program sustainability.  The planning team hosted Dr. Mary Trigg, director of Leadership Programs and Research at the Rutgers University Institute for Women’s Leadership to consult with planners, students and community members in Canton and Potsdam in September, 2014.  These early activities were supported with grants from the AAUW branch and from the Associated Colleges of the St Lawrence Valley.
In November 2014 an initial “Community Connections” conference brought together students from the four colleges and women leaders from the community.  The planning team, chaired by Brenda Papineau and Beth Larrabee, organized a program that promoted mentorship and encouraged connections across the four campuses and their communities.  The keynote speakers for the event were Dr. Dayle Smith, Dean of the School of Business at Clarkson University and Dr. Kristin Esterberg, President of SUNY Potsdam.

The Community Connections conference continues to provide leadership opportunties to college students and professional women. For current information, check out the Community Connections page below.
Community Connections Conference
Meet the Board Members
Our Founding Board
The success of the conference and several follow-on events prompted the planners to develop a more robust organizational structure with a founding board.  Members were co-chairs Terry Phalon (North Country Savings Bank) and Dayle Smith (Clarkson University), Betty Connolly (AAUW), Priscilla Leggette (SUNY Canton), Lynn Fox (St Lawrence University), Beth Larrabee (SLU), Brenda Papineau (SLU),  and Latesha Fussells (SUNY Potsdam).  As the organization began to take shape several new members were recruited: Lenore Vander Zee (SUNY Canton), Angela Gray (Hoffman, Eells and Gray), Cara Valentine (Clarkson), Sarah Harris (Clarkson), Charnele Luster (SLU) and Tasia White (Clarkson).  The founding board accomplished much in the 2015-2017 period, developing the mission and vision, hosting additional events and conferences, gaining tax-exempt status and organizing as a membership organization with additional programming aimed at professional women.  The election of April 2017 will mark the transition from the Founding Board to a duly elected operating board.

Lynn Fox, AAUW Student Leadership Conference , 2014

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