By Angel Adegbesan
York College hosted a panel of five accomplished women in honor of Women’s History Month. The event gave insights on what it means to be a successful woman and a leader in a male-dominated world.
The Percy E. Sutton SEEK Program and the Office of Student Activities at the college worked together to gather experts from across multiple studies.
The panel consisted of Dr. Selena T. Rodgers, an associate professor and founding director of the Master’s of Social Work program at York College; Savitrie Rampersaud who is a technical sergeant materiel management craftsman in the United States Air Force; Julissa Contreras-Martinez, who is a specialist for the Office of Scholarship Enterprises; Jennifer Saint-Preux, Esq., who is a New York criminal defense attorney and Nicole A. Summers, the founder of Star Solutions LLC. The panelists shared their experiences with failure, and who their role models and mentors are.
Each woman shared her experiences and the challenges that she had faced in their various industries. Rampersaud shared her experience in the U.S. military where she had to perform her tasks better to receive recognition.
“You have to make sure that you put in a little bit more effort into everything that you do which in a way just pushes you as a person more while competing in anything,” said Rampersaud, who is also an administrative coordinator for Student Development at York College. “The greatest challenge for me is just being able to push myself more against males. This is something that can’t really change it but you could always work to overcome it.”
The challenges sometimes lead to failures on the part of these successful women. For Saint-Preux, it was an organization that was made defunct. She was the New York chair of the Young and Powerful group in NYC and she asserted that the organization became defunct because she could not keep the organization afloat though she had the experience to do so. Other women also shared their experiences with failures and how they refused to let them define themselves.
“The challenges will be there but you need to be able to find ways to overcome them because in your own right, you are leaders,” said Contreras-Martinez to the audience at the event. “To be a leader does not mean that someone has appointed you as a leader. It means that you have seen a need and created a space to meet that need. To focus on the negatives and the naysayers will bring you down but to say to yourself- ‘I see something, I can accomplish something, I can do something about that particular thing,’ you are already a leader because it is a mindset.”
The majority of panelists attributed their success to having strong mother figures as role models in their life. Summers and Rampersaud mentioned their mothers were their role models that pushed them into doing a lot of things that they had done. Contreras-Marinez cited Maya Angelou as her role model whose poem I Rise had inspired her to pursue a higher education and do greater things. Rodgers cited her family and three mentors as a whole village who had supported her journey.
“What I’m saying to you is to get your circle,” Rodgers said to the audience as she shared her story. “Get your village that can kind of help you get to where you’re going because you don’t do it by yourself. I have my sister-warriors, I have my brothers who I reach out to get the positive re-affirmations that I need to continue to do this work. I don’t do this alone.”
Saint-Preux, the criminal defense attorney, does not believe in the sentiment of role models. She attributes this to the lack of African-American female role models in her household and said she was not taught about them in schools. Saint-Preux sees herself as someone who grew up without a role model because she felt the disconnect when people would make comparisons between herself and other women who did not look like her.
” I never bought into the role model thing actually because I have a flaw of comparing myself to others,” said Saint-Preux. “I didn’t want to fall into the trap of ‘I like this, I see this person, I want to be this person.’ I find that being a leader, you have to define it for what it means to yourself because you’re never going to be satisfied. I knew myself, I would never be satisfied with what I’ve achieved because I would say there’s got to be something more out there. But now, if I was growing up now, I would say Michelle Obama because I think she’s amazing.”
Role models or not, these accomplished women believe strongly in the value of mentorship. Contreras-Martinez cited her younger sister as her mentor who advises her to have three people in her life. The first is someone you can look up to who has already gotten to where you would like to be. The second is someone who is going on the journey with you and is on the same level as you. The third person is someone who you will bring along to pass every gained experience and learned lessons.
“I think mentorship is very important,” said Summers, the founder of Star Solutions LLC. “I feel like everyone needs a board of trustees because you want them to be your cheerleader but you also want them to tell you about yourself and speak truth to you. It’s very important because there may be things inside of you that you may not see but they can tell you about what you need to work on. Also, being a mentor for somebody else is important as well because you want to bring somebody up as well.”
Khadiza Khatoon and Lariya Garba are two freshman Nursing majors at York College who attended the event. From the event, Garba understood that the path to the women’s success was different. She noted from the women’s experiences that they did follow but also broke certain rules to achieve their accomplishments.
“If you want to do something, you don’t have to worry about the difficulties that you face,” said Khatoon. “Just do it.”