10th Annual Women’s Leadership Colloquium shares the ideal of authenticity

WLC 2024 guest speakers and Debra Dobkins
Carpenter, Hopkins, Grunch and Dean Dobkins at the 2024 Women's Leadership Colloquium. (Kelsey Podo/Brenau University)

Brenau University continued Women’s History Month celebrations with the Women’s Leadership Colloquium on March 15, featuring a trio of female leaders from diverse backgrounds at the John S. Burd Center for the Performing Arts.

The annual colloquium, now in its 10th year, is hosted by Debra Dobkins, Ph.D., assistant vice president and dean of The Women’s College at Brenau. The event celebrates the GOLD Program’s “G” year, representing gender awareness. This year’s theme was Authenticity, Alliance, and Advocacy.

“At Brenau, we do our best to help students live their way into their most authentic selves,” Dobkins said. “It’s one of the hardest things we humans attempt to do, to be our truest selves.”

This year’s event included a keynote from Julia Carpenter, who covers personal finance for The Wall Street Journal. Carpenter is an award-winning journalist and co-author of The New Rules of Money, a personal finance book from The Wall Street Journal and Penguin Random House.

Carpenter shared her journey in the realm of writing and how having a mentor by her side affected her view of the industry.

“I am standing on this stage because of a peer mentor. He has consistently modeled for me the values we are talking about today,” Carpenter said.

Chandra Owensby Hopkins, Ph.D., WC ’05, was the Alumni Association Endowed Speaker. Hopkins is the dean of the Converse College for Women at Converse University and also an award-winning associate professor of theater, a theater historian, and a director. She majored in theater at Brenau and was actively involved in the Gainesville Theatre Alliance and the Writing Center.

Hopkins shared stories of her experience as a Brenau student and prompted students to always be sure of themselves, no matter what.

“How do we know who we are? In college, many of us grab onto an academic major, a friend group, or ways to find ourselves and express our identities,” Hopkins said. “Never doubt what you know is right. We doubt ourselves as women too much.”

Betsy Grunch, M.D., was the Featured Speaker. Grunch is a board-certified neurosurgeon from Gainesville, Georgia. She is a fellow with the American Association of Neurological Surgeons and the American College of Surgeons. Grunch currently works at the Longstreet Clinic in Gainesville.

Grunch shared her personal experiences of struggling with authenticity as she advanced in the medical field.

“I think that as you grow as a person we all suffer from Imposter Syndrome. I suffered from that tremendously early in my career. Constantly asking myself ‘How could I possibly be doing this?'” Grunch said.

She shared that in her life, having people ready to advocate for her is what helped her get to where she is now.

“You have to grow your team and support your team to be the best in the game,” Grunch said.

The intermission featured an afternoon tea celebrating Brenau’s 145 years in existence to all Women’s College students, alumni, and the guest speakers to network and connect. Those in attendance also had the opportunity to network during the closing reception. Attendees were also given the chance to ask the speakers questions during a Q&A session.

Guests were also treated to performances by the Brenau Dance Department, Brenau Choir Ensemble, and India Williams.

The colloquium is made possible in part by support from Onward Reserve, Grace-Gaskins Women’s Studies Endowment Fund, and the Brenau Alumni Association Lecture Series. Next year’s event will take place on March 21, 2025, on the historic Gainesville campus.

All photos by Kelsey Podo for Brenau University