On Sept. 15, Mercyhurst hosted a virtual seminar entitled “Breaking the Glass Ceiling: Women’s Alumnae Virtual Panel” in celebration of 100 years of women’s suffrage.
An audience of more than 60 viewers attended to hear from a wide array of alumnae who have taken strides in pursuit of their passions in their fields.
The panel included Emily Merski ‘04, Marlene Mosco ’68, Mary Schaaf ‘68, Kristen Hudak ‘05, Chanel Cook ‘17, Bea Habursky ‘85, Christina Marsh ‘89 and Melanie Titzel ‘80, and was moderated by Provost Leanne Roberts, Ph.D.
The event started off with the panelists discussing how they got to where they are today and how Mercyhurst played a role in their journey. The panel included women in all stages of life, meaning that some had experienced great change in their industries.
According to director of Alumni Relations, Lindsay Frank, each panelist was selected to represent a range of ages, with some of the women in the beginning of their career while some graduated from Mercyhurst over 50 years ago.
“It was important to show this range because we had two of our alumnae from the class of 1968 who referenced a time where they were not able to enter a private club through the main door. As women they had to enter through the back. Something like that sounds outrageous today but it was the reality that they lived through,” Frank said.
One panelist, Merski, studied Intelligence at Mercyhurst, went on to get a law degree from Penn State University, and is now a public defender in the city of Erie. She said that Mercyhurst’s emphasis on service throughout her education led her to want to give back to her community and legally represent those who needed it.
Another panelist, Habursky, had a long career in the education system in Erie, beginning as a teacher and moving through guidance counselor, principal and superintendent of the Erie School District. People she met both at Mercyhurst and throughout her life encouraged her to keep taking chances to get where she is now. She was moved to tears, feeling that she came full circle as a current adjunct Mercyhurst professor. She is proud to be the person she looked up to as a young college student.
The next speaker, Kristen Hudak, graduated with a degree in Political Science, but she always had an interest in sports and is now the Baltimore Orioles Public Relations director. She claimed that Mercyhurst is much more that just a degree, her time here allowed her to develop and combine both of her interests for a career she loves.
Taking a different approach, Schaaf had a zig-zagged career path. She graduated in the 1970s with a degree in education and a math minor. She took this path because her passion for engineering was not a path for a woman at the time.
She enjoyed her time in education and was a part of history since she filed a class action lawsuit against discrimination on the basis of sex in hiring. She won her case and expanded the civil rights acts to include education and school districts. She then began a pursuit in finances because she loved math so much, and was hired to work on Wall Street.
Each woman’s story is different, but through them all Mercyhurst has shaped their lives. Many of the panelists work in male-dominated professions, so they shared advice for any women looking to work in similar fields and how to play a positive role in helping female colleagues.
Mosco talked about how it was hard to work in the legal field as a woman, especially at the beginning of her career. She often was called ‘honey’ and ‘sweetheart’ in professional environments.
Her advice was to always be prepared and know what you are talking about so people take you seriously. She shared a story about how a man once asked how a pretty girl like her was going to defend these criminals. She responded by telling the man “upholding justice and defending my client’s rights, so you can sit up and watch and hold my handbag.”
Being knowledgeable and capable will help when you are challenged for being a female. Marsh discussed how it was important to support your female colleagues. She was typically the only female leader in the room and emphasized the importance of both male and female colleagues to promote females, even when they are not in the room.
Another piece of advice comes from Titzel. She highlighted the idea that advantages are what you make of them, so take them when they come.
Their advice comes from many challenges they have faced over the years. Cook talked about how she felt uncomfortable when she was younger as a black female, but she has come to embrace it by seeing other strong black women’s confidence.
Her mantra is that you got the job for a reason and do not need to validate your position in the room. The panel was very inspiring and shows how far women have come, but also how far we still have to go. Below are some final words of advice from the panelists on how to achieve your goal.