Conference Celebrates Women’s Leadership, Focuses On Power Of Choice

Sharp, Olson, Sharp, Underwood

(from left:) Mrs. Charlotte Sharp; Lauren Olson, 2014 WFSN president; Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp; and Molly Underwood, WFSN president elect, at the 2014 WFSN Conference and Awards Luncheon

Freedom of choice is a blessing, and 50 years ago, thanks to then President James Earl Rudder, women were given the choice to attend Texas A&M University. System Chancellor John Sharp and Provost Karan Watson, along with a bevy of the university’s most distinguished faculty and staff members, and notable guest speakers, joined the Women Former Students’ Network (WFSN) to celebrate the accomplishments of Aggie women at the WFSN conference titled “Defining Success by the Choices We Make.”

“I am proud to support the Women Former Students’ Network,” Sharp said. “From providing scholarships, to mentoring young students, to recognizing the tremendous contributions of our women faculty members, your work is changing lives and having a lasting impact on the character and culture of Texas A&M.”

Lauren Olson ’78, WFSN president, introduced Watson, executive vice president and the first-ever female provost at Texas A&M, who spoke of her own life and career choices. Watson began with a quote from Viktor Frankl, an Austrian psychologist and neuroscientist, and a survivor of the Nazi concentration camps, who said, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

“When I reflect on choice, I think of this man who was in a concentration camp and never gave up his power and his freedom to choose his attitude,” Watson noted. “Happiness is a choice. You don’t choose to be happy because everything is perfect all the time. There will be problems, there will be sadness. But you always have the choice to push through, choose your attitude and move forward.”

Yvonna Lincoln

Dr. Yvonna Lincoln accepting the Eminent Scholar Award

The conference featured a luncheon during which the Eminent Scholar Award was presented to Dr. Yvonna Lincoln, the Ruth Harrington Chair of Educational Leadership and a Texas A&M University Distinguished Professor of Higher Education. Lincoln gave a touching acceptance speech in which she told the story of a particularly compelling moment in her career when students asked about the many journals in which she chronicled her field work and personal life experiences. “They asked what I might do with my journals once I retire,” Lincoln recalled. “I said ‘burn them I suppose,’” to which the audience chuckled. “And a student said, ‘But Dr. Lincoln, what about your legacy?’ In a moment of clarity, I responded, ‘My dears, you are my legacy.’”

Gibson, Bonarrigo, Lincoln, Mendoza ’87

(from left:) Award recipients Kathleen Gibson ’81; Merrill Bonarrigo ’75; Distinguished Professor Yvonna Lincoln; A&M System Board of Regents Member Elaine Mendoza ’87

Also during the luncheon, the WFSN Legacy Awards were presented to Merrill Bonarrigo ’75, co-founder of Messina Hof Wine Cellars, Inc. and Messina Hof Hospitality Management LLC, who continues her service to Texas A&M through the development of internship programs and mentoring; Kathleen Gibson ’81, president and CEO of Southwestern Medical Foundation and an active member of Texas A&M’s Association of Former Students who serves on several university advisory councils; and Elaine Mendoza ’87, president and CEO of Conceptual Mindworks, Inc., a biomedical and medical informatics company, who has remained active with the university as a member of the Board of Regents of The Texas A&M University System.

Olson and Mendoza

(from left:) 2014 WFSN President Lauren Olson presents A&M System Board of Regents Member Elaine Mendoza ’87 with the Legacy Award

The conference featured several guest speakers including Marsha Clark, a consultant, executive coach and the author of Choose! The Role That Choice Plays in Shaping Women’s Lives, who emphasized choice as a powerful tool in the lives and careers of women.There’s no such thing as a last choice, there’s always another choice,” she asserted. “Even when you think you’re painted into a corner and you don’t have any options – you do. You always have a choice.”

Clark advised women to make decisions based on their values and not to be afraid to take care of themselves. “We women are givers; we take care of everyone else,” she said. “Put yourself back on your to-do list.”

Three former Texas A&M students, Melissa Reich ’00, Kristi Scales ’89 and Susan Trent ’87, along with Vice Chancellor for Engineering for The Texas A&M University System and Dean of the Dwight Look College of Engineering Katherine Banks, participated in a panel discussion about the choices they made in their careers and personal lives. They spoke of the difficult choices they’ve made such as choosing to accept a lower-paying job in order to serve those in need, trading prestige and power to stay home and raise children, and leaving home for a new job a thousand miles away.

The conference’s final guest speaker was Ceslie Armstrong, an award-winning editor, writer, interviewer and on-camera talent. Armstrong, a cancer survivor, told the audience of her battle against the disease which struck her in childhood. She encouraged audience members to take ownership of their choices and accept responsibility for the outcome, even when the wrong choices are made.

The WFSN is a constituent network under The Association of Former Students. It promotes the active engagement of women in the educational, charitable and cultural life of the university. It carries out this mission through scholarships and awards, mentoring programs, conferences and networking events. For more information or to donate, visit

Numerous on-campus entities also exist to promote and advance women faculty, staff and students at Texas A&M including the Women’s Resource Center in the Department of Student Life, the Women Administrators Network, the Women’s Faculty Network and The Advance Center, based in the College of Science.

Media contact: Lesley Henton, Division of Marketing & Communications at Texas A&M University; 979-845-5591,

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