Women in leadership roles in the workplace serve as a great inspiration in a male-dominated society. Cases in point: Feather Sams Huesties '00, district 12 operations coordinator at the Oregon Department of Transportation, Office of Civil Rights, and an enrolled tribal member of the Umatilla Indian Reservation; and Chau Dang '06, a product manager at Nvidia computer technology out of the San Francisco Bay area, and a former national board member of the American Cancer Society. They will join four counterparts in fields ranging from sustainability to sexuality on Thursday, Feb. 15 for several free events including a Women in Leadership Networking and Lunch from 11:30 AM to 1 PM at Reid Campus Center's Young Ballroom and a Symposium from 7:30 PM to 9 PM in Olin Hall's auditorium. Huesties, who majored in anthropology at Whitman and earned an M.A. in the subject from Washington State University, and Dang, who majored in astronomy at Whitman and earned an M.S. in physics from the University of Oklahoma, offered a preview via email of what they might talk about; edited excerpts follow.
What are your thoughts about fostering leadership in women, particularly in countries still framed in patriarchy? Said another way, you've made significant inroads in male-dominated fields-lessons learned?
Feather Huesties: Be true to yourself and use the tools around you to advocate for what is right. Seek out like-minded supporters to frame and develop an environment that supports and encourages women, education and leadership.
Chau Dang: Pay attention but don't let it get to you. And when you have something figured out, help the next person.
What advice would you give students who want to assume leadership roles? And would the advice differ depending on the gender of the student?
FH: Female or male, don't feel like you have to fit in anyone else's box, mold or expectation of what you need to be or how you need to act. I spent too many of my younger years feeling like I had to be a certain way to live up to the expectation or image I felt was placed on me. To be a leader you need to know yourself-what drives you, what makes you happy and what brings you peace.
CD: Leadership is assumed through habit and discipline. I don't advise looking for leadership roles. If you like the work, do it. You become a leader at every level by setting good examples and having good values that others want to emulate. And, no, the advice would not differ depending on the gender of the student.
How does your personal background influence your life decisions?
FH: Growing up, I wrestled with my identity and was confused about where I fit into everything. I struggled with my name, my look, my upbringing, and I hungered for a deeper understanding and connection to my ancestors. This drove me to study cultural anthropology. I wanted to know the history, culture and traditions of the people I came from, and, as a young woman, I knew that I wanted this history and culture and traditions to be important to my spouse and something that we provided our children. For this reason, my husband and I chose to make our life on the homeland of our ancestors, the Cayuse, Umatilla and Walla Walla people, and this is where we are raising our sons in hopes that they will know who they are and who they come from-so they can see where they are going.
CD: I was born in Vietnam and spent time in a refugee camp as a child. I think having that experience helps me keep perspective. I love being competitive, new challenges and working extremely hard. But at the end of the day, I know my career is all a game that I'm privileged to play. So every career decision comes down to the most important thing: its impact on the health of the people I love.
How did Whitman prepare you for your career?
FH: Whitman provided opportunities for me to expand my thinking, push the boundaries of what I thought was possible and grow as a leader. For example, I was very fortunate to serve as a counselor for the WISE [Whitman Institute for Scholastic Enrichment] program for two summers and to serve as a residential adviser in Anderson Hall. And I received a Perry Scholarship. Each of these opportunities allowed me to work side by side with many amazing students, staff and professors. Whitman helped me to develop my critical thinking skills, the value of being inquisitive, and gave me a confidence that I had the tools and ability to handle whatever was in front of me.
CD: Whitman taught me to critically think and not take any decision for granted. Be deliberate. Whitman hosts an array of guest speakers and educators. Many also offer on-campus workshops or engage with students in the classroom. We ask them to give us a brief insight into their area of expertise. For more information on upcoming events at Whitman, go online to the campus calendar.