Nexus Women in Leadership 2 Day Conference. Connect. Collaborate. Create.


We have thoughtfully curated an event that includes inspiring speakers and opportunities for connection and networking. With ample time for reflection and rejuvenation, attendees are sure to walk away feeling connected to themselves, others, and their most creative and productive ideas.

Thursday – September 28, 2023 Friday – September 29, 2023
8:00am Check-in
9:00am Opening Program
Plenary Speaker and Activity
Plenary Session
Breakout Sessions Breakout Sessions
12:00pm Lunch
Plenary Activity Plenary Activity
Breakout Sessions Breakout Sessions
4:00pm Closing
Plenary Speaker
Plenary Speaker

Featured Speakers

Lola Eniola-Adefeso

Lola Eniola-Adefeso, PhD

• Associate Dean for Graduate and Professional Education, College of Engineering, University of Michigan
As Associate Dean, Dr. Eniola-Adefeso is responsible for the education and welfare of over 3,300 masters and doctoral Michigan Engineering students enrolled in 60 graduate degree programs. She is also responsible for the college’s preeminent online and professional education, which serves over 2,000 learners annually.

Within Michigan Engineering, she is the University Diversity and Social Transformation Professor of Chemical Engineering, Professor of Biomedical Engineering, and Professor of Macromolecular Science and Engineering.

Geralyn Ritter

• EVP Corporate Affairs, Sustainability & ESG at Organon
• Author, Bone by Bone: A Memoir of Trauma and Healing
Geralyn's doctors use the word "miraculous" to describe her survival and recovery. Today she lives a full life inspired by gratitude and offers hope and healing to many others. She is known for her distinctive laugh that fills a room and determined resilience in the face of personal and professional challenges.

A recognized expert in healthcare policy, Geralyn was determined to re-start her career after years of disability leave following the accident. She is currently executive vice-president at Organon & Co., a new company dedicated to women's health. Prior to the launch of Organon in 2021, she was a longtime senior vice president of Merck & Co., Inc., one of the largest biopharmaceutical companies in the world. At Merck, her passion was leading the Company's engagement on social and community issues and supporting forward-thinking governance at the highest levels of the company.

Egypt Otis

• Owner of Comma Bookstore & Social Hub
• Dedicated Culture Worker, Activist, and Devoted Mom
• Accomplished Children’s Book Author
Egypt Otis is a visionary force, leaving an indelible mark as the Owner of Comma Bookstore & Social Hub, a dedicated Culture Worker, Activist, devoted mom, and accomplished Children’s Book Author. Her life’s mission centers around using social justice, BIPOC literature, and culture as powerful tools to mobilize communities into the arts and disrupt systems that marginalize them.

Born and raised with a boundless passion for social change, Egypt’s journey began in Flint, Michigan, where she cultivated her love for literature, culture, and community engagement. This led her to pursue a degree in political science, laying the foundation for her impactful future.

At the helm of Comma Bookstore & Social Hub, Egypt has created a safe haven that fosters inclusivity, representation, and creativity. Her bookstore has become a vibrant cultural hub, nurturing emerging talents and connecting diverse voices through literature, art, and activism.

As an unwavering advocate for social justice, Egypt has fearlessly championed causes that challenge systemic inequities. She believes in harnessing the power of storytelling and literature to reshape perspectives and drive transformative change. Egypt’s unwavering dedication and commitment have garnered recognition from major organizations and corporations. Her ability to build sustainable relationships with influential entities such as MasterCard Strivers Initiative exemplifies her ability to bridge the gap between culture, arts, and impactful change.

Toni Benner and Elizabeth Aikman

Lean Specialists and Instructors, Nexus
Toni believes that real change happens when we ask intentional questions, engage in purposeful conversations, and take the time to reflect, analyze, and test our conclusions. She has developed an innovative methodology that taps into the benefits of strength-based Lean methodology, appreciative inquiry, and the experiential learning of play. Adopting those principles, Toni trains interdisciplinary teams and individuals to work more efficiently and effectively, helping create empathetic leaders prepared to build sustainable organizations.

Elizabeth Aikman comes from a diverse healthcare background, beginning at the bedside as an oncology nurse, growing her experience through hospital leadership and quality management. She now focuses on helping teams build safer, more effective processes across healthcare systems. As a deeply curious strategic thinker, she excels at helping all levels of an organization see both the big picture and the intricate details. She has a passion for understanding learning organizations through the lens of individual development and team dynamics. Her work has catalyzed her coaching practice to integrate the power of meaningful interactions to support individual and system growth.

Breakout Sessions


Mindful Communication

Format: Interactive Workshop
Presenter: Emily Morash

Connection, collaboration, and creation occur best when a strong foundation of trust, transparency, and honest communication exists. This presentation, rooted in social psychology, illustrates base human interpersonal communication tendencies, explores patterned reaction/response behaviors, and provides tips and tricks to better understand one’s communication styles and needs. 

We begin by highlighting and exploring the principles of mindfulness and emotional intelligence, and we will demystify the root emotions we experience as we navigate daily workplace and personal communication. Using a down-to-Earth, interactive approach that’s infused with humility, humor, and personal reflection, Emily leads the audience through Louise Evans’ Five Chairs Five Choices model of communication behaviors. Participants will leave the session feeling inspired and empowered (and a bit entertained), equipped with tools and resources for immediately applicable and continued mindful communication practices.


Stay the Course and Reach Higher Mountaintops

Format: Presentation
Presenter: Tsitsi Hungwe

Mindset can influence how people behave in a wide range of situations in life. It gives career professionals meaning and purpose in their work, determines how they invest their time and energy, and influences their personal and professional decisions. Mindset defines our identity, thoughts, behavior, and how we will achieve our goals. 

Dr. Tsitsi gives a dynamic, thought-provoking presentation on why mindset matters and how it plays a significant role in determining success. She discusses the difference between a person with a growth mindset versus a fixed mindset and how each person responds to life’s challenges. Dr. Tsitsi educates the audience on the tools to be resilient in various workplace cultures and environments. She provides the best strategies for remaining resilient during times of uncertainty. This presentation stresses that failing does not make you a failure and the benefits of mentorship. Attendees will be equipped with best practices to not only stay the course but reach higher mountaintops despite obstacles.


My Journey: Becoming an Electrical Engineer

Format: Presentation
Presenter: Shannon Puthe

Throughout her four years of college, Shannon Puthe was a student-athlete, balancing responsibilities on and off the softball field. She attended Business School and studied Actuarial Science before transferring to another university and changing her career path.

Shannon will discuss her journey to becoming a Senior Electrical Engineer/Project Manager in the energy division. She will discuss key lessons learned from athletic and academic experiences and will shed light on projects that she have developed her passion for engineering. 


Leave No One Behind

Format: Presentation
Presenters: Sarah Arthur

The northern part of Ghana Is known as a hub where many donor agencies and nonprofits focus their efforts, but there are gaps that need to be critically assessed. Ghana has a rich tradition of social protection, with efforts from communities and civil entities; however, economic and social inequalities persist. Sarah discusses Ghana’s social protection, women empowerment, and challenges in the northern part of Ghana with a vision of harmonization and overall transformation. 

The government of Ghana does a lot to empower women and girls, but the average northern woman is intimidated and afraid to be outspoken. The northern tradition doesn’t allow a woman to be independent or to preside over her man. For example, women who participated as candidates in the last elections lost because northern women are not supposed to rule over men. Sarah explores women empowerment in a situation where stigmatization of women diminishes their voices. Her greatest wish is to embark on a campaign that leaves no women behind in the regions, villages, and communities in the northern part of Ghana. 


Women in Carbon

Format: Presentation
Presenters: Mercy Temba Kutondo, Mshai Mkoji, and Yvonne Mutunga

The Women in Carbon discussion emphasizes the role of women in the fight against climate change. Women are often the ones most affected by climate change and are now being recognized as key stakeholders in addressing the challenges and implementing mitigation and adaptation strategies. Women possess unique knowledge and skills that can contribute significantly to climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts, such as managing natural resources and playing a critical role in agriculture. 

Empowering women in climate action means promoting gender equality in decision-making processes, increasing representation and participation of women in climate negotiations, policy formulation and implementation, and investing in women-focused education and capacity-building initiatives. Women-led climate initiatives often prioritize environmental and social well-being, leading to more sustainable and equitable outcomes. By recognizing the valuable contributions of women, we can harness their potential to drive sustainable and equitable climate solutions for a more resilient and low-carbon society.


Authentic Alignment and Connection

Format: Interactive Workshop
Presenter: Julie Ulstrup

Our world needs you. Self leadership for women is essential to reach your fullest potential. Join us as we dive into an empowering and thought-provoking talk that explores the convergence of authenticity and alignment as critical elements for women to step into an inspired and fulfilling profession and life. 

In this engaging session, we will uncover how embracing your true, authentic self is the catalyst for unlocking your full potential. Learn how aligning your values, vision, and goals will propel you toward not only personal and professional success but living an inspired and fulfilling life. Discover the transformative impact of leveraging your values and talents to accelerate your growth and amplify your impact. Prepare to be inspired, empowered, and equipped with action steps using proven processes that will reshape your approach to self leadership.


Creating Your Own Success

Format: Presentation
Presenter: Kyona McGhee

Social media can often make women feel like we’re not producing enough, even despite our best efforts. Even when we’re already maxed out in every area—work, home and faith—there always seems to be someone doing more or reaching higher heights. This session will be a refreshing RESET button, inspiring women to remove the shackles of unnecessary pressure and recreate a vision that would actually look and feel better for their own mental health.


Demonstrating Relevance

Format: Interactive Workshop
Presenter: Jd Marhevko

Can you demonstrate your functional relevance? How do you prove what you and your team can bring to the business? This interactive session helps participants learn about the 5 stages of Strategic Planning Development and Deployment (SPDD). 

The SPDD tool, Hoshin Kanri, will be leveraged to demonstrate the Plan Do Check Act cycle for making a difference in your organization. You will learn how to align your strategy to that of the business and then to transform the resultant initiatives into agile, tactical actions. This method is used successfully by multiple types of organizations to achieve benchmark results. Participants will create and take home a small working sample relevant to their unique business environment. You will see how you can visualize, articulate, and execute a plan to meet your goals and objectives. Live case studies will be shared.


Present Like a Girl: Confidence, Clarity, & Conviction in Public Speaking

Format: Interactive Workshop
Presenter: Megan VanStratt

Many jobs, especially those in leadership, require giving presentations or speaking in front of crowds. However, some people consider public speaking to be a challenge. Learning strategies for speaking in public can not only help you feel confident during your next presentation, but the skills involved in confident presentations cross over to many other areas of leadership, ie. self-promotion, persuasive writing, negotiation, and many more. In this session, we will discuss why it’s important to be confident and clear during a presentation, how to speak with conviction, and how to apply these skills to other areas of your personal and professional life.


Resiliency is a Symptom of a Broken System: A Framework for Treating the Root Causes of Burnout

Format: Presentation
Presenters: Maxime Von Zeman, Michaela Sullivan, Tiffany Morales

Burnout emerged as a critical issue for the workforce in the past several years. The rapid shift to remote work, reduction of interpersonal connection, and increased stressors outside of the office have resulted in an increased risk of health-related conditions, especially for women. The solutions most often proposed are tools to increase resiliency such as meditation, deep breathing, and adequate sleep. Unfortunately, this approach is misguided; resilience is intended to respond to acute instances of stress, and prolonged reliance on resilience is unsustainable. The focus on coping mechanisms signals a larger trend: the workplace is broken. 

Rather than coaching employees to deal with stressors, a comprehensive approach that addresses the underlying systemic factors is required. This team presents a framework for treating the root causes of burnout. With a specific focus on leadership, the framework highlights the importance of empowering teams and individuals closest to the work to design solutions and address the root cause. By redefining resiliency as a symptom of a broken system, this framework offers a path for leaders to empower teams, tap into collective intelligence, design effective solutions, and foster a collaborative and engaged work environment.


The Power of Harmony: Leading and Living for High-Achieving Women

Format: Presentation
Presenter: Susan Martin

The lines between work and life have become completely blurred. We keep trying to find Work Life Balance but in our new world space it is elusive and many times impossible. Women are exhausted chasing the “you can have it all” dream. It’s time for a new approach for women to nurture and support themselves and their families while advancing their career aspirations. In this presentation Susan will explore the new concept of Life Harmony. Susan will debunk the “You Can Have It All” mythology that exhausts women by encouraging over functioning and deprivation. Susan will show participants how living a life of harmony allows us all to achieve our career ambitions and be present for the things that matter the most in our personal lives. Susan will define the concept of Life Harmony and the 6 habits and intentions that will create the foundation for successful women and their partners to reach their personal and professional goals. Through humor, story telling and research Susan entertains, educates and inspires her audiences.


Creating a Healthy, Balanced Life Through Values, Vulnerability, and Boundaries

Format: Interactive Workshop
Presenter: Erin Bircher

Erin will provide exercises, examples, and strategies to assess and effectively implement the key elements of values, vulnerability, and boundaries. Additionally, she will emphasize the importance of self-reflection, effective communication, and empathy in building strong relationships with team members. 

Our values are the cornerstones of who we are and how we do things. When we are not aligned, it will have a negative impact on our personal and professional worlds. Being an effective leader requires a deep understanding of one’s own values and the ability to align themselves with the organization’s mission, vision, and values. When leaders demonstrate and reinforce values consistently, they establish a strong ethical foundation along with trust and respect. 

We will discuss the power of vulnerability and the key role it plays in leadership. Leaders who acknowledge their limitations and show vulnerability foster trust, encourage open communication, and empower their teams. We will discuss the significance of setting and respecting boundaries to maintain a healthy work-life balance, effective strategies for adapting to change and the requirement of incorporating self-care. By combining leadership, boundaries, vulnerability, and values, individuals can cultivate an inspiring leadership style that empowers their teams, promotes ethical decision-making, and drives organizational success in today’s complex and evolving landscape.


Women Supporting Women

Format: Presentation
Presenter: Doris Augusta Tarawalie

The world has made notable progress in the struggle towards gender equality. However, women still face barriers in aspiring and attaining political leadership, especially in Africa. Both research and anecdotal observations still point to underrepresentation of women in several domains. 

Two distinct populations were examined to reveal this evidence and highlight the ensuing social problems from the perspective of women. The first case is the Malal community in Sierra Leone, which is a homogenous community of people with a long history of communal evolution and emergence from historic social struggles such as colonialism and abject poverty. The second case is the World in Serbia academic community, which is made up of international students that are predominantly from African countries. 

The homogeneity of the first case and the diversity of the second case makes an interesting mix for comparison. Further, the demographic relationship between both and Doris’ first hand-experience living in both communities gives a suitable atmosphere for such analysis where behaviors and social consciousness can be estimated. The ever-evolving nature of human civilization necessitates further research on women’s perceptions of leadership, particularly in cultivating a culture of support and collaboration. This analysis will therefore provide useful insights that can serve as precursor for more in-depth future study.


Breaking Barriers, Building Bridges: Women Advocating for Change

Format: Presentation
Presenter: Stefanie Magness

In this workshop, we celebrate the resilience and accomplishments of women advocates. This session highlights how women drive meaningful change across diverse spheres. We delve into their experiences, unveiling the strategies that allowed them to stand tall as change agents. Participants gain insights into women’s role in shaping inclusive and equitable societies. From grassroots movements to boardrooms, we examine how women champion social justice and foster diversity. 

The session emphasizes unity and collaboration, encouraging attendees to build bridges of support. Discussions focus on strategies to overcome barriers and gender biases, empowering all women to advocate for their visions fearlessly. We explore the significance of mentorship, networking, and allyship in forging a path towards a more equitable future. Join us for an inspiring workshop, celebrating women advocating for change, and discovering how each of us can contribute to a more inclusive world. Let’s amplify our voices, creating a collective force for a progressive and harmonious tomorrow.


Risk Taking 101

Format: Presentation
Presenter: Minna Taylor

Robots are built for perfection. Humans are not. Seeking perfection compromises our ability to be valuable contributors. We divert resources to not messing up rather than hypothesis, failure, and discovery. For us to be key players in the future workforce and to enact social, political, and organizational change, we need to care deeply, but be willing to take risks and embrace uncertainty. At the root of this outcome is integrating play and risk taking as an essential aspect to human development. Play ignites resilience, discovery, connection, and emotional intelligence. To transform our world, we must establish new rules of the game and learn to play with intention, improvisation, and imperfection.

Yoga Instructor

Ava Butzu

Ava Butzu has been practicing yoga for 15 years and has been a certified yoga instructor (200 RYT) since 2018. She retired from teaching English in 2022 and is currently an admissions counselor at the University of Michigan who also teaches yoga at Breathe Yoga Chelsea. She credits her yoga practice with increasing her mobility and patience over the years.
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