Women in Leadership: A Panel Discussion Event Recap


As the final installment of The Confucius Institute U.S. Center’s March programming in honor of Women’s History Month, the ‘Women in Leadership’ panel discussion was held on Tuesday, March 26, 2019. Moderated by CIUS Center Senior Program Officer Cheyenne Boyce, the discussion invited three woman leaders in the DC Global Education community to speak on the challenges and rewards of growing as a professional in their field.

Dr. Joy Hughes of George Mason University spoke of her unexpected path to global education and her process of finding solutions when working on school campuses in China and Korea. “You have to understand the problem before you can address it,” Hughes noted. She told the story of her experience entering the field of humanities as a high-level professional working in a STEM field due to administrative dysfunction on an international level. This exploration of “marrying” technology and cultural education broadened her understanding of problem-solving on an organizational level and supported her efforts in encouraging young foreign language students to see the value in pursuing a career in STEM.

While there are definite challenges in being a woman leader in the global education field, DC Immersion Project’s Vanessa Bertelli spoke of the positive effects of having been a stay-at-home mom, and how that experience enhanced her understanding and appreciation of education professionals, and ultimately motivated her to continue pursuing this path in education, herself. She referenced her childhood growing up in Switzerland, how it was the norm for most people to speak more than one language—if not several. Having grown up in this environment, Bertelli has seen the possibilities for language education when it exists in a community which knows its benefits; once families become involved in global education programs, they are very motivated to continue with their studies. She noted that “In dual language programs, we do not have a ‘why’ issue.” Challenges tend to come along when the question of funding is addressed. Every member of the panel acknowledged the issue of resource scarcity for schools with fewer resources and spoke of their efforts to distribute resources in a way which roots them more deeply into the school’s community.

Longevity and commitment to the continuation of these programs was a major focus of the discussion. Sally Schwartz of Globalize DC noted that an issue she finds often is a student will travel abroad to a place like China or Japan and become energized about the language and culture of that place, only to return home and find that there are no affordable resources to continue their language journey, and it becomes a dead end. Schwartz says she and her organization are constantly trying to answer the question of “how do we move beyond the one-off opportunity—the six weeks in China—and really create a pipeline into college and careers?”

With so many obstacles to deconstruct in this global education profession, it was energizing to hear from these three leaders who have witnessed the problems and seen the shortcomings themselves and still believe this work is worth the effort. Before the close of the panel, Vanessa Bertelli reminded the young professionals in the audience that there was still much ground to cover: “Your path is unique,” she assured. “As women, we’re still inventing what is new.”