‘Let’s uplift each other’: An inspiring night at the WFUM Spring Celebration
Every March, Women for UMass (WFUM) gathers during Women’s History Month to network, socialize, learn, and celebrate its mission of women supporting women at its Spring Celebration. This year’s event, held on March 21 at the UMass Club in Boston, featured a panel of successful, influential alumnae who spoke about how they are using their platforms to help others and create a more equitable future. The students and alumnae who attended also had the opportunity to mingle with one another and celebrate the most recent WFUM grant recipients.
Moderated by Judi Vigna ’89, CEO and founder of Specialized Career Guidance LLC, the inspiring panel discussion covered topics from improving workplace culture and the pay gap to mentorship, building community, and self-care. “I encourage you to be here for each other just like we are today,” said Vigna. “Beyond the one-on-one relationships that women seek out, a group of friends, a community, or an organization can lead to a lifelong support system.”
“Be bold. You never know what you’re capable of until you try it,” advised panelist María Sucher ’18, field marketing manager for account-based marketing and events at Wiley and the most recent graduate on the panel.
Sucher currently serves as the director of student affairs for the Association of Latino Professionals for America and as a member of the UMass Amherst Alumni Association Board of Directors and Commonwealth Honors College Advisory Board. “A lot of the time, the people above you will share words of wisdom or they’ll even send words of encouragement. And I like to think that it’s a good practice to save them,” she said. “Sometimes when you’re having a down day, those mentorships that you didn't know were mentorships at the time come back around and those women really play a big role in your life, a bigger role than you realized at the time.”
“I’ve never been someone who wants to fit in a box,” said panelist Kathy Lopes ’01, director of diversity, equity, and inclusion for Newton Public Schools and the current president of the Association of Black Social Workers, Greater Boston Chapter. “I look at protocols and how do I break these, particularly when they’re arbitrary or they’re to further marginalize those who are marginalized.”
Formerly an assistant commissioner at the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families, Lopes holds a longstanding adjunct faculty position at the School of Social Work, teaching courses on racism, social policy, and leadership. “I’m going to find people who are in agreement with me and I’m going to figure out ways to advocate,” she added, “whether that's through policy or voting or taking leadership positions or bringing in voices of coalition.”
Panelist Donna Cohen ’78, legal counsel and strategic advisor to women who are breaking gender barriers in sports, spoke about techniques she uses when advocating for herself, and that she recommends to her clients. “One of them is, ‘No’ is a complete sentence,” she said, adding that the next step is to “stop talking, so we’re not explaining and we’re not talking ourselves back into accepting something that we promised ourselves we’d say no to.”
Cohen serves as a member of the World Baseball Softball Confederation Diversity and Inclusivity Commission and the UMass Boston Sport Leadership and Advisory Board. Another piece of advice she shared was, “When someone says yes, take the win and stop talking.”
Panelist Kokui Adesokan ’09, a technical project manager in the Program Management Office at Bridgewater Associates hedge fund, emphasized the importance of self-care. “You don’t win a trophy for working all year and not taking a day off,” she said. “When you are recharged, you’re able to give your best self at work and also in your personal life.”
In addition to her work at Bridgewater Associates, Adesokan’s passion for supporting the economic welfare of local communities in Africa, where she grew up, led her to create an online boutique featuring handmade African print head wraps and other goods created by women in Africa. “As women, let’s stop competing against each other,” she said. “Let’s uplift each other. And the only competition is with yourself. How are you going to do the thing that you want to do better tomorrow? That should be the focus.”
Past Spring Celebration Highlights:
2022 – Breaking Through panel featuring, Kristen Kuliga ’91, executive vice president of Vanguard Sports Group, Samari Ijezie ’18, founder of The Female Economist, Kavya Krishna ’16, ceo and co-founder, Society of Women Coders, and Amy Elizabeth Richard ’85, vice president at Broadridge Financial Solutions - video