Congresswoman hosts Young Women in Leadership panel in Winchester

WINCHESTER – Congresswoman Barbara Comstock (R-Va.) hosted a “Women in Education” panel Tuesday at Shenandoah University’s Halpin-Harris Hall as part of her Young Women in Leadership program consisting of four women sharing advice on how to thrive in academic environments.

Comstock introduced Cathy Magouyrk, superintendent of Manassas City Public Schools; Janet Clarke, transition specialist for Loudoun County Public Schools; Deborah Crawford, vice president for research at George Mason University; and Tracy Fitzsimmons, president of Shenandoah University.

Referencing Dr. Seuss’ “Oh the Place You’ll Go,” Comstock said the panel is a demonstration of what women can accomplish with the right tools.

“This panel is all the different places we’re going when you work and study hard,” she said.

All four women, following introductions from the congresswoman, shared stories from their careers and advice they scratched together along the way.

Leading off the panel, Magouyrk said she grew up in a time and place where panels on women in leadership were virtually non-existent, so she had to seek out her own female role models.

To the same effect, she said the young women in the crowd need to surround themselves with people who can help them build on their strengths while protecting their weaknesses.

“I depend on people not for my personal success, but to make myself stronger,” Magouyrk said. “It is so important to build teams around you and to be able to collaborate with others.”

She went on to say when she entered her first business classes in college, she was one of few females in the classroom. This taught her self-reliance and confidence that she recommended to the young women in the audience.

“As a female, you need to be determined, and you need to never be intimidated,” she said.

Speaking after Magouyrk, Janet Clarke said the most important thing for young women to do to succeed is to never fear change and to understand the potential of education.

She said she failed the first grade and the experience stuck with her throughout her life. After working odd jobs for several years out of high school, she decided to go back to school. After earning several degrees, Clarke served on the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors while working.

The most important thing young women can learn from her story, Clarke said, is how hard work and education can have incredible transformative power.

“While I was doing all these things in the community and holding public office, I was also holding day jobs and working on degrees,” Clarke said. “You can do what you want to do if you put your mind to it, but I will say, focus on time management.”

Continuing Clarke’s idea of work ethic, Deborah Crawford said hard work can trump any intellectual divide. Crawford said she comes from an area in Scotland where few earn college degrees.

Regardless, Crawford earned a degree in engineering, which led to jobs that took her to the U.S., labs at NASA and even Antarctica to conduct research.

“If you’re interested in doing something and doing it well, work hard,” she said. “You don’t have to be the smartest, but you do have to have a great work ethic.”

Crawford said another key to success is embracing the fear of leaving one’s comfort zone. She said part of her success was a willingness to do things that scared her, and understanding that everyone has fears they need to conquer.

Wrapping up the panel, Tracy Fitzsimmons spoke on the importance of education, and offered women some simple tips to navigate life.

She said women should make their voices heard, always have an escape plan, always have a plan-B, and not be afraid to throw their elbows around to assert themselves, if need be.

“Wherever you are, speak up,” she said. “You can do it with grace, or you can do it with humor. Congresswoman Comstock is a great example of that for all of us. But speak up, because just your presence is not enough.”

Following the panel speeches, Comstock opened the floor for photos and a question and answer session.

The panel was one of two appearances Comstock made in Winchester on Tuesday, the second taking place later in the day at Thermo Fisher Scientific in Middletown.

Contact staff writer Jake Zuckerman at 540-465-5137 ext. 152, or jzuckerman@nvdaily.com