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In 2006, the Women in Leadership and Philanthropy Council (WLP) established an endowed lecture fund to provide for university-wide lectures on Virginia Tech’s Blacksburg campus that may need additional financial support to bring notable guest speakers who might have impact on students and the university community. In 2015, the fund was renamed the Elizabeth A. “Betsy” Flanagan Women in Leadership and Philanthropy Endowed Lecture Fund in recognition of her founding of the Women in Leadership and Philanthropy initiative, and to pay tribute upon her retirement of her fifteen years of service to the institution as the Vice President for Development and University Relations.

Inspiring Women in Lifelong Leadership (I WILL) continues the WLP’s legacy by awarding these funds semi-annually to assist university program developers in securing high-profile speakers for educational or public information programs that are open and free to the university community.  To be considered for funding, please review the criteria and submit the request for funding application.


Previous speakers sponsored, in part or in full, through the WLP Endowed Lecture Fund include:

  • Opal Tometi, Co-Founder of Black Lives Matter, will be hosted by the Intercultural Engagement Center on January 18, 2017, as the annual Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. keynote speaker in the Graduate Life Center Auditorium for “An Evening with Black Lives Matter Co-Founder: Opal Tometi.”
  • Carol Jantsch, a faculty member at the Yale University School of Music and Temple University’s Boyer College of Music, will be hosted by the School of Performing Arts on February 23-27, 2017, for a Wind Ensemble Concert (“Trading Fours”), a solo recital, and a guest masterclass with VT Low Brass Studio.
  • Shin Fujiyama, the Founder and Executive Director of Students Helping Honduras, was hosted by VT Engage for meetings with student leaders as well as the event “Students Helping Honduras Founder: Shin Fujiyama” on February 16, 2016, in the Haymarket Theatre at Squires Student Center. 
  • Dr. Salvador Vidal-Ortiz, Associate Professor of Sociology at American University, was hosted on March 15, 2016, at the Biocomplexity Institute Conference Center, by the Women’s Center for the event “The feminist racial justice project of Queer Brown Voices” which included a book talk on Queer Brown Voices and reception with faculty, staff, and students.
  • Dr. Margie E. Lachman, the Minnie and Harold L. Fierman Professor of Psychology and Director of the Lifespan Developmental Psychology Lab at Brandeis University and the Brandeis University Lifespan Initiative on Healthy Aging, was hosted by The Center for Gerontology as a speaker at the Center for Gerontology Recognition Ceremony on April 7, 2016, in the Fralin Auditorium.
  • Dr. Cristina Lanzas, the Assistant Professor of Infectious Disease at North Carolina State University, was hosted on April 7, 2016, by the Department of Population Health Sciences for the event “Public Health Grand Rounds – Seminar on Transmission Dynamics of Enteric Pathogens.”
  • Dr. Carolyn Finney, an author and motivational speaker, was hosted by the College of Natural Resources and Environment as part of the conference “Women in Natural Resources: Leading, Mentoring, and Connecting” on October 27-28, 2016. 
  • Deborah Hersman, President and CEO of the National Safety Council, and other special guest speakers were hosted by The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute as part of the conference “Women in Transportation Seminar – The Future of Transportation” on August 31-September 1, 2016. 
  • Lesley Sachs, the Executive Director for Women of the Wall, was hosted on November 2, 2016, at the Graduate Life Center Auditorium by Hillel at Virginia Tech for “Women of the Wall:  An Evening with Lesley Sachs.”
  • Susannah Drake is the founding principal of dlandstudio, an award-winning interdisciplinary practice exemplified by a systems-based, research-driven approach to architecture and landscape architecture that values strong intuitive expression. She is committed to addressing obstacles for women in practice today, and in developing innovative strategies for raising support and money for pilot projects.Hosted by the College of Architecture and Urban Studies, Drake was the keynote speaker for Landscape Architecture Week. She spoke at at 2 p.m., Feb. 26, 2015, in the Hancock Hall auditorium, hosted by the College of Architecture and Urban Studies.  
  • Tatiana Tolstaya is a Russian writer, television host, publicist, novelist, and essayist. She is part of the literary family that includes the writers Leo Tolstoy and Alexei Tolstoy. During the 1990s she lived in the United States and taught creative writing at Skidmore College, Princeton University, and Cornell University. Tolstaya's lecture: “A Book is a Delicate Friend: Reading, Politics and Culture,was presented March 4, 2015, at 7 p.m. in 3100 Torgersen Hall, hosted by the Department of Foreign Languages and Literature.
  • Maya Beasley has a joint appointment at the University of Connecticut as an assistant professor with the Department of Sociology and the Africana Studies Institute. Her research interests include ethnic conflict, social movements, and racial stratification. Beasley gave her lecture “Opting Out: Why do minorities self-select out of certain careers?” on March 27, 2015, hosted by the College of Engineering.
  • Margaret Greenberg is a sought-after executive coach and the founder of the Greenberg Group, a consulting firm dedicated to coaching business leaders and their teams to achieve more than they ever thought possible. She was a speaker for the Women in Business Leadership Lecture Series, and appeared at 4 p.m., March 19, 2015, at the Honors Residential College, East Ambler Johnston Hall, hosted by Procurement/Supplier Diversity.
  • Elaine Salo is an associate professor at the University of Delaware, where she teaches courses on water politics in the global south, the politics of transnational societies, and gender and politics. She was the final speaker of the Women and Gender in International Development Discussion Series and delivered her lecture, “Gendering Water Policies in Africa,on April 2, 2015, at 12:30 p.m. in the Carol Newman Library, room 101. Salo was hosted by the Office of International Research, Education, and Development.
  • Antonella Grassi is a professor at the University of Pennsylvania. She has worked to improve the gender imbalance in STEM fields and is a leading researcher in mathematics and physics. Her work in the Minimal Model Program in algebraic geometry is used extensively in mathematics and high-energy physics. Grassi gave a joint mathematics/physics special lecture on April 30 at 3 p.m. in McBryde Hall room 563. She was hosted by the Department of Physics and the Department of Mathematics.
  • Norah Keating, a renowned family gerontologist with special expertise in rural and international aging and family relationships, was hosted by the Center for Gerontology and spoke at the Center for Gerontology’s Recognition Ceremony.
  • Jennifer Robertson, professor of anthropology at the University of Michigan, was hosted by the Department of Sociology and spoke at the third biennial Gender, Bodies, and Technology Conference regarding her work in the fields of bio-ethics and robotics.
  • Joyce Rosenthal, an expert on environmental policy at Harvard University, was hosted by the College of Architecture and Urban Studies and presented as part of the Study Abroad Program.
  • Joyce Roché, president and CEO of Girls Inc., was hosted by the procurement department’s Supplier Diversity Program as part of the Virginia Tech Women in Business Leadership Lecture Series. 
  • Margaret Jacobs, associate professor at the University of Nebraska and the author of two prize-winning books in women’s history, was hosted by the History Graduate Student Association and presented the keynote address for the 17th Annual Brian Bertoti Innovative Perspectives in History Graduate Conference.
  • Theodore Cohen, an M.D. and associate professor in the Department of Epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health, was hosted by the Department of Population Health Sciences and presented a seminar as part of the Public Health Grand Rounds.
  • Illan Kapoor, a professor of environmental studies at York University and author of “Celebrity Humanitarianism: The Ideology of Global Charity,” was hosted by the history department and the Alliance for Social, Political, Ethical, and Cultural Thought (ASPECT) as part of the Development and Humanitarianism Conference.
  • Mirjam Cvetic, a professor of physics at the University of Pennsylvania and a leading researcher in high energy particle physics and string theory, was hosted by the Department of Physics.
  • Melinda Emerson, a small business expert known as “SmallBizLady,” as well as an internationally known keynote speaker, was hosted by the procurement department's Supplier Diversity Program as part of the Virginia Tech Women in Business Leadership Lecture Series.
  • Francesco Manca, retired deputy director for the political and civil Affairs office of United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, was hosted by the political science department.
  • Katherine M. Charron, an associate professor at North Carolina State University, was hosted by the Department of History and presented a lecture on the civil rights movement.
  • Keri E. Iyall Smith, an assistant professor at Suffolk University, was hosted by the Department of Sociology and the Center for the Study of Human Rights as the keynote speaker for the second annual College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences Forum on Human Rights.
  • Diane Michelfelder, a professor at Macalester College, was hosted by the Department of Philosophy as a speaker during Ethics Week.
  • Sunniva Sorby, an explorer and lecturer, was hosted by the Department of Biological Sciences and spoke regarding leadership lessons learned as a member of the first all-women expedition to the South Pole.
  • Cynthia Weber, a professor at the University of Sussex, was hosted by ASPECT as the keynote speaker for the second annual ASPECT Conference.
  • Nandini Bhattacharya, a professor at Texas A&M University, was hosted by the Department of Sociology and presented a lecture regarding South Asia.
  • Monica Black, a professor at University of Tennessee, Knoxville, was hosted by the Department of History and presented the keynote address at the 16th annual Brian Bertoti Innovative Perspectives in History Graduate Conference.
  • Elizabeth Stine-Morrow, a professor at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, was hosted by the Center for Gerontology and presented the keynote address at the 35th anniversary event for the Center for Gerontology.
  • Toni Morrison, an American novelist, editor, and professor, was celebrated by guests spanning the fields of literature, music, government, and more at the “Sheer Good Fortune” event presented by the Center for the Arts at Virginia Tech. The event was hosted by Maya Angelou, Nikki Giovanni, and Joanne Gabbin.
  • Evalyn Gates, a renowned theoretical cosmologist and astrophysicist who was appointed executive director and chief executive officers of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History in 2010, was hosted by the Department of Physics.
  • Alexandra Schultheis Moore, an associate professor in English at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, spoke about human rights featured in literature and film.
  • Mike Reiss, an Emmy Award-winning producer of the Simpsons and best-selling author, held a screening of his animated shorts and gave a presentation followed by a question-and-answer session to discuss Jewish history, culture, and identity.
  • Johnetta Cole, an educator and humanitarian, was keynote speaker for the sixth annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration at Virginia Tech.
  • Z. Aziza Baccouche, a blind, African American theoretical physicist, who is founder and president of her own multimedia company, AZIZA Productions, presented “Seeking Vision,” organized by the Department of Physics.
  • Melanie Bonner, clinical and pediatric psychologist at the Duke University Medical Center at the Brain Tumor Center, spoke at the first annual Virginia Tech Cancer Research Symposium.
  • Martin Sheen and Emilio Esteves, the father-son, actor-director duo, presented their movie, “The Way,” which portrays one man’s journey on the Camino de Santiago.
  • Lillie Paquette, a documentary director and specialist in international affairs focused on mass media, public opinion, and U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, presented “We Are Egypt: Voices Leading to Revolution.”
  • Marina Ranga, CEO of Triple Helix Research Group in Belgium, presented ideas about innovation and increasing business competitiveness, as part of the 2011 Innovation Based Manufacturing Workshop.
  • Theda Perdue, a University of North Carolina, Charlotte, professor, presented “The Life and Legacies of Booker T. Washington,” organized by Department of History.
  • Kavitas Ramdas, an international human rights pioneer who made the Global Fund the largest grant making foundation in the world, talked about the global perspective on quality of women’s lives and the educational development of women.
  • Andrew Weaver, a Nobel Peace Prize winner and one of the world’s foremost climate scientists, was keynote speaker at the 26th annual Graduate Student Association Research Symposium.
  • Zev Kedem, a “Schindler’s List” survivor, was keynote speaker for Jewish Awareness Month.
  • Anne Hastings, director of Fonkoze in Haiti, presented “Accompanying the Poorest Out of Poverty: What Works? What Doesn't?,” organized by the Department of Political Science.
  • Greg Mortenson, a Nobel Peace Prize nominee and co-author of the best-selling book, “Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace ... One School at a Time,” presented “Pennies, Pencils, and Peace,” organized by the Students for Non-Violence Club, the International Relations Organization, and the Center for Student Engagement and Community Partnerships.
  • Maya Angelou, poet, educator, historian, best-selling author, and actress, was keynote speaker for the third annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration at Virginia Tech.
  • Mary Kim Titla, a San Carlos Apache, presented “Leveraging the Power of Media: The Shift Toward Positive and Accurate Representations of Native American People,” in celebration of Native American Heritage Month.

DSA Advancement


Penny Helms White

Chief Advancement Officer
Division of Student Affairs

Virginia Tech
341 Squires Student Center (0510)
290 College Ave 
Blacksburg VA 24061

Phone: 540-231-5111

phwhite@vt.edu