September 21, 2023

By Haley Dittbrenner ’25

Susquehanna University alumnae working in the education, health care and retail fields discussed with students how they express authenticity in their personal lives and in the workplace during the annual Women’s Leadership Initiative panel.

The event, moderated by Christiana Paradis ’11, director of Title IX compliance at Susquehanna, featured panelists Dr. Courtney Allen ’08, director of community standards and student engagement at Harrisburg Area Community College; Megan McMullen ’02 Blue, senior director of the major gifts team at White Plains Hospital; and Ashley Spoto ’17, manager of technical function upscaling at L’Oréal.

The panelists were first asked about their values and how they relate to their ideas of authenticity. For Allen, who majored in communications-public relations, this means staying true to herself and maintaining mutual respect.

“Being true to your word is important,” she said. “A lot of people come to my office when they’re vulnerable, so having human integrity is extremely important.”

In the next series of questions, which focused on identity, leadership and maintaining a work-life balance, Allen added that authenticity also means staying true to her identity as a woman of color.

“If I’m in a room and I’m the only woman or the only person of color, I may have to engage in different ways to maintain my authenticity,” Allen said. “I try to tailor what I say to my audience so people will buy in to what I’m saying. In business and in life you have to maneuver.”

Spoto, who was a self-designed luxury brand communication and marketing major, described herself as a “workaholic.” She said she finds her authentic self through self-care measures, and recalled a time when a co-worker asked about her professional life and, to her surprise, she provided an unconventional reply.

“They asked me who I am outside of my accomplishments and outside of the people I serve,” Spoto said. “I couldn’t answer her. And that question still haunts me today.”

Spoto used the anecdote to stress the importance of serving yourself alongside others. The other panelists urged students to take care of themselves and maintain a healthy work-life balance.

“I know who I am as a mother, as a leader, as a professional,” McMullen Blue, a communications-public relations major, said. “I have three toddler-aged kids, including twins. I am at a job where I have to be available, but when I walk out the door I do so because I choose to see my kids.”

The panel concluded with discussions on leaving a legacy. The alumnae reflected on being known for who they are as people, rather than their hard work.

“I want to be remembered as kind, generous, loud, adventurous,” Spoto said. “I don’t want to be defined by those I serve.”

“When my grandmother was dying, a priest came to her hospital bed and asked her what she had learned from her life,” McMullen Blue said. Her grandmother’s response was that she learned to be good to people. “If I can be just half of that, and be remembered for it, I’ll be better off.”

I think of legacy as being able to leave your mark everywhere you go,” Allen said. “While I was at Susquehanna, I was a charter member for Sigma Gamma Rho, and I helped to start the Theresa Palmer Society. Everywhere I go I’ve left something. That’s the way I think of legacy.”

This year’s panel was supported by the Signe S. Gates and Dawn G. Mueller Women’s Leadership Fund, which was endowed in 2019 and connects female students with alumnae who inspire them to pursue leadership positions within their chosen fields.