This month, more than 700 people tuned into a three-day virtual conference that celebrated and empowered an important group of women — women of color in academia.

The 9th Faculty Women of Color in the Academy national conference was held April 9-11 and presented by the Office of Inclusion and Diversity at Virginia Tech. It featured a myriad events and speakers, from interactive workshops to leadership panels.

The FWCA national conference represents a movement toward substantive change in establishing a diverse and inclusive environment not just at Virginia Tech, but on campuses across the country. It provides faculty, university administrators, post-doctorate fellows, and graduate students a rare and vital educational and professional platform to network, engage, and learn with peers from across the country.

The event kicked off on April 9, with an academic writing retreat hosted by Michelle Boyd, of InkWell Academic Writing Retreats.

Over the next two days, virtual sessions were segmented into four interconnected discussion themes: personal well-being, leadership, career development, and scholar activism. Each of these topic areas boasted an extensive line-up of renowned speakers who are superstars in their respective fields and disciplines.

April 10 began with a performance from Angela’s Pulse, an innovative troupe that develops collaborative performance pieces designed to foster community and spotlight visionary narratives.

Also, an April 10 president’s panel featured several female university presidents, including Ana Mari Cauce, of the University of Washington; Astrid Tuminez, of Utah Valley University; and Francine McNairy-Nelson, former president of Millersville University. The group shared their insights on deftly navigating the sometimes challenging higher education landscape as women of color.

France Cordova, a renowned astrophysicist and director of the National Science Foundation, delivered the conference’s closing keynote address. She offered several inspirational and personal anecdotes surrounding her career path, expounding on her accomplishments and how she navigated the STEM field as one of the few female leaders in a largely male-dominated field.

2021 Zenobia Hikes Award Winners

The conference concluded with the presentation of the Zenobia Hikes Award, which recognizes women of color with distinguished careers in higher education demonstrated by scholarly endeavors or administrative and professional accomplishments.

Out of 30 nominees — the award's largest number yet —  the committee recognized two incredible leaders: Brenda L. Walker Ph.D., J.D., interim dean at the University of South Florida; and Liza Hita Ph.D., clinical associate professor and psychology director at Arizona State University.   

Next year, the Office of Inclusion and Diversity looks forward to hosting an in-person FWCA national conference in Washington, D.C.