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Women's Leadership Symposium


 The Women’s Leadership Symposium is a forum for participants within California State University San Marcos community to connect, explore and engage in topics pertaining to women’s leadership and empowerment. This year's theme is focused on "Remaining Resilient in the Face of Adversity" and topics will include leadership in culture, politics, health care, and in self-care. 

 Rooted in the philosophies of intersectional feminism, we recognize that while all women experience oppression, we also all experience oppression in varying forms based on race, age, class, gender, sexuality, dis/ability, etc. With that in mind, we want everyone at the Women's Leadership Symposium to feel supported, included, and represented.  

We are intentionally inclusive of transgender, nonbinary, intersex, and gender non-conforming individuals.

Throughout the two sessions, we will seek to provide participants the opportunity to learn more about their individual identities and the unique influences they have on their leadership style.

Networking and teambuilding activities will allow for students to build a positive and supportive network of diverse women who vary across professional disciplines and life experiences. With these new experiences and community, student participants will have the knowledge to challenge the limitations placed on women and will have the confidence and strength to empower others.

WHEN: Friday, March 5th - 12:00pm-3:00pm & Saturday, March 6th - 9:00am-12:00pm

WHERE: Private Microsoft Teams Channel. Instructions will be sent after you register.

RSVP: RSVP by March 3rd. Registration is FREE and open to all currently enrolled CSUSM students ONLY.  Note, the registration form is connected to Tukwut Trax (Presence) and will require you to log-in with your CSUSM credentials. 


  • Schedule

    Day 1: Friday, March 5th 
    12:00pm - 3:00pm

    Keynote: Felena Hanson


    Leadership & Politics: Mayor Rebecca Jones

    Breakout Sessions

    Closing Remarks/Performance


    Day 2: Saturday, March 6th 
    9:00am - 12:00pm 

    Mindfulness & Compassion: Dr. Basu

    Culture & Leadership Panel 

    Breakout Sessions

    Closing Keynote: Dr. Cole-Avent

  • Presenters & Panelists
    CSUSM's Women's Leadership Symposium Spring 2021 Keynote

    Opening Keynote: Felena Hanson  Felena is a long-time entrepreneur and marketing maven.  Her latest venture, Hera Hub, is a spa-inspired shared workspace and business accelerator for female entrepreneurs. This as-needed, flexible work and meeting space provides a productive environment for growing businesses.  Hera Hub members have access to a professional space to meet with clients and to connect and collaborate with like-minded business owners, thus giving them the support, they need to be prosperous.

    She has two company-owned locations in San Diego and licensed locations in Carlsbad, Phoenix, DC, Irvine, and Temecula with more cities launching soon. She’s on a mission to support thousands of women in the launch and growth of their business. Felena and Hera Hub have been featured in Inc Magazine, the BBC News, Forbes, and the New York Times.  She is a published author and international speaker.  Her book, “Flight Club – Rebel, Reinvent, and Thrive: How to Launch Your Dream Business” is available on Amazon.

    CSUSM's Women's Leadership Symposium Spring 2021 Speaker

    San Marcos City Mayor, Rebecca Jones has been a long-time San Marcos resident and has served on the San Marcos City Council since January 2007 after being appointed to a vacated Council seat. She was re-elected in 2008, 2012 and again in 2016. Rebecca served as the Vice Mayor from 2012-2018. She is currently serving in her first term as Mayor, having been elected in November 2018. 

    Her former roles have included Chair and Board Member of North County Transit District (NCTD), Chair and Board Member on North County Dispatch Joint Power Authority (NCDJPA), Chair and Board Member of SANDAG Public Safety Committee, State Member of the LOCC Public Safety Committee and as a primary LOCC representative.

    As an advocate for public safety in San Marcos, Rebecca is dedicated to maintaining a high quality of life in her community and strongly supports San Marcos youth. Recognized by the Red Ribbon Commission in 2016 with the Excellence in Prevention Advocacy Award, she effectively championed the creation of ordinances to restrict tobacco sales to San Marcos youth. She has also actively worked to outlaw the sale of the synthetic drugs Spice and Bath Salts in advance of state action.

    Mayor Jones is a strong supporter of business in San Marcos and believes that a healthy business base is an important part of a dynamic and thriving community. She is a member of the Lincoln Club of San Diego County, an organization that supports business, and has promoted streamlining city planning processes so that small businesses open in a shorter time frame so they are able to succeed. Rebecca also serves on the Board of the San Diego Regional EDC.

    CSUSM's Women's Leadership Symposium Speaker

    California State UniveFor nearly 20 years, Dr. Gail Cole-Avent has served as a leader and graduate instructor in higher education institutions or affiliated organizations.  Professional experiences in the Northeast, Southeast and West Coast provided experiences and the understanding of varying institutional, geographical, and community needs. This has framed her outlook on the unique opportunity and responsibility that a University/College has to advocate for and support social mobility. 

    In July 2018, Dr. Cole-Avent began her tenure as the Associate Vice President for Student Life at California State University San Marcos.  In a newly created position and unit, her purpose is to establish a collective vision and integrated operations among nine departments focusing on enhancing the campus experience and engagement for students. Student Life includes Associated Students Incorporated, Student Life Centers for Identity, Inclusion and Empowerment - Black Student Center, Cross Cultural Center, Latinx Center, LGBTQA Pride Center, and Gender Equity Center -  Campus Recreation,Student Leadership & Involvement  (Greek Life, Leadership, and Student Organizations), Veterans Services, and the University Student Union.

    Prior to transitioning to the California State University system, Dr. Cole-Avent worked at the University of Miami where she served on the executive team for the Division of Student Affairs in multiple roles including the Executive Director for Student Life, Assistant to the Vice President for Student Affairs, and University Ombudsperson. She also served as an adjunct graduate faculty member teaching foundation content courses and on dissertation committees.

    She also has professional and graduate experience at public and private institutions including the University of Georgia, University of Connecticut, and Golden Key International Honour Society.  


    A native of  Pasadena, California, she earned her Bachelor of Science in Speech from Northwestern University, Master of Education degree from the University of California, Los Angeles, and Doctor of Philosophy from the University of Georgia.


    CSUM's Women's Leadership Symposium Speaker

    Dr. Ranjeeta Basu is CSUSM's Interim Chief Diversity Officer and has been teaching Economics here at CSUSM for the last 25 years. Over the last six years she has focused her attention on mindfulness practices and contemplative pedagogy. She, along with a group of faculty, staff and administrators, have started an initiative called Mindful CSUSM. The purpose of this initiative is to provide support to students, faculty, staff and administrators through contemplative practices that foster deep learning, reduced stress, increased capacity for compassionate listening and increased well-being.

    CSUSM Women's Leadership Symposium Speaker

    Karin Iwasaka is the Associate Director at the Cal State San Marcos Career Center, where she provides career counseling to students and alumni and serves as a liaison to the College of Humanities, Arts, Behavioral & Social Sciences. She majored in History and minored in Sociology at UC San Diego, prior to earning her master’s degree in Counseling, with a Career Counseling emphasis, from Cal State Long Beach.  

    CSUSM Women's Leadership Symposium Speaker

    Kai (they/them/ theirs) works as the North County organizer for the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties. They have been organizing for almost 10 years, mostly around immigrant rights issue. They studies Women Studies and Political Science when they attended CSUSM, enjoying events like Take Back the Night and V-Day. Kai loves talking spirituality, nature, and Ecofeminism. They live in Escondido with their wife and two puppies!

    CSUSM Women's Leadership Symposium Speaker

    Carrillo graduated from Cal State University San Marcos (CSUSM) with a double major in Mass Media & Women’s Studies and a minor in Communications. While at CSUSM, she was President of the Women’s Studies Student Association and served as the Women's Wellness Advocate at the CSUSM Women’s Center. 

    Carrillo began her career working with domestic violence and sexual assault survivors, refugees, and survivors of elder abuse. She has over 10 years of experience being an advocate for others, from working in DV shelters to accompanying survivors through the court system. Carrillo is enthusiastic about empowering girls, creating awareness regarding Reproductive Justice, LGBTQ rights, and Immigrant rights. 

    CSUSM Women's Leadership Symposium Presenter

    Trista Kallis-Ferrera, MSL, serves as the Manager of Respriatory Care Services at UC Irvine Health. She completed her undergraduate degree in Professional Development and Advanced Patient Care as well as a Master's degreein Leadership from Grand Canyon University.

    With over 10 years of Leadership experience and a passion for the topic, Trista has been involved in many leadership initiatives within the hospital setting and has completed her master trainer certificate in TeamSTEPPS, an evidence-based teamwork system which incorporates leadership within its program. Although Trista has a passion for leadership, she also has a passion for motherhood. Trista is a mother of four and uses the same leadership principles she has learned over the years to develop and lead her children as well. 

    Women's Leadership Symposium CSUSM Panelist

    Dr. Joely Proudfit (Luiseño), is a descendant of the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Mission Indians. Dr. Proudfit holds an M.A. and Ph.D. in political science with emphasis in public policy and American Indian studies from Northern Arizona University and a B.A. in political science with emphasis in public law from CSU Long Beach. A full professor, Dr. Proudfit has been tenured three times in the CSU system. In 2016 she was appointed by President Barack Obama to the National Advisory Council on Indian Education.  

    A recent publication by Dr. Proudfit from 2017 focuses on California. On Indian Ground-: A Return to Indigenous Knowledge—Generating Hope, Leadership and Sovereignty through Education. Dr. Proudfit is also author of the forthcoming book titled Beyond the American InReadian Stereotype: There’s More to Me Than What You See.  Dr. Proudfit serves as the Department Chair of the American Indian Studies Department. Dr. Proudfit is also the Director of the California Indian Culture and Sovereignty Center (CICSC) at CSUSM. The mission of the CICSC is to foster collaborative study and community service relationships among the faculty, staff and students of CSUSM, and members of tribal communities, for the purpose of developing and conducting research projects that support the maintenance of sovereignty and culture within those communities. 

    Women's Leadership Symposium CSUSM Panelist

    Cynthia Luvlee Austin is the President and Founder of Shyne San Diego, a nonprofit dedicated to ending exploitation by building a network of survivor owned enterprises. She graduated from SDSU with her Bachelor of Arts in Social Work. She went on to study holistic health at Bodymind College where she began incorporating new healing approaches to social service models. Cynthia has over twenty years' experience as a nonprofit startup specialist making it her mission to design innovative social programs from the ground up. Mrs. Austin serves on the Board of Directors for Neighborhood House Association and is a member of the 4S Ranch Team Referral Network. Shyne San Diego has been featured on NPR, KUSI, News Channel 8, San Diego Union Tribune and San Diego Reader. 

    Women's Leadership Symposium CSUSM Panelist

    Eloise Madriaga was born and raised in San Diego, CA.  She was raised in the foster care system and spent much her adult life in the California State Prison System.  Born to a teenage mother who died on ther 21st birthday from and alcohol and  barbiturates overdose.  Eloise suffered from childhood trauma at an early point in life.  To cope with the death of her mother and removal from family by Child Protective Services she dove into Street Life to find acceptance.  At the age of 16 Eloise was emancipated and attempted a family life with marriage and children. 

    In 2014 Eloise was facing a life sentence by means of the three-strikes law.  By what she calls God’s Grace, she found mercy in the courts and was only sentenced to five years with half and saw that as a wakeup call and a second chance.  While in prison Eloise attended college to begin a degree in Sociology. Since her release in 2017 Eloise has become a part of a large recovery community through organizations such as Transitions Collective “Celebrate Recovery”, narcotics anonymous, and juvenile justice programs. 

    Eloise lives a quiet life in servanthood to her community and friends and family.  She continues to live freely seeking mind, body and soul restoration while currently battling breast cancer.  She believes herself to be a woman of strong conviction that we are all of one race and the only thing to truly set us fee is forgiveness and love.  

  • Planning Committee Members
    Spring Women's Leadership Symposium  2021 Committee Chair

    Dr. Shannon Nolan-Arañez (Chair), coordinates the Tukwut Leadership Circle (TLC) program and serves as a lecturer in First-Year Programs. She is a proud CSUSM alumni, earning her BS in Business Administration: Management & Marketing from CSUSM in 2004. Also holding an MA in Educational Leadership from SDSU (2010) and her doctorate in Educational Leadership (2016) her research focuses on how leadership activities influence students’ sense of spirituality. She loves spending time with her family and watching her 3.5-year-old discover the world. She also enjoys gardening, reading and listening to podcasts – especially “Unlocking Us” with Dr. Brené Brown!

    Spring Women's Leadership Symposium  2021 Committee Co-Chair

    Jamie Acevedo (Co-Chair) is the Assistant Director of the University Student Union at Cal State San Marcos and is currently serving as the Interim Associate Director of the Gender Equity Center. Before coming to work at CSUSM six years ago, she earned her master’s degree in College Counseling and Student Development from Azusa Pacific University. She also has a BA in Communications with an emphasis in Public Relations from the University of La Verne.

    Spring Women's Leadership Symposium  2021 Committee Faculty Rep

    Dr. Pam Redela is a life-long feminist who is dedicated to furthering goals of gender equity through education and leading by example.   She holds a B.A., M.A., and PhD in Spanish Language, Literature and Culture and teaches in the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Department at CSUSM. Her research focuses gender roles and feminist activism, Ecofeminism, and intersectional literary analysis.  Her education and teaching experiences have afforded her the opportunity to interact with various sectors of society while her working-class upbringing keeps her committed to grassroots effort.  Her passion is educating and empowering her students to be agents of social change. 

    Spring Women's Leadership Symposium  2021 Committee Faculty Rep

    Dr. Rajnandini” Raj Pillai is a Professor of Management at CSUSM. She received her doctorate from the State University of New York at Buffalo in Organizational Behavior. Her areas of teaching and research interest are leadership and cross-cultural management, and she teaches in our undergraduate and graduate programs.  Dr. Pillai has her MBA from the University of Bombay, India and has held management positions in the banking industry in India.  She has published several research articles on charismatic and transformational leadership and cross-cultural management in the leading journals in the field.  She was also chief editor of a volume entitled, Teaching Leadership: Innovative Approaches for the 21st Century, in the Leadership Horizon series, and co-author (with Martin Gannon) of several editions of Understanding Global Cultures.  She has received multiple awards for excellence in teaching and research including the Harry E. Brakebill Distinguished Professor Award.  She has offered leadership workshops for organizations such as the Carlsbad Chamber of Commerce. Dr. Pillai is also Executive Director and founding member of the Center for Leadership Innovation and Mentorship Building (CLIMB) at CSUSM which hosts the popular “In the Executive’s Chair” class. 

    Spring Women's Leadership Symposium  2021 Committee Staff Rep

    Alexa Diaz is the coordinator of the Academic Success Center (ASC), one of three learning centers housed in the Office of Undergraduate Studies. She is a recent CSUSM alumna, earning her BA in Human Development and Spanish (2019). Outside of her ASC role, Alexa is part of the UndocuAlly Training team for the Dreamers Resource Office. She also serves as a mentor to young females through Project Hero - a program within COMPACT that provides a second chance opportunity for young offenders to reintegrate to school or the workforce. On her free time, she enjoys spending time outdoors and traveling to tropical places! 

    Spring Women's Leadership Symposium  2021 Committee Staff Rep

    Alycia McGeever is the Graduate Assistant for the Gender Equity Center. She has served the GEC for the past two years as she completes SDSU’s Postsecondary Education and Student Affairs Master's program. She received a BA in her Sociology & Education Sciences from UC Irvine. Before working at CSUSM, she worked for Girl Scouts and Girls Incorporated empowering young women to believe in themselves  

    Women's Leadership Symposium committee member Joenetta Benjamin

    Joenetta Benjamin is a senior undergraduate student, majoring in Psychological Science at Cal State San Marcos. She received multiple A.A.’s and A.S.’s from Palomar College that focuses around the social and behavioral development of children in their early stages. Outside of her academic role, Joenetta is a member of SVO (Student Veterans Organizations), a research assistant in the Trauma and healing Lab and CSUSM EOPA Executive Board: Treasurer. She is also serving as a mentor to other CSUSM students through CSUSM Tukwut Leadership Circle (TLC). Joenetta is also an active member in her community and campus by volunteering with multiple organizations. She has been serving in the California National Guard for over 8 years where she has mentored and trained multiple soldiers. In her personal time, she likes playing with her dog Spiderweb, tending to her plants, and learning a new skill; indoor and out. She hopes one day to be the “Voice of Change”.

    Women's Leadership Symposium committee member
    Jacqueline is in her final semester of her undergraduate studies at California State University San Marcos where she is majoring in Business Administration with a focus on Finance. She is a transfer student from Mira Costa College and has taken a few courses at Palomar College. At the end of her first semester at CSUSM Jacqueline was awarded the Outstanding Business Student Award that later led her down a path of leadership and involvement as a student. Jacqueline serves as a representative of the College of Business Administration for CSUSM’s Associated Students Inc. Within her role in ASI’s Board of Directors, Jacqueline is the Chair of the Elections Committee, a member of the Budget and Long-term Planning Committee, Student Advocacy Committee, North County Higher Education Alliance, and Internal Operations Committee. Jacqueline is also a member of the Delta Zeta Sorority, Cougar Fund, and Finance Society. In her free time Jacqueline enjoys taking care of her families 5 dogs, learning Japanese, cooking, playing Nintendo Switch, and planning her 2022 wedding.