Greenwich Academy’s Annual Symposium

On Monday, October 20, 2014, GA held its annual symposium, an event whose major purpose is to spread awareness of and incite student interest in “a topic of global interest and consequence.”

This year, the symposium’s overall focus was “Women’s Leadership in the 21st Century.”

The day kicked off with a keynote address from Jennifer Lawton, Acting CEO of MakerBot. Lawton’s speech was followed by “Lightning Round Presentations,” during which thirteen speakers separated into smaller groups and gave students brief glimpses into their everyday work.

These presentations included anecdotes, slideshows, and visuals of their projects. After two presentation rounds, there were a few simultaneous Q&A panels at which students had the chance to get to know even more about the various speakers.

The event is organized by Ms. Connie Blunden, Director of Global Initiatives, and Dr. Ann Decker, Director of STEM Initiatives.

In the past, the symposium has looked at topics that are more science-oriented. For example, the keynote speaker of last year’s symposium was Adam Lewinter, a member of the Extreme Ice Survey team, who focused his talk primarily on climate change and the evidence of it left in glaciers.

The year before offered students a group of breakout sessions on the topic of Global Health. And two years before that, experts from a number of backgrounds spoke on the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

The two organizers clarified the departure from a hard science-type basis for symposium:

“As we consider the opportunity we have with the symposium, we always look to have something interdisciplinary that you can look at from a many different angles, and so this gave us the opportunity to look at how women are innovating and leading in lots of different professional fields,” said Ms. Blunden.

“The maker movement in particular has garnered a lot of publicity and pulled a lot of dynamic women,” she added.

Versatility was definitely on the brain when it came to choosing such a free-form theme. “We really wanted to pick a theme, as opposed to a topic. So the theme was women’s leadership. It’s a very broad theme so we were able to bring in so many people from so many different fields,” explained Dr. Decker. “We weren’t constrained, we could bring in people from so many different fields and of so many different ages.”

While people might think having all these different speakers lends itself to disorganization and chaos, many students really appreciated the range.

“I’ve always found the symposium really exciting and have always been amazed by the incredible paths people have taken and accomplishments they’ve reached. However, this year was definitely my favorite symposium that I’ve experienced,” said Phoebe Bloom, XI, indicating a special success of this year’s symposium’s unique interdisciplinary spirit.

“I am more of a humanities person, so I really enjoyed hearing speakers from a wide range of professions instead of just representatives from the stem field. I left the day with many new role models to look up to,” finished Bloom.

Something definitely not to be overlooked was the accessibility of the speakers. Students especially liked listening to the younger speakers and those whose work was relevant to their daily lives.

“I especially loved listening to Radhika Jones [deputy editor of TIME Magazine] …it was exciting to hear someone speak who has a say in naming the 100 Most Influential People every year!” said Gallant Zhuangli, XI.

“I really enjoyed hearing Anne Madoff [a Harvard senior who is breaking ground through her program WICS (Women In Computer Science) in getting women a piece of the action in the powerhouse industry of the new century] – as well as Sandra Richter [founder of Changing Environments, a company at the forefront of creating distinctly mobile technology designed for urban use], speak about her program because even though she is only a few years older than us, she has already accomplished so much – it was inspiring to hear her,” said Annika Tallis, XI.

“To be honest, I was very impressed by the student that was a coder at Harvard [Anne Madoff]. She was very down-to-earth, and completely understood where we, as females in a male dominated study, were coming from…it was easy for people to connect to her, and her to them,” said Jadesola Ariyibi, XI.

“She was the highlight of the symposium,” Ariyibi concluded.

As for next year’s theme or topic, Ms. Blunden and Dr. Decker have yet to solidify any plans. While neither was opposed to crowdsourcing, both alluded to a lengthy process needing to be undergone for a selection of a new topic.

But, be sure to expect an experience similar to the 2013 symposium, where the whole GA upper school participates in one activity together.