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Women’s Leadership Conference set at Ferrum College
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Courtesy Photo: Amazon Conservation Team Senior Director of Operations Liliana Madrigal will give the keynote address at the 16th annual Ferrum College Women’s Leadership Conference.

Monday, February 25, 2013

The 16th annual Ferrum College Women's Leadership Conference will be held Thursday, March 7 in Franklin Hall on the college campus.

The conference begins at 8:30 a.m. with registration and a continental breakfast and continues with a variety of speakers and events throughout the day.

The conference is free and open to the public, but online preregistration is requested before Feb. 28 at

This year's conference theme is "Sustaining Women's Voices," which coincides with the college's overall 2012-13 theme of sustainability. Featured speakers are Liliana Madrigal, Amazon Conservation Team senior director of operations; Louisa Branscomb, Ph.D., clinical psychologist, songwriter and award-winning bluegrass musician; and Dr. Sandra Via, Ferrum College assistant professor of political science and international studies program coordinator.

Madrigal's keynote address will be "Women of the Colombian Amazon: Their Role in the Health of Their Communities." Madrigal co-founded the Amazon Conservation Team (ACT) with husband and writer, Dr. Mark Plotkin, author of "Tales of a Shaman's Apprentice," who visited the college in the fall of 2012. The ACT works to increase sustainability and advocate human rights for women of indigenous communities across the Amazon region. According to the ACT website, Madrigal's "initiative encouraged the formation in 2004 of the first full-fledged union of female traditional healers in the Colombian Amazon, the Asociación de Mujeres Indigenas de la Medicina Tradicional."

Branscomb will share her experiences as a woman in uncharted territory during her conference presentation entitled "Bad Girls and Banjos: Breaking the Wrong Rules the Right Way." As a musician in the 1970s, Branscomb was one of the first women to front a modern bluegrass band. A songwriter and banjo player, Branscomb composed Allison Krauss's breakout hit "Steel Rails," was a nominee for the 2011 Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music of America's (PBMA) Songwriter of the Year Award, and has won two International Bluegrass Music Association Record Event of the Year trophies. Other musicians have recorded a number of her songs.

As a psychologist, Branscomb was one of the first to write about concepts, such as psychological surrender and spiritual aspects of trauma, and one of the first to research the connection between childhood abuse and traumatic stress in adulthood.

Via, this year's alumna speaker, graduated from Ferrum College in 2004 with a bachelor's degree in political science. She earned a master's degree in political science and a Ph.D. in planning, governance and globalization from Virginia Tech. Via is the only person to speak at the conference as both a student and an alumna.

The conference traditionally includes a musical or theatrical performance, and this year Helen Prien, a faculty member in theatre arts, will portray 20th century author Dorothy Sayers as she gives Sayers' "Are Women Human?" speech. Two Ferrum College students, Kyle Zeller of Rocky Mount and Jessa King of Cana will give responses. 

On Wednesday, March 6, Branscomb will play a conference kick-off concert with bluegrass musicians Jeanette and Johnny Williams. Jeanette Williams is the SPBMA 2012 Female Vocalist of the Year for traditional bluegrass. The event will take place in the Panther's Den from 7 to 9 p.m. and is free and open to the public.

To register for the 16th annual Women's Leadership Conference, visit

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