Circle of Excellence Conference
Virginia Tech Biochemistry Professor Erin Dolan demonstrates DNA gel electrophoresis to participants in the 2009 Circle of Excellence Conference.
By Amy Ostroth
A thief sneaks into the neighbor's yard, the moon glinting on his white fur. He steals food from the bowl outside the back door, leaving behind his saliva -- and his DNA.
The next morning, Virginia Tech Biochemistry Professor Erin Dolan takes a sample of that saliva to determine which of the neighborhood cats is stealing her cat’s food. She brings the sample to her session at the 2009 Circle of Excellence Conference (COEC), where the participants engage in DNA gel electrophoresis to identify the thief.
And that was just one of the fascinating sessions available at this year’s COEC, which took place at the Inn at Virginia Tech from May 31 to June 1.
In his opening night keynote address, university spokesman Larry Hincker, an associate vice president who worked more than two decades at Virginia Tech, talked about how impressed he is by the bright, highly motivated students at his school.
"I have come to realize over the years what an extraordinary place this is," he told the participants.
That sentiment was echoed by women's soccer coach Kelly Cagle, who told the women that Virginia Tech boasts some of the best athletic facilities in the nation.
She's also proud that Virginia Tech places such an emphasis on educating the whole person because "the majority of athletes aren’t going to play after college," Cagle says. "This is an area we can take a lot of pride in. Our student-life office prepares our athletes for life after Virginia Tech through personal and professional development opportunities."
Also speaking at the conference was author and artist Christine Mason Miller. Her new book, Ordinary Sparkling Moments, tells stories about the surprises and obstacles that led her to new avenues of opportunities.
On May 31, she told those in attendance that roads sometimes take unexpected turns and lead to unexpected destinations. She encouraged the women to pursue their passions and follow their dreams, because every step they take has an impact.
The conference also featured sessions on protecting yourself from identity theft; personal finance and investing in a challenging economy; how to make environmentally friendly choices in your everyday life; the rapidly expanding Virginia Tech Arts Initiative; and how to read the nighttime sky. All sessions were led by Virginia Tech faculty and alumni.
Said first-time participant Cheryl Burks-Henry: "I had a great time. It kept me busy, but I liked the pace. We weren’t running at full speed."
Like Burks-Henry, Sally Cox, who was also attending the conference for the first time, was pleased with the experience. "I have to say that I am very pleased and impressed with the organization. I didn't know a soul ... but it has been a welcoming organization, which is great, and it has been a fabulous opportunity to see what people are doing at Virginia Tech."
Cox is a new member of the WLP Council, an advisory group within the WLP program.
Next year's conference will take place at the Hotel Roanoke, June 13-15. For more information, keep an eye on the Women in Leadership and Philanthropy website for more information.