2017 Speakers

Brandy S. Propst | “Why Women Should Ask”

Brandy S. Propst is an energetic and experienced professional with 10 years of experience in various areas of student affairs and higher education. She is eager to share tips and resources to help women to learn how to ask for what we want, how to become advocates for closing the gender pay gap and how to fight for a better future for ourselves and our families. She is passionate about factors impacting the advancement of women, especially Black women, and their career trajectory such as intersectionality, pay equity, self-advocacy, and mentorship. She also has research interests in first-year experience and transition for college students, professional development for women in higher education and self-care practices for higher education professionals. Throughout Brandy’s professional career and research interests, access, privilege, and intersectionality and how these concepts influence the lives of students and women have always been components of her work.

Brandy currently works in Academic Affairs as the Director of Elon 101 & Assistant Director of Academic Advising in the Office of Academic Support and Advising at Elon University. She received her B.A. in Sociology & African American Studies and M.Ed. in Student Personnel Administration in Higher Education from The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG). She will begin her doctorate studies in the Ph.D. program in Educational Studies with a concentration in Cultural Studies at UNCG in the fall of 2017.

In addition to her role at Elon and her research interests, Brandy is a certified facilitator for the American Association of University Women (AAUW) Start Smart and Work Smart salary negotiation workshops and a member of the AAUW-Greensboro branch. She also holds several leadership positions within the National Association for Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) as a member of the NASPA Undergraduate Fellows Program (NUFP) Advisory Board and chair of the NUFP Alumni Committee and as a member of the NASPA Center for Women (CFW) Board and chair of the Candid Conversations mentoring program hosted by the Center for Women. In addition to AAUW and NASPA, Brandy is also a member of several professional associations and civic organizations to include the American College Personnel Association (ACPA), the North Carolina College Personnel Association (NCCPA), the National Association for Academic Advisors (NACADA), and Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated. Furthermore she has been recognized by NCCPA, ACPA and NASPA with several awards for her contribution to the field of student affairs/higher education and in the area of first-year experience.

In her leisure time, Brandy enjoys spending time with her partner, John, her 12-year old son, John, and with friends and family attending local events or occasionally roaming the aisles of Barnes & Nobles or Michael’s to cultivate her love of books, planners and journals.

Dr. Vanessa Abernathy-Enoch | “Stress Management for Women in Leadership”

Dr. Abernathy-Enoch is a licensed psychologist and educator who has worked statewide and across the nation to provide a holistic approach to mental health. Dr. Abernathy is a Staff Psychologist at The Counseling Center of The University of North Carolina Greensboro. She is also the owner of Phoenix Rising Psychological Services, a private practice with multiple locations in NC, including Charlotte and Durham. She is originally from Ohio and has a background in education. Dr. Abernathy worked as an adjunct professor and psychologist at the University of Southern California. She earned a B.A. in English Education from North Carolina Central University, M.Div. in theology from Duke University, The Divinity School, and M.A. and Psy.D. in Clinical Psychology from Fuller Theological Seminary, School of Psychology.

Dr. Abernathy-Enoch is passionate about helping others live authentically, despite the stress and challenge of change. Dr. Abernathy-Enoch honors diversity and warmly welcomes all to tap into their personal values for life-changing results. In addition, she is committed to women’s health and mental well-being and enjoys seeing women thrive as she collaborates with them in her clinical work, sorority and family. Above all, she is accountable to the women in her life as she strives to foster health and wellness in her own life and in the life of her two young daughters.


Angie Burleyson| “Becoming the Best Versions of Ourselves – Women Supporting Women”

Angie Burleyson is a Performance Consultant and Corporate Trainer in the Triad Region for Dale Carnegie Training of Central and Eastern North Carolina.  She is an award winning sales champion as well as a facilitator and coach.  Her vision is to help people achieve unlimited success in their personal and professional lives through enhanced skill development.  As a high achiever, Angie works diligently to help her clients reach their maximum potential.  

Burleyson is an avid learner and at any point you might find her reading topics ranging from Leadership to Science Fiction.  She is also a fitness fanatic enjoying boxing, running, cross fit, and weight lifting.

Burleyson lives in Kernersville, NC with her husband, Terry, their children Landon (9), Leah (6), and their loving doggy, Luda.  In her down time, Angie enjoys taking camping trips with her family.

Angie has degrees in Art and Design from RCC/UNCG as well as Organizational Leadership from SNHU.  


Cherri Walston | “The Confident Leader: Find the Silver Lining”

Cherri Walston is the founder of The InnerPrize Woman a coaching practice helping women in leadership roles ignite their inner brilliance and reclaim their power, so they can be better leaders of themselves and the people they are called to serve.  She is an Inspirational Speaker, Trainer, Certified Professional & Human Capital Coach, and the Author of HER Exit Strategy: The Working Woman’s Freedom Plan to Live Your Big Vision.

Cherri is very skillful at helping professional & entrepreneurial women articulate their passionate life’s vision.  She also leads them to develop an authentic & heart-centered leadership style that aligns with their personal mission. Cherri is compassionate, empathetic, and understands your personal & professional struggles because she has faced them herself and has overcome them. She discovered she had a natural gift at helping women transform their lives.

For the past 18 years, Cherri has worked in the training & development field and currently serves as the Leadership Performance Coach for a Product Brokerage & Internet Marketing Company. She holds a M.S.  Degree in Adult Education from N.C A & T State University,  and a B.S Degree in Business Administration from Greensboro College.

Cherri is excited and prepared to share her secret discovery with you so you can achieve your personal & professional goals. Today, Cherri is spreading her wings and implementing her divinely-right blueprint to inspire hundreds of other women to be confident, courageous, resilient and motivated to create an inspired-vision.


Dr. Sharon L. Contreras | Opening Plenary Speaker

Dr. Contreras is passionate about providing high-quality education to each child with the goal that every student graduates college and career ready.

 Dr. Contreras began her career as a high school English teacher before serving as a principal, area superintendent and assistant superintendent in Rockford, IL. Dr. Contreras has also served as the Chief Academic Officer for the Clayton County Public Schools in Georgia and in the Providence Public Schools in Rhode Island.  Through the development of high-performing teams, her work in those school districts resulted in improved graduation rates and access to rigorous academic programs for all students. 

 In 2011, she became the first woman of color in New York State’s history to serve as superintendent in one of the state’s largest districts when she took over the Syracuse City School District. Since that time, she has increased student access to challenging academic courses, expanded career and technical education options and improved low-performing schools. Under her leadership, Syracuse established 16 new career pathways for high school students, opened a school for gifted elementary students and opened two new high schools to provide students with the opportunity to earn associate degrees in electrical engineering technology, manufacturing technology and health-related fields.

 To get students to take advantage of those opportunities, they need to be in school. Dr. Contreras, in conjunction with Say Yes to Education, expanded its Promise Zone program, providing critical supports and resources to students with social, emotional or behavioral challenges. She introduced a new Code of Conduct and was recently invited to participate in a White House convening on school discipline and briefed members of the U.S. Congress on implementing fair disciplinary practices in schools.

 Dr. Contreras also worked with the New York state legislature to secure $300 million in construction funding to create 21st century learning environments and negotiated a landmark contract with the teachers’ union, making SCSD teachers the highest paid in the region over a five-year period. Contreras also has worked to address students’ social, physical and emotional needs by expanding partnerships with the community and bringing Breakfast in the Classroom and universal free breakfast and lunch programs to all Syracuse schools.

Dr. Contreras has won awards for her civic work and leadership including:  YWCA Champion of Opportunity Award; The Network Journals 25 Influential Women in Business Award; Interdenominational Ministers’ Alliance Drum Major for Social Justice Award; Nosotros Radio Latina of the Year; Delta Sigma Theta Sorority’s Fortitude Award; Southwest Community Health Center Leadership Award, Upstate University Hospital Community Leader Award; and the NAACP Freedom Award.
Dr. Contreras is a proud and active member of The Links Inc. and Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc. She was raised in Uniondale, N.Y. by her parents James and Elizabeth Contreras with her nine brothers and sisters. She has earned degrees from Binghamton University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.


Cindy Farmer | “Accentuate the Positive”

Cindy Farmer began her career at WSLS in Roanoke, Virginia and moved to Greensboro in 1990 to work at WFMY. After the birth of her first child, Cindy made a career choice to join the FOX8 Morning News. In February of 2012… she celebrated 15 years with FOX 8 News.

Cindy is very involved in the community. She is a Girl Scout leader with the Peaks to Piedmont Girl Scout Council. Her troop has been awarded their Bronze Award in scouting and is currently working on their Silver Award. She volunteers at Southeast Middle and High Schools in Guilford County, serving as a member of the School Leadership Team and the Building Advisory Teams at both schools.

Cindy is a true sports fan… and can often be found cheering on her Virginia Tech Hokies. She plays USTA tennis competitively and has discovered the world of CrossFit exercise which Cindy says “changed her life.”

Cindy has many honors and awards to her credit. In February of 2012 she won the Grady Elmore Award given by the North Carolina Tennis Foundation for her contributions to tennis. She also works tirelessly promoting the efforts of Susan G. Komen for the Cure and in March of 2010, Cindy was honored as the Outstanding Lifetime Volunteer. In 2008 Cindy was recognized for her contributions as a Founding Board member of the NC Triad Affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure and was honored with the Founder’s Award. In the Race for the Cure… Cindy’s Team, a team of walkers and runners lead by Cindy, won recognition for the largest Community Team in 2005.

Cindy says her passion is photography and in August of 2011 she won Our State Magazine’s Readers Photo Contest. She says her favorite subjects are “the gifts we are given each day”, although you can often find her capturing images of the sports her daughters play.


Joy Cook | “How to Rise,Shine, and Make an Impact in the Age of Social Media”

Joy Cook is a communications and digital engagement consultant specializing in public relations, publicity, and the art of strategic communication. Her public relations background sets her apart as an outstanding social media strategist and small business coach. She is also an effective and informative speaker.  She has been a lead strategist and manager of key public relations campaigns including the White House acclaimed, Healthcare Faith Community Summit and the City of Greensboro’s Disparity study.

As Director of Strategic Communications at Welfare Reform Liaison Project, Inc., Cook was instrumental in developing the organization’s collaborative approach to communications and developed its social media strategy. Joy is an experienced professional in making and fostering relationships through digital engagement. This has placed her among top professionals in managing the online community. Affectionately, titled “Ms. Twitter” by the front page of a popular publication as well as a special invite to participate in the Arrival Ceremony of British Prime Minister, David Cameron, at a White House Tweetup.

She is a member of Public Relations Society of America and former Vice President of Public Relations for the Tarheel Chapter. Among her accomplishments are awards for volunteerism and honored as a Triad Business Journal’s 40 Leaders under Forty award recipient.

She chaired the Education Committee for the City of Greensboro, Commission on the Status of Women and represented the 12th Congressional District as Delegate for the Democratic National Convention. Joy is a graduate of the Institute of Political Leadership.

In addition to her accomplishments professionally, Joy is a global volunteer, who is a member of numerous nonprofit boards including, the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Alumni Association, Guilford College Board of Visitors, and a youth mentor for The Queen’s Foundation.

Join the conversation on Twitter: @JoyCookPR


Katie Marshall | “Find Your Light, Come Alive”

Katie Marshall is a Training & Development Consultant and Public Speaker. Her consulting business focuses on presentation skill development, career transition support, and activating communication skills to solve problems in personal and professional settings. She has spoken to student, volunteer, and professional groups from Montreal, Canada to TEDxGreensboro. Katie works with people in transition, equipping them with the tools they need to become agile leaders, adaptable problem solvers, and authentic communicators.

For five years, Katie worked as a communication specialist at Volvo Financial Services, where while learning the art of writing and telling business success stories, she co-founded the Early Career Professionals Network – an employee group for those in the beginning stages of their careers, and became an employee volunteer trainer in Diversity & Inclusive Leadership. These two accomplishments awoke something life-changing in her: a genuine, very real love for training and development.

When she is not working as a consulting trainer, presenter, or writer, Katie develops herself by taking graduate level Communication Studies courses at the University of North Carolina Greensboro and by training and teaching Martial Arts. She recently earned her Black Belt in Nan Sho Budo Kempo JuJutsu from Southern Pine Institute of Martial Arts. She applies the knowledge she gains from the courses she takes and her Martial Arts experience to empower those she works with.

Nicole Smith | “Emotional Intelligence: Gaining Self-Awareness One Step, One Day at a Time”

Nicole Smith’s current mission is to help others attempt to understand all the different behaviors you encounter every day at home and in the workplace-including yours. She has recently become a certified DISC behavior consultant allowing her to administer and interpret DISC behavior assessments-helping you be “the best you” in every situation.

With a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology, from the University of NC at Charlotte, Nicole has always had a keen interest in human behaviors and what makes people tick, why people react the way they do, and how our behaviors affect the workplace. Over the past 20 years, Nicole has had the opportunity to travel all over the United States training various corporations and industries on
everything from application user adoption, project management, and leadership development topics. In the different roles she has been afforded, Nicole has developed and delivered over 500 presentations, written over 100-course books, and has spoken at over ten conferences with up to 2500 attendees on different leadership topics.
These roles have varied from a National Training Consultant with a Fortune 500 corporation to a
Director of Human Resources & Staff Development. Every single opportunity and every single leaderhave taught her valuable lessons-lessons that she uses in her leadership courses and workshops-protecting the innocent, of course. No matter how good the leader is, no matter how bad the leader is, you always take away a little nugget to establish yourself as a great leader.
With a Master’s degree in Education, focusing on training and development, from the University of
Phoenix, Nicole’s current opportunity is the Director of Instructional Design and Learning &
Development for two non-profit education associations helping professionals all over the globe be the best talent they can be. She is a provisional member of the Junior League currently residing in
Greensboro, NC. Together with her husband of 18 years, they own and operate JMS Consulting Group providing services ranging from corporate financial solutions to professional leadership development.
She has a 17-year-old son who is graduating high school and will attend his parent’s alma mater, the University of NC at Charlotte, in fall 2017 and an 11-year-old son who is excited about being the only child in the house.

Dr. Maria Parades | “Taking Up Space”

Dr. Maria Paredes is a Licensed Professional Counselor, Clinical Supervisor, Certified Eating Disorders Specialist, and owner of Three Birds Counseling & Clinical Supervision in Greensboro. She works with women and men who want to make peace with food and with their bodies. She’s passionate about helping individuals live fuller lives, free from negative thinking, fear of food, and body hate. She believes ALL bodies have worth and that ALL individuals deserve to enjoy food, move in ways that feel joyful, and treat their bodies with kindness and gentleness. Her clients include individuals with disordered eating and body image concerns, anxiety, and infertility/pregnancy loss. She also teaches courses in UNCG’s Counseling department and provides clinical supervision and training to new professionals working toward their licensure as therapists. Maria has 3 young girls and hopes that they will grow up to experience the wonder and power of all their bodies have to offer.

Pat B. Freeman | “The ABCs to a Professional Image that Sells”

Pat B. Freeman is a John Maxwell certified speaker, trainer,
and coach with more than 20 years as a college administrator where
she managed over 125 faculty and staff and served nearly 3500
students annually. She is an author, serial entrepreneur, educator, radio host, and the founder of Pat B. Freeman, LLC
– a training and coaching business. Pat (aka The Dream Builder) is passionate about empowering women and others to move from “stuck to clarity” in areas of leadership, career, and personal growth. Her goal is to inspire you to have a successful and fulfilled life by doing what you love and stepping out to achieve your Big Dreams.
Pat has been speaking in front of audiences since age seven. She delivers passionate, impactful, and enthusiastic coaching and training events that empower women, executives, and the workforce towards success. She is innovative and enjoys working with projects that create amazing solutions.
Pat recently wrote her second book in 7-days: “Quotes to Inspire & Empower Women and
Girls”. This exciting challenge led her to start a radio show, develop an Aspiring New Authors
70-Day Book Writing & Publishing Camp, and a Workbook to accompany “Quotes to Inspire &
Empower Women and Girls.” After meeting the 7-day book challenge, Pat was inspired to take
on an
even bigger challenge – the Empower 7000 Project. She says, “I know if I can do it, so can others.” She is now on a mission to Inspire & Empower 7000 Women and Girls in 2017 – with
the EMPOWER 7000 Tour.
As a leadership empowerment and vision-building coach, Pat provides breakthrough results for
her clients as an experienced mentor. They learn to lead with passion, purpose, and profits.
Pat is the Greensboro Chapter President of NAPW (The National Association of Professional
Women), with over 850,000 members nationwide.
Pat holds a Masters’ degree in Educational
Administration from Campbell University and a Bachelors’ degree in Theatre from Florida State
University. She is a Certified Program Planner, HUB certified, and Lean/Six Sigma Yellow Belt
certified. Pat B. Freeman is a native Floridian and is the mother of two sons, Sterling and Styles.

Suzanne Plihcik | “Understanding the Racial Divide”

Suzanne Plihcik is a Lead Trainer and partner in The Racial Equity Institute, a national racial equity training and con
sulting group based in Greensboro, NC.   She works locally and across the nation with communities and organizations working to strengthen grass root and institutional capacity to address racially inequitable outcomes through “Understanding the Racial Divide”an increased understanding of systemic racism. In Greensboro, she and her colleagues sponsor anti-racism workshops, teach the skills of anti-racist organizing and organize community members and activists to work for social justice issues.  She was Director of the Partnership Project, a local anti-racism organizing organization, and one of the founders of the Greensboro Health Disparities Initiative. Suzanne was Executive Director of the National Alliance for Non-Violent Programming, a coalition of national organizations seeking to reduce violence in entertainment through media-literacy.  Her community experience includes extensive work organizing for changes in public schools and city government, as well as service on the Commission on the Needs of Children.  She is a founding member of the Greensboro Public School Fund, rewarding innovation in teaching and Dance on Tour, a professional dance experience for children.  

She has served on the national boards of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, the National Assembly of Health and Human Service Organizations and the Association of Junior Leagues International, where she served as President.  Locally, she has served as a member of many boards of directors, including the Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro, the Greensboro Children’s Museum, the Greensboro Community Initiative, the YWCA, the Greensboro Civic Entrepreneur Initiative, and Uplift Inc.

She is the recipient of the Kathleen Price Bryan Award for community service, the YWCA Women of Color Committee Community Service Award, and was the Greensboro Woman of the Year in 1994.  She is the co-recipient with Nettie Coad of the Nancy Susan Reynolds Award for race relations given by the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation.


Teresa Class | “Becoming the Best Versions of Ourselves – Women Supporting Women”

After a successful 16-year career in financial services, Teresa Class left her own comfort zone to purse her passion in helping others to better communicate and relate for improved business results. 

Today Teresa works as a Performance Consultant with Dale Carnegie Training of Central and Eastern North Carolina.  Teresa partners with businesses to help teams, departments, and employees turn potential into results.  We do this by encouraging others to step outside their comfort zone and take risks in a safe environment to help transform their beliefs for improved performance.  Teresa took the Dale Carnegie Course in 2005 and realized we all have the ability to positively impact every interaction or situation with another by choosing how we engage and respond to them.  

Teresa is a graduate of Elon University with a B.S. in Business Administration and is a North Carolina native.  Outside of her career, Teresa enjoys going to the beach, spending time with friends, reading, and walking. She can also be seen stalking friends on Facebook, where she rarely posts and enthusiastically hits the like button on what everyone else is doing!

Whitney Way Thore | “Living Without Shame”

Whitney Way Thore is delighted to be speaking at the Annual Women’s Leadership Summit. A native of Greensboro and a graduate of Appalachian State University, Whitney is the founder of No Body Shame, a campaign that aims to uplift people of every size, color, gender, and ability. Whitney focuses much of her energy on helping women realize their full potential and enjoy their lives free of shame. Currently, she stars in TLC’s My Big Fat Fabulous Life and teaches dance in Greensboro.

Marikay Abuzuaiter 

Marikay Abuzuaiter is an at-large member of the Greensboro City Council in North Carolina. She was first elected to the council in 2011. Marikay Abuzuaiter lives in Greensboro, North Carolina with her husband and two sons and received her Bachelor’s degree from Greensboro College. Abuzuaiter owns Mahi’s, a seafood restaurant owner and has served on the Human Relations Commission as vice-chair and on the International Advisory Committee. She has also served with Concerned Citizens of NE Greensboro, League of Women Voters, Citizens for Economic and Environmental Justice, East Market Merchants Association and Greensboro Landlords Association. Abuzuaiter is a graduate of the Greensboro Citizens Academy and IMPACT Greensboro. She is a member of the International Refugee Task Force and serves a volunteer for Greensboro Neighborhood Congress.