Women's Conference Banner Graphic

2023 Women’s Leadership Conference

March 24th, 2023 | 8 a.m. - 2 p.m.

Concurrent Sessions | Keynotes | Speakers |  Past Conferences  |  Sponsors  |  Dorothy J. Payne

The Women's Leadership Conference is designed to foster the discovery of purpose and inspire professional growth. Our 2023 event will feature concurrent sessions and keynote speakers from a diverse set of experienced professionals who have managed career pivots, established businesses, led non-profits and corporate enterprises, volunteered for their communities, and pushed their careers further with the support of their networks.

As part of our celebration of Women's History Month, the conference will be held on Friday, March 24th, in Johnson Hall and the Roaden University Center on the campus of Tennessee Tech University. Conference registration is $85. Student tickets are $10. Registration has closed. Thank you for such a great response!

This year the Women's Center has provided a limited number of scholarships for Tennessee Tech students and employees. To apply for a sponsored ticket, complete this form by March 15th. The application has closed; thank you so much for your responses!

If your organization is interested in becoming a conference sponsor, please get in touch with Cheryl Montgomery at or 931-267-1099.

As part of our conference package, attendees will receive one of two highly celebrated books, Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus and The House of Eve by Sadeqa Johnson.

Lessons in Chemistry book cover


The House of Eve book cover

Past attendees have heard Dean Tom Payne talk about the inspiration for holding the conference, his mother, Dorothy. To read her inspirational story and to catch a few photos from our previous conferences, scroll to the bottom of the page.

Concurrent Sessions

Plant Hobbyist to Plant Lady

Emma Crabtree, owner of Glass Tangerine, will demonstrate the art of creating a beautiful floral arrangement while sharing the successes and pitfalls of leaving one career behind and embarking on a second act as an entrepreneur. In order to save her sanity, her hobby became her profession and so far she has not looked back.

Money Matters

Dr. Alma Núñez, finance professor and fierce advocate for financial literacy, will lead sessions on steps women need to take to secure their financial futures. Learn the principles for financial wellness, whether you are beginning your career or contemplating a pivot in your professional life. 

Disagree Without Being Disagreeable

Dr. Susan Wells, lecturer, mediator, and professor, will lead sessions on how to disagree successfully without being disagreeable. In today’s polarized world, this is a skill everyone needs to master. Susan will share her knowledge and tips for getting your point across without alienating your friends and creating new critics.

Risk and Reward

Laurin Wheaton, mom, wife, professional, and volunteer, took a risk last fall when she entered the race for a seat on the city council. She bested the crowded field of opponents and was elected mayor. How do you step out of your comfort zone? How do you calculate the risk and manage the reward? Laurin’s story will inspire you and call you to action.

Keynote Speakers

Katelyn Steakley, Creating Impact: Imagine, Navigate, and Build Your Community

Jasmine Hardin, Developing Careers: The Intersection of Mentorship and Empowerment

For conference updates, follow the College of Business on Social Media!

Facebook Instagram LinkedIn

Our Speakers

Katelyn Steakley

Katelyn Steakley headshot

Kaitlyn Steakley constantly seeks meaningful solutions to help others overcome adversity and thrive. Her passion, combined with an uncanny ability to get things done has propelled her to serve and lead on multiple philanthropic fronts in her community. During the immediate aftermath of the 2020 tornadoes, Katelyn harnessed her feelings of helplessness and created the “Cookeville Strong” Facebook group. Managed by Katelyn, this group quickly became the driving force behind the Upper Cumberland relief efforts. With well over 26,000 members, the platform remains today a valuable resource for non-profit, government, and community leaders. Successful philanthropic leaders know how to make connections, build teams, and produce results with limited resources. Join us at the conference to hear how Kaitlyn continues her work in the Upper Cumberland now as the Executive Director of the P.E.P Foundation. An organization that feeds over 600 school children every weekend. 


Jasmine Hardin

Jasmine Hardin headshot

With over twenty years in the media industry, Jasmine Hardin knows how to spot and develop talent. It is one of the many reasons Gray Television named Hardin Regional Vice President and General Manager at WSMV (NBC) in Nashville, Tennessee, as well as stations in Bowling Green, Kentucky and Evansville, Indiana. Prior to her promotion as a regional vice president, Hardin was at WVLT in Knoxville, Tennessee where she served as National Sales Manager and worked up to ultimately Vice President/General Manager. Under her leadership, WVLT won Station of the Year for Gray Television, out of their more than 100 stations. At the conference Jasmine will share stories about her professional journey in a media world often dominated by men and the important role mentorship played in her success.


Concurrent Session Speakers

Emma Crabtree headshot

Emma has spent the past 18 years figuring out what she wanted to be when she grew up. She has a BFA in Art Education & Fibers from the Appalachian Center for Craft, and has worked in multiple jobs including 2 years at Vanderbilt Medical Center in a cancer research lab, 2 years at an inpatient psychiatric hospital at CRMC and was a licensed mental health therapist for 8 years in private practice before jumping into entrepreneurship and opening Glass Tangerine July of 2022. The concept behind her business is a community centered houseplant and floral shop with a full mercantile of goods from local artists and makers. Glass Tangerine focuses on not only retail but immersive workshops and classes, pop ups and events to highlight and showcase other small business and makers in the UC. Through a difficult transition, she moved away from a professional career and into small business ownership, completely transforming her day to day life, and bringing a lot of life (and greenery) to the WestSide! Emma’s unique approach to her store, from the styling, to the items + events offered has brought a unique artistic flair to plant parenthood in the Upper Cumberland.

Alma Nunez headshot

Alma D. Nunez is an Associate Professor of Finance at Tennessee Tech’s College of Business. She earned a PhD from the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley in August 2012 and the CFA designation in April 2017. While Dr. Hales has broad teaching experience, her primary teaching interests include corporate finance, international finance, and banking courses. Her passion for teaching earned Hales the TN Tech Outstanding Faculty Award in Teaching in the spring of 2018. Dr. Nunez is also actively engaged with research. She has published work in multiple academic journals including the Quarterly Review of Economics and Finance and the Journal of Economics and Finance Education. She has also presented her research at multiple academic conferences.

Susan Wells headshot

Dr. Susan Wells is a Lecturer in the Department of Decision Sciences and Management at Tennessee Tech University. Dr. Wells holds a BSBA and an MBA from Tennessee Tech, and a JD from Nashville School of Law. With over 30 years in the business world, she brings a unique set of experiences to the classroom. Dr. Wells’ classes include Business Intelligence, Conflict Management and Negotiation, Organizational Leadership, and Computer Applications in Business. Dr. Wells provides business consulting in the areas of Business Intelligence, Conflict Management, Organizational Leadership, and Computer Forensics. She is the Director of the Governor’s School for Technological Innovation and Business Leadership. Dr. Wells was awarded the Curtis Kinslow Excellence in Teaching award for the College of Business in 2017, the College of Business Service Award in 2019, and the TN Tech Alumni Association Award for Outstanding Service in 2021.


Laurin Wheaton headshot

Laurin Wheaton is originally from Jackson, Mississippi, and moved to Cookeville in 2013. She received her Bachelor of Science in Nursing from the University of Mississippi in 2004 and her Master of Science in Nursing from Vanderbilt University in 2008. She is a Nurse Practitioner that has practiced in Emergency Medicine, Orthopedics, and Home Health and currently works for United Health Group and Caris Hospice. Laurin ran for Cookeville City Council 5 years ago with a desire to continue Cookeville on the path of success for the future and to make Cookeville a wonderful place to raise a family. This was her first time entering politics and she was honored to serve as the Vice Mayor from 2018-2022. She was then re-elected to City Council in 2022 but this time as Mayor and will serve until 2026. Laurin is married to Cookeville native Wade Wheaton and they have 2 children, Kennedy and Palmer.


Past Conferences

Previous WLC Photos

2022 Panel Discussion
CoB Faculty & Staff Attendees
Students at WLC 2022
Amy Vetter at WLC 2022
Attendees at WLC 2020
Students at WLC 2019

Sponsored By

womens center business seal multi

Wilson Bank & Trust LogoKPMGPlenty on Spring logo

Vivid Sign Art logoSmith Gee Studio

WSMV 4 LogoGlass Tangerine logo

Become a sponsor

  • The Inspiration Behind the Conference: Dorothy J. Payne

    Dorothy J. Payne

    Arkansas Tech University, BS

    Pepperdine University, MBA

    As a single head of house-hold with sole financial responsibilities, I maintained a life-long desire for learning.  Education is the key to professional advancement and personal growth. — Dorothy Jean Payne

    Dorothy Payne began her professional career as a school teacher after going back to college in her 20’s with two young children.  She recalls that “we had just returned from Italy where my husband was stationed with the Army.  The kids and I moved to a one-bedroom campus apartment while he was in Vietnam.  I arranged

    Dorothy Payne headshot

     classes around my children’s school schedules and did my homework after putting them to bed.”  After completing her undergraduate degree, Payne did some of her practice teaching at Tucker Prison as part of the reform movement later made

     famous by the movie “Brubaker” starring Robert Redford.  After teaching for a short time in the public school system and following her divorce, Payne went to work for the State of Arkansas as a health facility inspector.  The job involved auditing nursing homes, hospitals, and other organizations to assure compliance with civil rights laws and ensure that minority citizens had access to healthcare.  She later worked in child support enforcement for the state. “The work was not easy and the new laws and regulations were openly resisted; however, I always found the courage to do the work,” said Payne. 

    During the late 70’s, Payne and her two children moved to Dallas, Texas where she worked in human resources training for two corporations.  During that time, she earned her MBA from Pepperdine University as part of a new executive program.  She was the only woman in her MBA cohort.  Payne recalls that “those days were filled with opportunity, challenge, and change for women in the professional workforce.”  After raising her family, she returned to Little Rock and another position with the state during the Clinton Administration.   She ended her career with the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare where she developed and delivered drug and alcohol prevention and treatment programs. 

    Payne is grateful for the opportunities she has had and the meaningful work she has been able to do. When asked whether she had any words of wisdom for today’s working women, she said “to remember that your greatest power is the power to choose your own path.”  She also encouraged women to “be thankful for their blessings and seek opportunities to love and support people with special needs.”

    Today, Dorothy enjoys spending time with her grandchildren and great-grandchildren who live in Nashville and visiting with her son Tom and daughter-in-law Amy who live just two miles away in Cookeville.

    Dr. Payne and his mother, Dorothy Payne


Experience Tech For Yourself

Visit us to see what sets us apart.

Schedule Your Visit