US Labor Department’s Women’s Bureau hosts networking forum at USF Sarasota-Manatee

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Women’s Bureau recently hosted a dialogue and networking forum with prominent local women, entitled “Women Working Together – Writing the Next Chapter of HerStory,” at the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee. The forum was one of a series of HerStory events being hosted by the Women’s Bureau across the country to encourage more intergenerational dialogue and mentorship.


Featured speakers included Gwen McKenzie, president and CEO, Sarasota Memorial Health Care System; Dr. Eugenie Clark, founding director of Mote Marine Laboratory; Amanda Evora, USFSM student and Olympic figure skater; Courtney Wise, executive director, Take Care Advisor LLC; Esperanza Gamboa, coordinator of adult and youth migrant programs at Manatee Technical Institute; Barbara Harvey, Manatee County School Board; and Simone Peterson, USFSM student and administrative assistant at the Manatee County Department of Neighborhood Services.


The casual dialogue opened with Gwen McKenzie talking about her lifelong desire to be a nurse and to cure cancer, two roles that she still values highly today.  Starting as an advanced practice nurse practitioner, she worked her way from bedside care and clinical management to executive vice president and chief operating officer at Detroit Medical Center.  As president and CEO of Sarasota Memorial Health Care, she has opened five new outpatient centers.  She stressed the importance of a college education and being passionate about your work.


Eugenie Clark, the self-proclaimed “shark lady,” then discussed how she never felt like she was “held back” because she was surrounded by strong women who were role models in her life and career.    She encouraged the audience to view life as not having obstacles, but challenges that they could overcome.  An author of 170 articles and books, Genie has received numerous awards for promoting women.


“You have to have a strong drive in life to succeed,” Genie said.  “Everyone has a unique ability to be great at something, and you can’t let the fact that you’re a woman hold you back.  You never know where life might lead you.  Because I had a lot of experience diving, I was asked to go into space when I was 50 years old.  It was something I never expected, but my infinite attraction to nature opened doors for me.”


Amanda Evora led the audience through the challenges in her life, which included a speech delay that led her to try skating, which was an individual sport.  She also had great role models who wouldn’t let her quit, and she eventually became a pairs skater and two-time U.S. silver medalist.  She works part-time as a figure skating coach and as an accountant’s assistant in Ellenton.  She is pursuing a degree in business from USF Sarasota-Manatee.


Courtney Wise talked about the challenges of being a young person in the field of aging, but also how she gained respect through knowledge and compassion.  She coordinates the daily office operations among the Take Care Advisor’s Geriatric Care Managers and their clients.  She encouraged the audience to pursue higher education and networking opportunities that would help them get their foot in the door to advance career goals.


Esperanza Gamboa discussed how language barriers can be a challenge in work and in society, but they can be overcome by tolerance and education.  After leaving her family behind in Cuba to pursue her dreams in the United States, she followed every opportunity she was offered and worked hard to gain respect in the migrant and educational communities.  She advocates for awareness of Hispanic issues and workplace safety of migrant families and minority workers in Manatee County, and credits much of her success to the people in her life who have gone before her and “carried the torch.”


Barbara Harvey spoke about her love of education and encouraged women to take advantage of the possibilities offered by the community.  She raised two of her own biological children and four who came to her later, and has kept God as a strong force in her life.  Barbara began her career as a teacher and has served the Manatee School District for 50 years.  Her tireless efforts as an advocate for children have been recognized at the local, state, and national level.  She stressed the importance of making a difference in life and not just sitting back and taking things as they come to you


Simone Peterson, who is a member of USF Sarasota-Manatee’s Crew Team, discussed the challenges she has encountered as a student just starting out in the workforce.  She pointed out that being a young person in a conservative government role wasn’t always easy, but that working with public relations helps her get her foot in the door and meet the “right” people.


“You have to realize your potential and get your name out there,” Simone told the audience.  “Keep people on their toes and surprise them, and never turn down a good opportunity – you never know where it will lead you.  Getting an excellent education and building a strong name for yourself are so important.”


USF Women in Leadership & Philanthropy was pioneered by President Judy Genshaft and Carol Morsani on the USF Tampa campus.  The two dedicated leaders had the vision to create a program focused on fundraising and education for the purpose of enhancing the educational and career choices available for women students, faculty, and staff at the University of South Florida.


“Women recognize the value of coming together, supporting one another, and sharing passion for a cause,” said Elizabeth Lindsay, USFSM campus board chair.  “As women, we want to recognize leaders, role models and philanthropists who can impact the University community, the state of Florida and our nation through leadership and philanthropy.”


For more information about WLP visit  To join the local chapter, please call Barb Lewis at (941) 359-4737.