BET's Sheila C. Johnson, Politics Panel Headline University of Virginia's Inaugural 'Women in Leadership' Conference

September 08, 2008

September 5, 2008 — Considering the prominent roles women are playing in the 2008 presidential election season, a Sept. 26–27 conference at the University of Virginia focuses on a topic more relevant than ever: "Women in Leadership." Along with a keynote speech titled "From Learning to Returning, My Journey in Philanthropy," by philanthropist and businesswoman Sheila C. Johnson, co-founder of Black Entertainment Television, the conference also will present a discussion of "Women in Politics" by a bipartisan panel of U.Va. alumnae, including law student and conservative political columnist Karin Agness; Del. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, a superdelegate at the Democratic convention; Ellen Qualls, senior adviser to Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.; and Charmaine Yoest, head of Americans United for Life, the first national pro-life organization devoted to legal cases.

The panel discussion will be held on Saturday, Sept. 27, from 9-10:15 a.m. in the Abbott Auditorium, Darden Graduate School of Business.

Sponsored by the University's Women in Leadership & Philanthropy program, the inaugural Women in Leadership conference will bring together alumnae and other women associated with the University to share the ways in which they are making a difference in their professional and personal lives. Johnson's talk and the "Women in Politics" panel are free and open to the public.

Potential panel topics include the Republican vice presidential nominee, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin; the presidential candidacy of Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y.; the influential role of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.; and the power of women voters.

The rest of the two-day Women in Leadership conference, for which a fee is charged, is designed for U.Va. alumnae and friends to discuss contemporary topics in the worlds of business, public life, science and the arts in small-group sessions. University and community leaders Betsy Casteen, wife of U.Va. President John T. Casteen III, and Suzan Garson, wife of U.Va. Executive Vice President and Provost Dr. Arthur Garson Jr., are serving as honorary co-chairwomen and contributors.

Registration: To ensure seating, register for the free events online at

For information, visit the conference Web site at or contact Jenny Wyss-Jones, director, Women in Leadership & Philanthropy, at 434-924-4149 or


• Sheila C. Johnson is an impassioned philanthropist with a strong talent for creating successful businesses. She is chief executive officer of Salamander Hospitality LLC, president and managing partner of the WNBA's Washington Mystics and a partner in Lincoln Holdings LLC. She also serves as a global ambassador for CARE, a humanitarian organization fighting global poverty. In this role, she is an integral part of the organization's "I Am Powerful" campaign, designed to encourage women of all ages to become catalysts for change and vital members of impoverished communities throughout the world.

Johnson gave the University of Virginia's 2008 Valedictory Address, part of graduation weekend at the University, telling graduates they should demand more of politicians, the media and themselves. "You have to decide what kind of country you want to live in and what kind of world you want to inhabit, and you have to go out and build it," Johnson said. "The stakes are higher than they've ever been before."

In 2006, she pledged $5 million to the Curry School of Education to establish a center for human services at the school. Construction is under way on the Sheila C. Johnson Center for Human Services, in the new building, Bavarro Hall, that will bring together the most significant outreach efforts of the Curry School, serving more than 7,500 children, adults and families annually.

Johnson earned a bachelor's degree in music from the University of Illinois and has received honorary degrees from numerous other institutions.


• Karin Agness is a second-year U.Va. law student who made a name for herself by founding a conservative women's book club, Network of Enlightened Women, in 2004 when she was an undergraduate at the University. The organization has expanded to 15 campuses nationwide. Agness, an Indianapolis native, has interned in the office of Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in Washington, and participated in several political campaigns. She is a columnist for The Virginia Advocate, a conservative U.Va. newsmagazine.

• Virginia Del. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, a 1997 graduate of the U.Va. Law School, is a corporate attorney for Verizon Communications. She has represented the 71st District in the Virginia House of Delegates since 2005 and is a member of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus. She serves on the House Commerce & Labor and Education committees. McClellan is vice president of the State Board of the Sorensen Institute of Political Leadership and is a graduate of the institute's 2001 Political Leaders Program and 2005 Candidate Training Program.

• Ellen Qualls, who graduated from U.Va.'s College of Arts & Sciences in 1988, is senior adviser for strategic planning to Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. Qualls formerly served as communications director and press secretary in the office of Virginia Gov. Mark Warner. Qualls, an Alexandria resident, worked closely with the National Governors Association when Warner served as chairman. Before her career in public service, Qualls was a journalist, reporter and anchor in a number of Virginia media markets.

• Charmaine Yoest, who earned a Ph.D. in politics in 2004 from the University of Virginia, is president and chief executive officer of Americans United for Life, the first national pro-life organization devoted to legal cases. At U.Va., Yoest served as the project director of the Family, Gender and Tenure Project, a nationwide study. Yoest worked in the Reagan administration and recently served as a senior adviser to the 2008 Huckabee for President campaign. A mother of five, she also co-authored "Mother in the Middle," an examination of child-care policy. A regular political commentator, Yoest has appeared on major networks and cable outlets. She also has testified before both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate.