By Marcia Bosscher

Highlights from Flourish: Atlanta

But I am like an olive tree flourishing in the house of God;
 I trust in God’s unfailing love forever and ever.
— Psalm 52:8

Karen Guzmán, National Director of Women in the Academy & Professions (WAP), believed that if she could bring together professional and academic women following God’s call in their personal and professional lives, they would encourage each other and address the unique challenges women face.

Karen called on gifted women in the area, forming the Atlanta Advisory Council for WAP, and together they set the stage for Flourish: Atlanta, designing a gathering for women to share wisdom and life experience and support each other in their callings.

Rosalind Picard giving the keynote address

Held September 13, 2014, at the Goizueta Business School at Emory University, Flourish: Atlanta was the first regional conference planned under Karen’s leadership of WAP. Fifty women — graduate and professional school students, faculty, and working professionals — attended the day-long event addressing the topics of calling, courage and confidence. 

The day was packed, and every break found women making connections, exchanging contact information, and on occasion, praying for each other.

Keynote: Rosalind Picard

Keynote speaker, MIT professor Rosalind Picard, world-renowned for her work in affective computing, described her research and shared seven tips on how to flourish, guidelines she has used to shape her own life.
In this order, Picard recommended:
7. Make work fun.

6. Decide and follow your priorities. (She has turned down plum speaking gigs to be with her family on vacation.)

5. Treat all people with equal dignity. (Much of her work is with people with autism.)

4. Remember your brain is physical. (Sleep and exercise are critical.)

3. Think on good things. (See Martin Seligman and Philippians 4:8.)

2. Do your work for something greater than self. (Meaning is often missing.)

1. Trust in God to direct your path — taking some issue with the translation, “...he will make your path straight.” God may make it straight from a heavenly perspective, but it probably won’t look straight here below, but trust he will direct.

Sandy Jap, professor of marketing at the business school, interviewed Picard and both women fielded questions from the audience, offering their different perspectives.

Karen and Atlanta friends provided a delicious lunch with tables grouped by academic and professional discipline for making further connections.

Alison Cross and Panel Discussions

In the afternoon, Alison Cross, founder of the Body, Beauty, and Bravery Project, spoke on living into our callings with confidence and courage. She challenged the audience, “Is it true diversity to have women at the top only exhibit male characteristics?” “Use your authentic voice,” she said, “for the sake of your community and the world.”

Nancy Pedulla moderates the discussion on "Living Fully as Women in the Places Where God Has Called Us."

Two afternoon panels — one moderated by Carrie Bare (“Living Fully into Multiple Callings”) and another by Nancy Pedulla (“Living Fully as Women in the Places Where God Has Called Us”) — included women in the academy, government, business, and non-profits. Each panel featured a diverse group in terms of age, race, family status, and experience, and demonstrated that following God’s call into the academy and the marketplace can look very different from one woman to another.

But themes emerged:

  • women can do a tremendous amount to help or to hurt each other
  • priority and boundary setting are necessary to make life sustainable
  • it is important to connect with people above and below — women and men — and to have diverse mentors and sponsors
  • it is critical to have a network of Christian women in your life
  • God’s call on your life can change, sometimes dramatically, with age and life circumstances
  • listen for God’s call and be faithful

Wrapping up and moving forward

Two graduate students sat behind me and when I asked if they were enjoying the conference, one said, “This is so good for me. I come from a community that doesn’t support me going to graduate school, but I love my studies and this has been so encouraging.”

Karen Guzman offers a few closing thoughts.

It was a fruitful conference. Karen and Women in the Academy & Professions hope the connections made will serve Atlanta women in the future as they consider follow-up events and that Flourish: Atlanta may inspire and be a model for regional gatherings around the country.

Karen gave a great summary: “My vision was to create a place of warm welcome so that women could meet with God and with one another around the topics of calling, courage and confidence. Clearly that was what God desired and He provided just that for us. Praise be to Him!”

About the Author

Marcia Bosscher is the former editor of The Well and now an associate with InterVarsity's Faculty Ministry. Having been married to a professor and sharing life with grad students and faculty in a campus church, she has a deep interest and care for those in the academy. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin, with a golden-retriever mix and a diverse array of lodgers and travelers.

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