Pictured are just some of the self-identifying women faculty and staff who make up the Pamplin College of Business workforce at the Blacksburg campus. Photo by Andy Santos for Virginia Tech.

The third full week in October is observed as National Women in Business Week. It is a time to celebrate, recognize, and honor the achievements and contributions of women throughout history. This celebratory week is not one to go unnoticed, for the Pamplin College of Business recently welcomed Saonee Sarker as the Richard E. Sorensen Dean in the Pamplin College of Business. Sarker succeeded Roberta “Robin” Russell, who had served as interim dean from July 2022 to August 2023.

With her, Sarker brings a wealth of research experience to the Pamplin College of Business as well as a commitment to DEIB initiatives. She is the director of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) for Mis Quarterly, serving as an ambassador for DEI initiatives and senior editor emeritus for the journal. Sarker’s research interests include smart infrastructure and sustainability, healthcare information technology and technostress, technology-enabled collaboration, and more.

“I think Women in Business Week is a great occasion to, first of all, celebrate the accomplishments of women,” said Sarker. “Secondly, I think it’s another important time where we can reflect on all the things that have been done in the past, realize where we have come, and the women who have come to this point, and also for what lies ahead in the future.”

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For the first time in Pamplin's history, five of the six associate and assistant deans serving the college on the executive leadership team self-identify as women. These Pamplin leaders, Janice Branch Hall, Lara Khansa, Elizabeth Mitchell, Beth Osborne, and Michelle Seref recently sat down with several self-identifying women student leaders from various organizations for a conversation around Women in Business Week.

The student leaders include: Abigail Stiglich, CEO of Collegiate Women in Business and a senior studying accounting and management consulting and analytics; Jillian Brodie, a Pamplin ambassador and senior studying cybersecurity management, analytics, and political science; Gabriela Espinoza, co-CEO of Collegiate Women in Business and a senior studying marketing management and digital marketing strategy; Kaitlyn Konicki, vice president of Women in Cybersecurity and a senior studying cyber security management analytics; Samiha Mahboob, president of Pamplin’s Multicultural Diversity Council and a senior studying finance; and Elvisa Ofori, secretary of Pamplin’s Undergraduate Mentoring Program (PUMP) and a sophomore studying cybersecurity management and analytics.

Lara Khansa serves as the interim associate dean of research and faculty affairs as well as Sonny Merryman Inc. Professor in Business Information Technology. Khansa joined Virginia Tech as an assistant professor in 2008 and was promoted to full professor in 2019. She was named the Sonny Merryman Inc. Professor in 2020. Before her current role, Khansa served Pamplin as the associate dean for undergraduate programs for six years.

“I hope to inspire women to think big,” said Khansa. “To think about the better version of themselves. How much of a difference they can make to other people, other women, and to society in general, and the positive societal change they can make and to ultimately believe in themselves.”

Elizabeth Mitchell serves as the assistant dean of advancement. Mitchell joined Virginia Tech’s Pamplin College of Business in 2017. Mitchell was previously nominated to participate in Higher Education Resource Services (HERS), an executive education institute for emerging women leaders in higher education. She is also a member of The Quorum Initiative, a professional women’s leadership network for women working in business, education, and government, with chapters in New York, Washington, D.C., and London.

“My advice to young women interested in business is to build networks,” said Mitchell. “People talk about that a lot, but as you build networks, it is really important that you also build your own personal brand. Who do you aspire to be? Who do you want to be? Go out of your comfort zone and seek discomfort. Build and develop your brand. Reach out to both men and women who can give you entrees of information and share your personal brand vision, and they will help you hone it.”

Beth Osborne serves as the assistant dean for administration and chief financial officer. Osborne joined Virginia Tech’s Pamplin College of Business in 2011. She identifies as a first-generation Hokie with over 23 years of experience in higher education.

“I absolutely do think it is important to celebrate Women in Business Week,” said Osborne. “My advice to the next generation of women leaders is to keep doing what you’re doing. Keep reaching for the stars, and don’t let your voice be silenced. The next generation of women is going to change the world. They are building a sisterhood, not just in small communities and cultures, but around the world. The next generation of males and females are embracing one another and supporting each other. They’re breaking down barriers and coming together in a really incredible way.”

Pictured are just some of the self-identifying women faculty and staff, both in-person and remotely, who make up the Pamplin workforce at the Pamplin College of Business Falls Church campus. Virginia Tech photo

Janice Branch Hall serves as the associate dean for the Office for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEIB). Hall was appointed the inaugural assistant dean in June of 2021 and her position was elevated to associate dean in September 2022. She joined Virginia Tech’s Pamplin College of Business in 2019 as the first-ever director of diversity and inclusion. Her research centers around DEIB in business education, specifically illuminating the voices of underrepresented and underserved populations in this context, with her dissertation study exploring the lived experience of Black women faculty in predominantly White business schools.

“It is always important to honor and to acknowledge the many contributions that women have offered in the business world,” said Hall. “One of the most significant barriers to women in leadership is a lack of representation. If women are not at the decision-making table, our politics, our ideas, our standpoints, and our lived experiences won't be a part of or won’t be considered as a part of the decision-making. It is imperative that we’re not just at the table, but that our voices are being heard and integrated.”

Michelle Seref serves as the interim assistant dean of outreach and student engagement, as well as a full collegiate professor in Business Information Technology. Seref joined Virginia Tech’s Pamplin College of Business in 2012. Her current research area is in text mining and decision analytics with a focus on rhetoric mining, context mapping, and qualitative factor analysis. Seref’s research is applied to problems in disaster operations management, service operations, interdisciplinary collaboration, and diversity. She offers a new perspective by combining her background in operations management and decision support systems with qualitative analysis methods as a way of enriching decision science models.

“It is so crucial to acknowledge the successes women have accomplished so far and to discuss options and encourage young females to pursue their careers,” said Seref. “A way for us to assess the positive impacts that women have had in Pamplin is to start by looking at the conversations that are happening. Whether it’s a programmatic conversation, a teaching conversation, or a research conversation, there are new ideas that shake and change the current status, and that is really where the influence of women can be seen. We bring a different perspective than what the status quo has always been, and I believe it is one of the great skills that we bring to the table.”

Written by A’me Dalton