After two years of being completely online, the Women’s Leadership Accelerator program came together in-person for a reception dinner at the ONA 2022 conference to celebrate past and current cohorts.
“It feels like coming home in a way,” said Ankita Rao, a member of the 2017 ONA Women’s Accelerator. “I think I didn’t even know the value of the accelerator until I wasn’t able to access people.”
Each year, the new cohort is announced in March with a workshop to kick off the start of the program. For 2020 cohort member Liriel Higa, this workshop was the only time she was able to see her fellow members in person before transitioning online due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It was the first week in March and it’s this magical week where we were at UCLA drinking cucumber water learning from the most amazing trainers and then the world totally changed,” said Higa.
For two straight years, both the 2020 and 2021 cohorts were communicating only via Zoom, Facebook messenger groups, WhatsApp, and Slack. Not being able to make those connections with fellow members or mentors face to face was something that Ashley Lewis of the 2020 Poynter Women’s Digital Leadership cohort wishes she got the chance to experience.
“Being in-person was just a huge thing that we missed out on,” said Lewis, who joined the ONA Women’s Accelerator reception along with other participants of the Poynter program.
As women filed into the reception, the room was filled with hugs, smiles and pure excitement. For many, this was the first time they would be meeting each other face-to-face.
Even for members of the cohorts before the pandemic that had the in-person experience of the program, it was a chance to reconnect with friends that they haven’t seen for a few years and meet members of the new cohorts.
“It’s really energizing to be back in person and this group, in particular, is really special to get together with other women who have been through these leadership accelerators,” said Emily Brown, who participated in the Poynter Women’s Digital Leadership cohort of 2018. The Poynter program, just like the ONA Women’s Accelerator, is known for investing in future women leaders.
“I’m just really excited to meet up with people who I met in 2018 and meet other people whose names I know and work I’ve admired.”