Wallace State hosts professional women’s forum on leadership


Maci Key, right, talks about her experience as a student in a traditionally male field, while Shirley Quattlebaum, left, looks on. / W.C. Mann

HANCEVILLE – On Thursday morning, Wallace State Community College (WSCC) celebrated Women’s History Month by hosting a forum for students and faculty on female leadership, success and breaking the glass ceiling.  Panelists from the school and community included:

  • Dr. Vicki Karolewics, WSCC president
  • Leah Bolin, Cullman Area Chamber of Commerce president and CEO
  • Honorable Tammy Brown, Cullman County probate judge
  • Maci Key, WSCC student and SkillsUSA national officer
  • Shirley Quattlebaum, insurance agent and WSCC Future Foundation board member
  • Peggy Smith, longtime Cullman area economic developer and consultant

Karolewics told The Tribune, “March is Women’s History Month, and we wanted to, along with the work of our Diversity Committee, to celebrate the diversity of having women in the workforce, and to bring awareness of, maybe, the history of women entering the workforce, and maybe some of the challenges that women still face today.”

The panel dealt with professional women’s issues like wages differences, handling peer judgement in typically male-dominated professions and the balancing act of being perceived as capable and being liked in venues where men can be both, but women often find themselves having to push hard to prove themselves or be perceived as weak.

The presentation was well-balanced; while focused on the challenges faced by, and sometimes imposed on women, this was no male-bashing party.  

During the panel discussion, Karolewics even told the audience: “I can tell you that my career has been helped more by men who believed in me and helped me believe in myself, and opened doors for me, than those who have imposed barriers for me.”

A student invited to join the panel

The panel included one current WSCC student, who has already made a name for herself in a traditionally male skilled trade field.  Maci Key, who will complete her studies in the school’s Machine Tool Technology and CNC programs this spring, is a national level officer in SkillsUSA, an organization for skilled trade students that describes itself as a “partnership of students, teachers and industry working together to ensure America has a skilled workforce.”  She is one of two women currently enrolled in her program.

Key told The Tribune, “It is different, but it’s absolutely enjoyable!”  Of walking into the program for the first time, when she was the only female student, she said, “I was terrified, but I had never actually stepped outside the box in the first place.  So stepping into a male-dominated field, being a female, I was worried at first what they would think about it. And then, as time went on, they helped me get into the program, and then they realized I can do it, if not better than they can.  It was helpful; they really just took me in after they saw I could do it.”

Key found the WSCC faculty and staff to be supportive and encouraging, saying, “They were super excited!  When I said I was joining the program and I came in as a dual enrollment student, my instructors were over-excited about me being a woman coming into that program.”

After she graduates, Key hopes to work for an Alabama company in quality control, and to “continue to encourage women and young girls to step outside the normal box of what we’re drawn to as career choices and try something new just like I did.  

“And I believe that we love it, like you fall into the ‘I’ve accomplished something!’ and it’s the best feeling to know that you’ve made the parts to tolerance.  I just want to keep encouraging young women to do the same. I just want other women to find their calling, instead of just settling for something.”

Karolewics, who sat on the panel as WSCC’s first female president, concluded, “This was just a very interesting group of women who have very different vantage points about their roles of service and leadership in their communities.  And, you know, we’re about opening the world view of our students, so I hope that exposing the students, and the faculty and staff, that were here today to different experiences in our lives of leadership in this community, I hope had some good results.”

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