Empowering Words: Speakers Offer Inspiring Insight During Matter Belong Persist Conference

Keynote speaker Ingriz Franzen addresses an audience

Keynote speaker Ingrid Franzen emphasized the importance of viewing yourself as the "first" as opposed to the "only" during the Matter Belong Persist Conference. (Photo/Sarah Davenport)

Written by June 7, 2024

At the Matter Belong Persist conference, keynote speaker Ingrid Franzen presented a challenge to an audience of Cal Poly business students: “I want to challenge you to really widen your panorama, and rather than associate yourself with being the only, challenge yourself of being the first,” said Franzen (International Business Management, ‘98)

The MBP Conference, put on by the Multicultural Business Program, is an annual event featuring multiple industry speakers, giveaways and networking opportunities.

Keynotespeaker Ingrid Franzen gets interviewed on stage

Ingrid Franzen’s keynote speech during the Matter Belong Persist Conference included a talk with student Lisette Abundez. (Photo/Sarah Davenport)

Sam Huang, an economics student and member of the conference, said the goal of this year’s conference was to teach attending students how to be an inclusive leader, how empowering people is important, how mentorship plays a role in inclusivity, and how to be a better leader in a multicultural world.

The conference’s theme this year was Inclusion Starts with Empowerment.

Embodying that theme throughout her career, Franzen has been an inspiration for many, and she currently works as a vice president at Workday. She has helped people who could not afford to go to college, get a job and the training they need to be successful in that job through the Year Up program

The Year Up program strives to offer economic opportunities, justice and education through pathways where employers can partner with people who need the opportunity.

Franzen identifies as Latina and moved from Mexico when she was very young. In the workplace, she was one of a handful of women in the engineering and tech field, and oftentimes she was the only woman in the room.

“I started to actually think of myself in that way,” Franzen said. “The only female, the only young leader, the only business major in an engineering department, the only Latinx female to also head a team.”

Franzen said she exhibited funny behaviors in order to try to blend in, like wearing button-up shirts and khakis, and trying to appear smaller in the room.

When she shifted perspective to avoid the imposter syndrome, Franzen found that career doors opened. She joined different organizations, like volunteering for Women in Tech, and connected to different organizations about Latinx women in tech, which was game changing for her.

“I always thought of myself as Latina, but being a redhead with blue-green eyes, I wasn’t sure if I felt like I really connected,” Franzen said. “And so I started challenging myself to say I probably do have something to share, and I do have a perspective that could be useful to others.”

A student poses a question during a keynote speech

A student poses a question during keynote speaker Ingrid Franzen’s discussion. (Photo/Sarah Davenport)

Yesenia Beas, coordinator of the Multicultural Business Program and academic adviser for the Orfalea College of Business, shared her thoughts about Ingrid’s speech.

“I think one thing that stood out to me was what the keynote Ingrid mentioned to not be the only one but to be the first,” Beas said. “I think that we think of us being, ‘Oh I’m the only one who is Latinx in my college or a person of color in my college,’ but rather than having that mentality to switch it off to be like ‘I am the first one and let’s make a change, change the odds for other people,”

Around 150 people signed up for the event, and people filtered in and out during the day to listen to the different talks surrounding inclusivity and empowerment. Attendees sat at round tables to encourage networking between students.

After each talk, the speakers sat down in a chair next to a member of the MBP, and audience members were given the chance to ask the speakers questions about their journey and ask them advice.

Starting off the day of talks was Anjana Melvin (Business Administration, ‘20) who works at Walmart Connect as a business development manager for DEI. Melvin achieved much throughout her time at Cal Poly, from taking on the role of Editor in Chief of The Wire, being the Women in Business(WIB) president her senior year, to being featured on the Orfalea College of Business page for her senior project researching political ads, work she presented at Loyola Marymount University.

“I think I really took away from our first speaker that your life is just starting, your path can go like many different ways, and you can build up and come down, and you just have to work with what you have to see what you can make of it and building relationships with other people to help you through that journey,” said Ashley Fong, a business administration sophomore concentrating in quantitative analysis.

Keynote speaker Ingrid Franzen on stage

Ingrid Franzen was the keynote speaker at this year’s Matter Belong Persist Conference, which had a theme of Inclusion Starts with Empowerment.  (Photo/Sarah Davenport)

Taking the stage after Melvin was Moss Adams employee Jessica Vasquez (Accounting, ‘17, Accounting Masters, ‘18), who talked about the importance of intersectionality in defining one’s identity.

“This ultimately is the main goal of intersectionality, in making sure that we are aware of how different identities intersect making sure that identities are represented so that we can create a more diverse and equitable environment in any space that we find ourselves in,” Vasquez said.

Economics sophomore Elijah Zuniga said that part of the reason he got into economics was he wanted to see how it connected with political and social issues, so intersectionality has always been an important thing he’s thought about, but he has never had a label for it.

“It was kind of interesting seeing how you could apply it to your own life when it comes to understanding your own identities and how you can use it to understand how you interface with your community, your culture, and interact with different people,” Zuniga said.

After Vasquez, Tik Tok employee Tim Elkana Business Information Systems and Statistics, ‘18) opened up talking about being born in Indonesia and immigrating to the Bay Area because a family friend helped bring them here and helped them ‘lift while they climb.’

“It led to things like education, access to technology companies in the Bay Area and very simple things like running water,” Elkana said. “I remember showering with a bucket. Now I’m in a shower.”

Economic sophomore Talia Sandher said that while she got extra credit for her finance class by being at the conference, she would have gone anyway

“ I think it is super great that the business community at Cal Poly is focusing on DEI as a value, especially with the MBP center being able to put on their own conference,” Sandher said. “ I just think that is great, and I hope that that continues as a value of OCOB.”

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