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The CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of America spoke at Penn last night. Judith Vredenburgh isn't exactly a model of career stability. The current president and chief executive officer of Big Brothers Big Sisters of America has worked, among other jobs, as a buyer for a major department clothing store and as a top executive at the March of Dimes Birth Defect Foundation. As part of the Fox Lessons in Leadership series, Vredenburgh, who today runs the nation's largest and oldest mentoring company, discussed her personal and professional experiences in Logan Hall yesterday afternoon. Vredenburgh's non-profit organization pairs adolescents with adult mentors and provides teenage companions for young children. But the focus of the 1970 College and Wharton alumna's talk was more on what makes a good leader than on the network itself. Vredenburgh discussed various ways in which the approximately 40 audience members, most of whom were female students, can assert themselves as good leaders. Specifically, she said her Penn education paved the way for good management skills. She lauded the liberal arts education system as one that fosters indispensable writing and communication skills. "It was pure liberal arts that I attribute [to my success]," said Vredenburgh, who majored in Economics. "That experience, I think, was absolutely instrumental in making me a more open person. But for Vredenburgh, who has worked in both the private and public sector for the better part of three decades, the top draw to her position -- indeed, the very reason why she decided to abandon work in for-profit companies -- was the opportunity to work with children. Since it serves 139,000 children in all 50 states and in 5,000 different communities, Big Brothers Big Sisters of America has provided her with precisely that opportunity. "I realize that many wonderfully talented people are attracted to the non-profit sector," Vredenburgh said. "All of the sudden my mind opened up, and I was learning and contributing at the same time. And I thought, 'Why didn't I do this before? Where was I?'" So it is not surprising that Vredenburgh came to Penn hoping to share some of her idealism and passion for serving with students. "I really think that if I could help kids stay true to what they care about, then that would be worth while," she said, when asked what she hoped students got out of her talk. Joining BBBSA last summer, Vredenburgh was hired with the goal of meeting the demands of the increasingly competitive nature of the non-profit market. With a plan to increase both revenue and the number of volunteers by June 2004, Vredenburgh succeeded in impressing the audience with her driven and ambitious personality. "To have her describe her experiences first-hand and her struggles that she faced being a woman, it was valuable to me as an up-and-coming leader," College sophomore Alex Pruner said. Although she may now be an inspiration for women at Penn, during her talk Vredenburgh noted that, though she was able to find her identity as a student at Penn, she had very few female role models on campus. College sophomore Alison O'Donnell said, "I think that she is definitely someone who has been able to be very successful in both the non-profit sector and the business sector."

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