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There are many different definitions for a leader, and there are countless articles on women’s leadership. Theories abound on how leadership is learned, developed, and nurtured. We all have the capacity for leadership, but a natural-born leader is an exceptional person. Without hesitation, most people who meet Carol Leary place her
in that category.

From the moment she assumed the presidency of Bay Path, it was clear Carol Leary embraced the qualities of boldness and risk taking. Carol Leary could see the potential beyond the “now,” and she inspired others to join her in repositioning Bay Path to respond to the marketplace and establish the University as an innovative model for higher education nationally.

In 1998, President Leary was elected as the first woman president of the Colony Club of Springfield, a civic organization that had deep roots in the region, and whose history included hosting six American presidents.

One of Carol Leary’s first decisions at the University was to launch the Women’s Leadership Conference (WLC) in 1996. It was an immediate success. Over 800 participants came to hear keynote speaker Elizabeth Dole, former president of the American Red Cross and wife of then-presidential candidate Senator Robert Dole. It put Bay Path on the map and became a platform to highlight new developments at the University. The WLC, which today attracts over 2,000 people annually, continues to provide a much-needed venue where women’s voices are heard and accomplishments celebrated, while also linking to Bay Path’s mission of supporting and promoting women at all ages and stages.

The year 2015 was special for the Women’s Leadership Conference. Not only was it the 20th anniversary, President Leary’s favorite performer, Gloria Estefan, was the keynote speaker.

The WLC empowered women to explore and shape their own leadership capabilities, and there was no better role model than Carol Leary. She made history when she became the first woman president of the prestigious Colony Club in Springfield, Massachusetts, as well as the first woman chair of the Board of Tribunes for WGBY/PBS and first woman chair of the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts. Over the years, she served on numerous community boards and held leadership positions in regional and national educational organizations, including chairing the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Massachusetts, New Presidents Program under the auspices of the Council of Independent Colleges, and the Association of American Colleges & Universities, among others. She also served as a member of the Department of Homeland Security’s Academic Advisory Council, representing the only women’s college on the Council, under then-Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh C. Johnson.


The 2010 Women’s Leadership Conference audience was mesmerized by the keynote speaker Dr. Madeleine Albright, former U.S. Secretary of State.

A role model for women of all generations, President Leary has been honored by many regional and national organizations, including the Woman of the Year award from the Women’s Partnership of the Affiliated Chambers of Commerce of Greater Springfield; the District I Chief Executive Leadership Award from the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education; the William Pynchon Award for Distinguished Public Service from the Advertising Club of Western Massachusetts; and the Senior Leadership Award sponsored by the American Council on Education National Network of Women Leaders.

Bay Path University and President Carol Leary placed #25 in the Top 100 Women-Led Businesses in Massachusetts for 2015. Sponsored by The Boston Globe and The Commonwealth Institute, this annual event celebrates women leaders and CEOs.

However, the essence of President Leary’s leadership is summarized in these words when she received the BusinessWest 2018 Women of Impact Award: “Her accomplishments are many, varied, and impactful; her unwavering passion for women’s education has positively changed the lives of thousands of women, as has her commitment to the advancement of women in general. Spirit, service, compassion for others, and professionalism all buttress her leadership and in so doing have caused her to wield tremendous impact on our community."

One of the most memorable appearances of the Women’s Leadership Conference was the legendary poet and writer Maya Angelou as the 2007 keynote speaker.