Dear Avery: A Letter to My Daughter

Dear Avery,

When my friend Sharece suggested I write a letter to you about what OWHE means to me, my first instinct was to decline. My inner voice immediately piped up saying “goodness, who would ever want to read what you write,” and “anything you do write will be corny and inauthentic,” and “you are a horrible reflective writer.” In fact, I was halfway through writing an email to Sharece telling her I wouldn't be able to do it, when I stopped and asked myself why. Why was I thinking this way? Why was I feeling this way? Where was this instinct to shy away from something that scared me coming from? Honestly, I still don't know the answer. But I was able to pause long enough to interrupt that initial instinct and inner voice and push back on it. That pause helped me be more reflective and intentional about my decision making process. I'm not sure if this is just a case of growing up (19 year old Lea’s decision making process compared to  29 year old Lea's decision making process), or if it's a product of my education and experience along the way, or both. (Probably both. You'll notice as you grow up I tend to process as I go, so I realize things as I say them, rather than thinking things through and then speaking. Your Dad gets a kick out of this.) I am immensely grateful for the people and experiences that have helped me grow over the last ten years, one of them being OWHE.

Over my 7 years in higher ed (holy moly, it's already been 7 years!), OWHE has been a constant. It was the first conference I attended, the first conference at which I presented, the first conference at which I volunteered, and the first professional organization I became engaged with. As a grad student I learned of the conference because it was located at OSU. It was accessible and welcoming and gave me a place to engage with and learn from women across the state. In 2013 I presented with my fellow cohort mates in my graduate program. In 2014 I volunteered for a conference planning committee, and helped with registration and name tag creation. Both years the conference was at OSU so I was able to attend and get involved in a meaningful way. In 2015 the conference moved to Bend, I started my job at Chemeketa Yamhill Valley and chose to attend NASPA's Leadership Educators’ Institute in place of OWHE. I learned a lot at LEI, one of them being I don't thrive at national conferences. My engagement seemed disconnected from those around me, and the connections I made did not extend beyond the conference. That year I realized that I thrive in regional spaces, where I can connect with those around me in a deeper and more personal way that continues throughout the year. I think I always knew that deep down, but attending LEI over OWHE made that apparent.

So, in 2016, I intentionally dove into OWHE conference committees, working with the incredible Jessika Chi, and leading the conference entertainment committee. Engaging with a couple other folks around the state I planned and executed the 5k fun run, the morning yoga sessions and the Wise Professional Panel Social at the end of the conference. Additionally I helped recruit folks for the Wise Professional Panel and was able to increase community college professional participation. Volunteering wholeheartedly at the 2016 conference encouraged me to consider applying for the board. Heather Kropf, the director of professional advancement at the time, and also one of the people who originally invited me to consider a career in higher education when I was an undergraduate on RHA, suggested I apply for her position as she was leaving the board after that conference. Heather has always helped (and still does, thanks, Heather!) me see my strengths and encouraged me to step into new leadership roles I may not have seen myself in otherwise. A simple nudge from Heather allowed me to consider the possibility that I might be able to contribute to OWHE in a more significant way. So I applied, and the rest is history.

Serving on the board these past three years has been such a privilege and a pleasure. The amazing groups of women whom I’ve been able to learn and grow from and with have made a lasting impact on me, not only as a professional, but also on a personal level. It is such a joy to work with folks around the state with passion and energy around OWHE’s seven values: Advocacy, Celebration, Community, Education, Equity, Inclusivity and Leadership. I’ve worked on many different teams, but the OWHE Board has been the best team experience in my professional journey. This doesn’t mean it has always been the easiest, but the board has been a space for me to spread my wings as a leader, try out new ideas, while challenging me to be the best in my role as I can be. All three groups of women (some who have been a constant presence, and some who were on the board for only a short time), have encouraged me to take leaps, while also providing a safe space for me to stumble and learn from my mistakes. The board embodies the OWHE values and by doing so creates a unique experience where I was able to develop as a professional, but also create close knit friendships which have and will continue on past our positions on the board.

OWHE has always been a place where I reconnect and rejuvenate each year, and having the opportunity to contribute to the evolution and expansion of the organization has been an honor. I hope you find your people like I have through OWHE. Having a community of awesome and impactful women to learn from and thrive with has allowed me to take on challenges I may have originally surpassed, like writing this blog for instance. I am eternally grateful for the growth and support I have received from OWHE these past 7 years, and hope you are able to experience a community like OWHE to grow and thrive in 30 years from now when you are writing a letter to your first kid. You, Sweet Avery, are my next great adventure, and so it is with some bittersweetness that I leave the OWHE board, but I know that the many experiences and people I’ve connected with over the years will continue to be a part of my personal and professional journey.

Love, Your Mama


Lea Griess is a Student Success Advisor at Southern Oregon University. She can be reached via email at


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