Members of the Greater Missouri Leadership Challenge Class of 2023 pose for a photo during their first session in March. Photo courtesy of Greater Missouri Leadership Foundation

Two leaders are continuing a proud and longtime tradition of representing Columbia College in the Greater Missouri Leadership Challenge.

Dr. Kaneshya Lucas, director of Academic Affairs Operations, and Kathy Gress, director of Columbia College-Springfield, are among 40 women professionals participating in the program as members of the Class of 2023.

The newest class, announced in January after a competitive selection process, is the 34th in the history of the Challenge. Fourteen women from Columbia College have previously completed the program.

Suzanne Rothwell, Columbia College vice president for Advancement, serves on the Advisory Council for the Greater Missouri Leadership Foundation. A 2004 graduate of the Challenge, she has previously served the foundation as president of its Board of Directors as well as its interim executive director.

Rothwell received the 2021 GMLF Alumna Leader of the Year Award.

“It’s incredibly enriching to step out of our day-to-day experiences and interact with women leaders who are engineers, who have global responsibilities, who are farmers, who are not-for-profit executive directors, and to learn from each other,” Rothwell says of the Challenge. “Missouri is such an incredible state, and this program allows us to slow down and look at it in a way that we never could otherwise.”

Suzanne Rothwell, vice president for Advancement at Columbia College, speaks after being honored as the 2021 Greater Missouri Leadership Alumna Leader of the Year. Photo courtesy of Greater Missouri Leadership Foundation

The Challenge is an annual statewide traveling symposium for women leaders with tours, discussions and training to apply to their respective careers. Participants meet for four, three-day continuing education sessions that start in the spring then lead to graduating from the program in November.

Katie Steele Danner, executive director of GMLF and a 1993 graduate of the Challenge, says the experience is “designed for women on the rise.”

“We inspire our cohort to pursue economic empowerment and leadership opportunities to make the world a better place,” she says.

The first session of 2023 was held March 7-9 in Columbia and Jefferson City, with the second scheduled for June in Kansas City, the third for September in Kirksville and the fourth for November in St. Louis.

“I expect to learn more on how to become a better leader in my professional space and within the community,” Lucas says. “I believe being a leader in the workplace is one thing; however, being a leader in all aspects of life who encourages and inspires others is equally important.”

“I believe being a leader in the workplace is one thing; however, being a leader in all aspects of life who encourages and inspires others is equally important.”

Dr. Kaneshya Lucas, director of Academic AFFAIRS OPERATIONS

During the first session, participants explored their strengths as leaders and then met with a series of special guests, learning about subjects ranging from health to politics to social issues and rural challenges. They visited University of Missouri Health Care, the State Capitol building and the Governor’s Mansion, among other stops, Gress says.

“The diversity of our backgrounds and careers made for interesting conversations and yet we all felt very connected,” Gress says. “There has been so much to process and I am eager to discover more.”

The experience provides networking opportunities in addition to the workshops and tours, and is made more special in that it “caters to female leaders,” Lucas says.

“The interactions I had during this session encouraged me to embrace my professional experiences, and inspired me to learn more about others’ fields and journeys toward success,” Lucas says. “I am looking forward to engaging more with the other leaders while I continue to pave my own path toward success.”

Beyond professional development, Gress says she is pleased to learn about various ways she can make a difference in the state.

“There is a wealth of talented women utilizing their strengths to change lives,” Gress says. “I hope to inspire others as I am being inspired, I hope to grow my professional network and I hope to challenge others to get more involved.”

Originally the Missouri Foundation for Women’s Resources, Greater Missouri Leadership Foundation assumed its current name in 1997. The Challenge has over 1,000 alumnae from both rural and urban areas. To learn more, visit