Female movers and shakers get energized at campus event

The GC ballroom has set a record for the most positivity and good energy exhibited there in a single day.

The annual Spark event brought together more than 250 women ready to take inspiration from one another and contribute to the success of the next generation. The brainchild of alumna Luly Balepogi ’00, the gathering focused on personal and professional development as well “setting your life on fire”—this year’s theme. Those in attendance included area businesspeople and university administrators as well as some very special students.

“If there is anything I like to do is reminding people about how awesome they are,” Balepogi said after recounting her life story and a successful career in marketing, events and public relations. These days she works to empower others to follow their own dreams, through motivational speaking, workshops and private consultations.

Junior psychology major Myesha Lyles is flanked by Luly Balepogi (left) and Mary Wong. The blind student asked the audience for dance lessons.

Among those on the receiving end of Balepogi’s call to greatness: 30 young women participating in FIU’s Fostering Panther Pride program, an initiative to serve the needs of former foster and homeless youth. Each was paired with a mentor who will keep in touch throughout the year.

Junior hospitality major Franchesca Gonzalez attended the event in 2017. “I got connections. I got to network. I met a lot of amazing women,” she said. Since then, Gonzalez has been invited to several additional activities and has relied upon Balepogi and the others for a variety of help—from looking for an internship to transitioning to a vegan diet—and she says the support has provided an unparalleled resource for growth. “I know that there are women out there that I can reach out to if I ever need anything.”

The students also had a chance to ask the audience for wish-list items that will help them achieve their goals. Internships, one-on-one coaching, photography equipment and a laptop were among their requests—which attendees later granted with open hearts and open wallets.

Paving the way for the students to share a bit of their stories was Mary Wong, president of the Listen Learn Care Foundation. She told of both her personal struggles with epilepsy—which as a child made her something of a helmet-wearing outcast and today prevents her from driving—and her hitting rock bottom when laid off from Office Depot last year after more than 22 years with the company.

“I really believe in the adage that you don’t get more than you can handle,” Wong said. “The key is to go forward and not give up. You don’t need to be Wonder Woman. There are all these people in this room that you can ask for help. I want you to find your compass. I want you to find which way you’re going to go. I want you to be happy. Find your people, find your direction, go forward. Never, ever, ever give up.”