Boise is known for the contributions by and achievements of women. The J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation and the Laura Moore Cunningham Foundation are just two examples of private sector organizations that have funded musical events, built parks, artistic venues, and community assets like the Velma V. Morrison Center for the Performing Arts, JUMP, and the Esther Simplot Performing Arts Academy. Women are also celebrated in annual events like Boise State University’s New Leadership Idaho and the State Treasurer’s Smart Women/Smart Money Conference. One of Idaho’s leading women’s professional development conferences—the Andrus Center for Public Policy’s Women and Leadership Conference—will celebrate its seventh year when it convenes Sept. 25-26 in the university’s Student Union building.
In 1995, Governor Cecil Andrus established The Andrus Center for Public Policy to focus on his legacy issues—the environment, public lands, education, and leadership. The Andrus Center works closely with various government agencies and user groups on environmental issues like reducing the size, severity, and cost of rangeland wildfires.
One of Andrus’ daughters, Tracy Andrus, became involved with the Andrus Center several years ago and currently serves as its president. Katie Roberts was named executive director in April 2019. Its annual Women and Leadership Conference is held each September at the Center. This past year more than 920 people attended.
“The Women and Leadership Conference is important because it provides a venue for women, and men—no matter what stage of their professional careers—to network, hear from and be inspired by national female leaders, and learn new skills they can use in their professional and personal lives, all without having to travel to a larger and more expensive national conference multiple states away,” Roberts explained in a recent interview. Andrus added to the conversation: “It’s incredibly important that both women and men are part of the dialogue on how we bring about an answer to the continued under-representation of women in positions of leadership.”
Former presenters at Women and Leadership include Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor; Hollywood producer Lynda Obst; actress and activist Geena Davis; U-2 pilot Merryl Tengesdal; and Dr. Ellen Ochoa, Johnson Space Center director. This year’s presenters include Jennifer Palmieri, former director of communications for the White House; Sally Jewell, former Secretary of the Interior; Beth Oppenheimer, executive director of the Idaho Association for the Education of Young Children; Nancy Hughes, president and founder of Stove Team International; Lesley Slaton Brown, vice-president and chief diversity officer at Hewlett-Packard; and Anna Wilson and Monty Powell, recording artists and songwriters.
Breakout sessions during the conference help attendees build skills in leadership and business. Skill builder session topics have included “Work Seems Limitless, Your Time is Not”; “Vulnerability in Leadership: Finding Your Power and Building a Culture of Authenticity”; and “Paving your Own Path: A Workshop on Entrepreneurship, Freelancing and Side Hustles.”
Andrus, for her part, is serious about addressing “… the need for women to take their rightful place in leadership positions within our various levels of government, our businesses, and our boardrooms. We have equal brainpower and equal talent, and we need equal representation.”
Besides leadership and the environment, the Andrus Center also focuses on education. Andrus observed, “Knowledge is key to individual empowerment. When we give people the tools to help them become what they want to be, the world becomes a better place.”
“The impact of working for the Andrus Center for Public Policy, and being able to organize and host the Women and Leadership Conference over the past few years, is immeasurable,” Roberts said. “Simply being involved in something so much larger than myself that has positively affected thousands of individuals is extraordinary.”
Tracy Andrus, one of Cecil Andrus’ daughters, is the current president and chairman of the Andrus Center for Public Policy.
Cecil Andrus served three terms as state senator from Clearwater County from 1961 to 1967. After moving to Lewiston, he was elected state senator from Nez Perce County in 1968. Andrus ran unsuccessfully for governor in 1966 but ran against the same opponent in 1970 and won by more than 10,000 votes. Idaho’s only four-term governor, Andrus served from 1971-1977 and from 1987 to 1995. Andrus also served as U.S. Secretary of the Interior from 1977-1981 in the Carter Administration.