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About the Center

Conway center staff and students posing

The Jill Ker Conway Innovation & Entrepreneurship Center is designed to prepare Smith students to become different kinds of entrepreneurs, leaders and innovators who engage with the world beyond the campus.

Our Story

In February 2015, Smith College embarked on a comprehensive strategic planning process and solicited ideas designed to shape the future of the college. Many of the proposals revealed the paramount importance of emphasizing co-curricular experiences, a core value of a Smith education. President McCartney, supported by the Smith College Board of Trustees, made the decision to invest in programs that connect students’ academic experiences with creative and practical opportunities. The Jill Ker Conway Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center, named in honor of Smith’s eighth overall and first woman president, was envisioned and identified as a new initiative priority.

Thanks to the generosity of Smith alumnae, the Conway Center launched in fall 2016 and signifcantly expanded and built upon the successful programming and initiatives of the Center for Women and Financial Independence (2001–16). At the Center, we recognize that Smith’s liberal arts curriculum provides students with an intellectual foundation for critical thinking, communication and creativity. When integrated with the complementary innovative and entrepreneurial experiences we offer, students become better problem solvers able to develop compelling value propositions. We teach academic courses, offer co-curricular programming and engage in financial education and entrepreneurship research.


About Jill Ker Conway

Jill Ker Conway (1934–2018) began her tenure as Smith’s first woman president in 1975. She championed groundbreaking projects, programs and academic departments, including the the Ada Comstock Scholars Program and programs in women’s studies, comparative literature and engineering. In 2013, Conway received the National Humanities Medal for her work as a scholar, author, college administrator, and member of numerous corporate and nonprofit boards. In naming Smith’s innovation center after Jill Ker Conway, we honor the legacy of a true pioneer and affirm our shared commitment to women’s success and leadership.


Our Team


Lucas Gray, Executive Assistant
Lucas joined the Conway Center in January 2022 as an Administrative Assistant. He earned his MBA at SUNY New Paltz as well as a bachelor’s degree in Business Management. Along with his business partners, Lucas founded the fashion brand PUCKR Jewelry in 2020. Prior to his work at the Conway Center, Lucas worked at Smith College for Meridians Journal.


René Heavlow AC’08, Acting Director & Director of Operations and Special Programs
René has been active in the field of collegiate program development for over 15 years. Formerly the director of the Center for Women and Financial Independence, she is responsible for program design and management, as well as strategic and fiscal planning of the center’s financial education and entrepreneurship activities. She has served as a mentor to and resource liaison for aspiring undergraduate entrepreneurs at Smith College. She has also developed and led interactive financial education workshops for middle and high school students. She currently serves as a research associate for projects focused on women’s financial knowledge and behavior. René received her master’s in sociology from the University of Arizona and bachelor’s degree in African American studies and ethics from Smith College.


Jennifer Kennedy, Administrative Assistant
Jennifer joined Smith College in August 2018. She is the administrative assistant at the Conway Center and the Design Thinking Initiative. Jennifer is the primary contact for external offices and students, and has been a member of the Administrative Assistant Leadership Team (AALT) since November 2019. Jennifer has a master’s in education in athletic administration from Springfield College and a bachelor’s degree in Communication and English from Cedar Crest College.

Meng Li ’05, Entrepreneur-in-Residence
Meng is an entrepreneur, start-up advisor and seasoned marketing executive with 10+ years of building successful consumer brands and transforming start-ups into household names. She is the founder of Huhu, a new parenting gear and lifestyle brand launching in summer 2022. Prior to starting her own business, Meng held various marketing leadership roles at top CPG companies, including Johnson & Johnson, Method Products and Native. Meng holds a A.B. in Economics from Smith College and an M.B.A. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She resides in the Bay Area and is a proud parent of two young children.

Gail Zauder

Gail Zauder ’79, Entrepreneur-in-Residence
Gail is an entrepreneur who has advised entrepreneurs for over 35 years as an investment banker, board member and operating executive. Gail is the managing partner of Elixir Advisors, a financial and strategic advisory firm she founded in 2002 to focus on the luxury goods, beauty, consumer, and retail and apparel sectors after spending 16 years at Credit Suisse where she was named the first woman managing director in the history of the firm’s Mergers & Acquisition group. She has advised some of the most exceptional creative entrepreneurs in the world including Bono of U2; Donna Karan; Kenneth Cole; Roxanne Quimby of Burt’s Bees; and Marcia Kilgore of Beauty Pie, Bliss, Soap & Glory and FitFlop. She also served as CEO of Soap & Glory, a $150mm global beauty brand based in London. Gail holds an A.B. in Urban Environmental Studies, a self-designed major, from Smith College and an M.B.A. from Yale University’s School of Management. She has been a Draper Competition judge since 2017.

Student Interns


Adriana Beltran Andrade ’23
Adriana is a computer science and statistical and data sciences double major. She co-founded the Blockchain Initiative and is the co-president of Decentralized Smith. As part of the communications team, she hopes to brainstorm and execute ways to engage the Smith community with the valuable programming offered by the Conway Center.

Picture of Conway Intern Ileanna Garcia

Ileanna Garcia ’22
Ileanna is majoring in computer science and mathematics. She has been a member of the website administration team for two years and will be the team lead for 2021–22. She continues to be excited to work at the center, where she can learn about and share the many interdisciplinary opportunities available to students.


Helen Glover ’24
Helen is a computer science and environmental science double major. She has career interests in creative human-centered technology including UX Design and web development. At the Conway Center, she works on the web team in sharing entrepreneurial opportunities with the community.


Sydney Jacobs ’24
Sydney is majoring in psychology and quantitative economics with a concentration in global financial institutions. She is passionate about sustainable finance and is a member of the Investing Club ESG sector, the president of the Outing Club, and works at the Smith Boathouse. Sydney is beyond thrilled to join the Conway Center intern team to assist with logistics and day-to-day operations.

Conway Intern Lily Jin

Lily Jin ’22
Lily is a double major in statistics and quantitative economics. She is a returning intern who will help to ensure the smooth functioning of the center and its events. She is an active member of the Smith College Investment Club (SCIC) and Sazanami.


Serena Keenan ’23
Serena lives in King House and is majoring in Russian, East European and Eurasian studies. She is the assistant features editor for The Sophian and works on Labrys, the college’s literary magazine. She is excited to be helping with all logistics at the Conway Center for another year (and finally on campus!).


Clara Kim ’23J
Clara studies philosophy and is on the pre-med track. She is a returning Conway intern working on the logistics team, assisting in the day-to-day and administrative functioning of Conway, as well as contributing to the podcast team. Outside of academic life, she DJs with WOZQ Radio and trains in classical ballet.


Handi Lu ’25
Handi majors in quantitative economics, minors in applied statistics, and is an intended Global Financial Institutions concentrator. She lives in Albright House, and is an active member of Smith Start-up Consulting Club, Smith College Consulting Club, and Chinese Student Association. Handi is also a classical music maniac and enjoys reading French literature. She is new to the Conway Center and is super excited to learn more about entrepreneurship!

Picture of Conway Intern Vivian Ma

Vivian Ma ’22
Vivian is an economics major and global financial institutions concentrator. She lives in Haven House and is involved with multiple clubs, including the SCIC, Asian Students Association, Consulting Club and Chinese Student Association. She is excited to continue work on the center’s social media platforms.


Parunjodhi Munisamy ’24
Parunjodhi lives in Cutter House and plans to double major in quantitative economics and statistical and data sciences. Her enthusiasm for innovation and entrepreneurship makes her a perfect fit for the Draper Competition team. New to the Conway Center, she is excited to learn and share knowledge with her peers.


Jah’Shae Newman ’22
Jah’Shae is a double major in psychology and sociology interested in mental health and creating new systems that work for disadvantaged communities. She started working for the Conway Center in the summer of 2020 as a research intern and is excited to be able to promote, work with and build with the center on campus this year.


Michel Ruiz-Fuentes ’24
Michel is tentatively pursuing the studies of government and statistical and data sciences. She is excited to lead outreach initiatives for the Conway Center, as well as educating, empowering and spreading the word about the impact that the center has to offer.


Mariana Salazar ’23
Mariana, an Emerson House member, is majoring in environmental science and policy. She is an active member of the Latin American Student Organization. She’s excited to be a part of the communications team for the center, sharing her learnings about financial security and freedom in a supportive environment.


Chichi Tsai ’23
Chichi is an English major on the teaching licensure track. A Friedman resident, she is an aspiring romance novelist and an advocate for debate education. She is new to the center’s podcast team and hopes to learn more about entrepreneurship on campus.


Yesenia Villatoro ’22
Yesenia is an Economics and Portuguese/Brazilian Studies double major. Yesenia is an active member of the Latin American Student organization and is very excited to be speaking to and learning from entrepreneurial women for the Conway Center's podcast team.


Zephyr Wang ’22
Zephyr is majoring in neuroscience and computer science—skills she will put to use on the center’s website administration team. She is a member of Fun Run Smith and the Asian Student Association and enjoys anything outdoorsy, especially sailing.


Alaine Williams ’23
Alaine is majoring in economics and minoring in music. A resident of King House, she is actively involved in the Black Students Alliance. She is excited to work at the CIEC to highlight the innovators and entrepreneurs at Smith.

Affiliated Instructors

Mahnaz Mahdavi
Mahnaz Mahdavi is professor of economics and the faculty director of the Global Financial Institutions Concentration. She received her doctorate in economics from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and has been teaching courses on topics related to finance and international finance. She was the 2008 Distinguished Professor of the Year and one of the inaugural recipients of the Sherrerd Teaching Award in 2004. She was a teaching fellow at the University of Michigan and a faculty contributor to the Women’s Executive Education program at Smith College. Mahdavi was the founding director of Smith’s Center for Women and Financial Independence in 2001 and served as the Ann F. Kaplan ’67 faculty director of WFI until 2017.

Fadia Nordtveit
Fadia Nordtveit (previously Hasan) teaches entrepreneurship courses for the Conway Center. Her research, which focuses on environmental communication, global youth movements, new media technologies and social entrepreneurships, led her to found The BGreen Project. BGreen is an international nonprofit that works on environmental action projects and sustainability education. Her doctorate and master degrees are from the communication department at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She is also the co-founder of a social entrepreneurship project called Bija Bangladesh. Her academic-community engaged research connects sustainability issues in the global north and south and has led to her book, Participatory Action Research and the Environment: The BGreen Project in the U.S. and Bangladesh (2019).

Conway Center Recognition


Outstanding Emerging Center

— Global Consortium of Entrepreneurship Centers

Top Ten

#2 School for Female Founders who want to change the world

— College Magazine

Top 50

#26 College Financial Literacy Program

— LendEDU


Top Speciality Program for Excellence in Entrepreneurship Education

— United States Association for Small Business & Entrepreneurship


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Annual Report 2020-21

“We view human centered design as a core methodology, collaborative leadership as a critical capacity, and the development of an entrepreneurial mindset as a growth state necessary for leading positive change.”
—Borjana Mikic, Associate Dean of Integrative Learning