Hailing from small towns and large urban centers, 22 women from across the commonwealth are the first graduates of the Virginia Women’s Municipal Leadership Institute.

A partnership between the Virginia Tech Roanoke Center and Virginia Women Leading Government, the institute is designed to strengthen the career pipeline for female community leaders. Across Virginia, only 17 percent of top government positions are held by women, according to the Local Government Diversity Dashboard.

To institute coordinator Bonnie Svrcek, the first female city manager of Lynchburg before her retirement in 2020, that number is unacceptable.

“It is critical for communities to have leadership that reflects the demographic of their towns, cities, and counties. Inclusive leadership makes for better decision-making and therefore stronger communities,” Svrcek said.

The Virginia Women's Municipal Leadership Institute builds leadership skills, and even more important, Svrcek said, confidence skills among women to even apply for the jobs. “We need to make women see that we’re all on a lifelong learning journey. Women tend to want to check all the boxes before they apply for a job, but some things we learn by doing.”

Tevya Griffin, director of planning and codes compliance for the city of Williamsburg, said she applied to the program to gain experience in areas such as local government budget and finance as well as strategic planning. She said that along with strengthening those skills, the institute also encouraged her to be herself.

“It’s OK to be strong. It’s OK to be confident, and to own that,” she said. “I see now that women can do this, and it’s possible.”

The women participated in eight monthly gatherings, alternating between virtual and in-person sessions around the state. Virginia Tech faculty members and other experts presented workshops on topics incorporating both technical duties such as budgeting and “soft skills” such as public speaking and work-life balance.

Scott Weimer, who leads the Roanoke Center, said the institute was a natural fit.

“The Virginia Women’s Municipal Leadership Institute builds on our diverse portfolio of leadership programs. It’s a wonderful example of the ways we help build stronger communities across the commonwealth, from connecting with Virginia Tech faculty experts to providing support with program logistics and planning.”

Tangela Innis, the deputy city manager of Petersburg, leads a staff of more than 530 employees and a city budget of over $100 million. But she still finds advocating for herself to be a challenge. She came to the institute to increase her confidence and build a network of female peers.

“Sometimes it can be lonely not having a community to discuss things with,” Innis said.

Creating those connections is a key component of the institute. As they work and learn together over several months, the women bond with their classmates, creating relationships they can learn from and lean on throughout their careers.

Nelsie Birch, the chief financial officer for Albemarle County, also said she came to the institute seeking connection with other women who are doing similar roles and functions.

“Through the institute, we now have a network of people to rely on to help one another through professional growth and development,” she said.

Birch said anyone considering the institute should just jump in and apply. “You’re never too busy for professional development and for the opportunity to learn from other people. Just dive in if you’re thinking about it and then really engage in the program. If you really invest yourself, you can really get a lot out of it — and you have something to give to others who are needing your support as well.”

Applications for the institute’s 2023 cohort will be accepted soon, with classes running from March to October. For more information, contact Bonnie Svrcek.


The 2022 graduates are:

  • Mandy Adkins, Botetourt County.
  • Emily Ashley, Chesterfield County.
  • Nelsie Birch, Albemarle County.
  • Kelly Davis, The Berkley Group.
  • Monica Elder, Charlotte County.
  • Olivia Epps, Halifax County.
  • Tevya Griffin, City of Williamsburg.
  • Tangela Innis, City of Petersburg.
  • Retta Jackson, Town of Hillsville.
  • Emily Kilroy, Albemarle County.
  • Maggie Mace, City of Lynchburg.
  • Sela Miller, Chesterfield County.
  • Shevonne Morgan-Glover, City of Norfolk.
  • Ashley Nichols, City of Williamsburg.
  • Megan Pittman, Bedford Regional Water Authority.
  • Nina Rezai, Campbell County.
  • Brandy Rosser, Franklin County.
  • Amy Southall, Mount Rogers Regional Partnership.
  • Katy Tomer, Nottoway County.
  • Jordan Welborn, Campbell County.
  • Crystal Williams, City of Salem.
  • Jerri Wilson, City of Newport News.