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"Education and the Empowerment of Women" was the theme of a panel discussion in celebration of Women's History Month at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (WRNMMC) on March 15.

Planning, persistence, flexibility and education are keys to success was echoed by said panelists retired Rear Adm. Christine Bruzek-Kohler, Navy Capt. Constance Evans, Army Col. Ellen Forster, Ms. Chisun Chun, and Army Chaplain (Cpt.) Pratima Dharm during the celebration.

"Education plays a huge role in defining and authenticating [one's] personal and professional growth and development, regardless of gender," said Forster, deputy commander for nursing at WRNMMC.

Bruzek-Kohler agreed, adding that planning is essential to achieving one's educational goals.

The executive director of Clinical Healthcare Operations at the Joint Task Force National Capital Regional Medical, Bruzek-Kohler said "there are obligations to decisions" people make concerning their educational pursuits, but "every degree and certification enhances what you do on your job and make you so much more marketable and competitive."

"Education wasn't an option, it was a requirement" for Evans growing up as one of seven siblings in Jackson, Miss. "If you didn't go to college you got out of the house at 18," said the director of the Warrior Family Coordination Cell at WRNMMC. She said this rule was set by her father, who didn't get pass grade school but wanted more for his children. The "Education conversation in my household was No. 1 at all times."

Evans continued that the value of education must be instilled in children when they are young, something she says she aims to do when she speaks to students. "Knowledge is powerful, and if you don't have the knowledge, and you don't study and learn, you can't make it."

Chun, deputy commander for healthcare operations and strategic planning at WRNMMC, said education was the reason her family immigrated to the United States from South Korea. Noting that it's also important for people to have role models and mentors to serve as coaches to help their growth and maturity.

"Every one of us is a leader," Chun added. "What helps you succeed is your ability to maximize your strengths. Everyone can be a mentor and a mentee because we all can learn and teach. Learn from other people, and teach what you learn to others."

Dharm, the first female chaplain of Indian descent and first Hindu chaplain in the U.S. Army, said women are playing more prominent roles in society and religion because of education, as well as their voting capacity and the impact of the women's rights movements.

A member of the audience asked the panel members how can women in today's society overcome challenges and be successful. Bruzek-Kohler said, "women now have greater choices, but once you choose to do something, do it well, be you a woman or a man."

Chun added it's important for people to figure out what they love to do, and do it. "Work hard and let others sing your praises," she said. "Surround yourself with people you look up to, and grow together."

Evans agreed, saying whether you are male or female, "Show you are capable of being in any occupation, give 100 percent and stay at the top of your game."

Forster shared the sentiment stating, "Work hard and put in a good day's work, and ask yourself at the end of the day, 'What have I done to make my boss' life easier?'"

Women's History Month had its origins as a national celebration in 1981 when Sen. Orrin Hatch and Rep. Barbara Mikulski co-sponsored the first Joint Congressional Resolution proclaiming "Women's History Week. This year's panel discussion/celebration was sponsored by the Multicultural Committee at WRNMMC.

At the observance President Barack Obama's proclamation for this year's observance read, "As Americans, ours is a legacy of bold independence and passionate belief in fairness and justice for all. For generations, this intrepid spirit has driven women pioneers to challenge injustices and shatter ceilings in pursuit of full and enduring equality. During Women's History Month, we commemorate their struggles, celebrate centuries of progress, and reaffirm our steadfast commitment to the rights, security and dignity of women in America and around the world. Today, women serve as leaders throughout industry, civil society and government, and their outstanding achievements affirm to our daughters and sons that no dream is beyond their reach.

"While we have made great strides toward equality, we cannot rest until our mothers, sisters and daughters assume their rightful place as full participants in a secure, prosperous, and just society," the president concluded.

For more information about Women's History Month, visit http://womenshistorymonth.gov.