When Higginbotham addresses the 115 honors recipients and their supporters that Friday, she will speak about her own experiences, and she will encourage audience members, no matter what their goals, majors or ages, to find the nexus of their personal and corporate passions.
"I believe that we are most fulfilled, and our contributions to society are most effective, when we work in a profession that fits that overriding passion," Higginbotham says.
Founder and president of Women TIES (Women Together Inspiring Entrepreneurial Success), Higginbotham helps female small business owners expand their economic opportunities by connecting with and supporting one another. The group serves 300 members with 60 volunteers in six regional districts of New York state.
"My corporate mission is the same as my personal mission," she says. "I have been constant in my beliefs and in my advocacy for women entrepreneurs."
As a small business owner herself for 15 years -- she founded an events management company, Five Star Events, in 1995 -- Higginbotham knows firsthand the needs of her colleagues. By 2005, she says, she embraced her passion for helping other women entrepreneurs and created her second company, Women TIES, to foster larger and stronger economic networks among women across the state.
Higginbotham, eldest of eight siblings, says her advocacy for women stems from her early observations of successful women who were close to her. Her mother and an aunt were both small business owners, and a 1931 SUNY Oswego alumna, the late Olive Brannan Spargo, served as an important mentor to Higginbotham in her late teens.
"I had such strong women to guide me that I developed love and respect for women who are engaged in interesting ventures," Higginbotham says. "My mother and aunt were each in business in the 1960s, a time when women were just emerging in such roles."
Spargo, who had been a public school teacher and active Oswego volunteer, lived in Rome, N.Y., where Higginbotham grew up.
"She tapped me on the shoulder when I was 16 to take a leadership role greeting potential SUNY Oswego students in our hometown, and she was a great influence on me from that time on," Higginbotham said.
Spargo was instrumental in bringing Higginbotham back to the SUNY Oswego family after she graduated to work for the Alumni Relations Office and in encouraging her to serve as one of the youngest members of the Oswego Alumni Association board of directors.
"Women have helped me," Higginbotham says. "They have been inspirational and practical in their assistance. It is my intention to carry this help forward."
Her professional success in small business and leadership has been recognized extensively, including two awards, in 2005 and 2011, from the New York State Small Business Administration.
Amid her busy professional life, she still makes her affiliation with SUNY Oswego a priority.
"I wanted to be involved in everything at SUNY Oswego from the moment I got there," says Higginbotham, who lives with her husband and two sons in Central New York. "It's natural for people to love their alma maters, but I am impressed that Oswego had so much to offer. I'll always be grateful for my education there and for the people I've met along the way."
Higginbotham graduated from SUNY Oswego with a bachelor's degree in business administration. She continued with graduate studies in business management and now serves on the advisory board of Oswego's School of Business in addition to several other board memberships in Central New York.