One highlight at the conference is the Minerva Awards, which celebrate five women who have served in their own ways. The award is named for Minerva, the Roman goddess featured on California's state seal. "She's depicted sometimes with a helmet on her head as a warrior," Maria says. "Then there are other images of her where she takes the helmet off—where she holds it—and she's the goddess of peace and justice."
Maria says Minerva embodies what it means to be a strong woman. "You need to be a warrior at certain times, and you also need to be the voice of peace and compassion," she says. "Why not create an award for women who are on, what I call, the 'front lines of humanity,' day in, day out? Some of whom are well known, some of whom are not."
Past recipients have included women like former first lady Betty Ford, speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi and space pioneer Sally Ride.
In time, Maria says she hopes these awards become like the Nobel Prize for women and help every citizen realize his or her potential. "Every single person is capable of being an architect of change, even if it's just speaking up at your own dinner table," she says. "Even if it's speaking up for your child in school, fighting for the right education plan for your child, doing something in your community...every single person, I believe, is capable of that."