A Tremendous Light

“I think the difference between me and some people is that I’m content to do my little bit. Sometimes people think they have to do big things in order to make change. But if each one would light a candle we’d have a tremendous light.” — Sister Thea Bowman

Our Catholic and Franciscan values compel all of us at Alverno College to work for peace, justice, equity, and a world where all are respected and valued. A world in which we each light a candle to provide — in the words of Sister Thea Bowman, FSPA, PhD — a tremendous light.

This work is necessary and ongoing. It is why we value our designation as a Hispanic-Serving Institution and view it as an urgent calling to do more. And it is why we have launched the Thea Bowman Institute for Excellence and Leadership.

The Bowman Institute offers a rigorous and robustly crafted leadership development program for Black undergraduate students, including mentorship and high-profile internships.

The students, who receive full-tuition, four-year scholarships, will be challenged throughout their education to explore their individual leadership styles, develop cultural competency, and learn how to effect organizational change.

“Thea Bowman Scholars are women who know, ‘I was sent here to do something great, and I’m determined to do that,’” says Ronett Jacobs ’98, director of the Bowman Institute. “We will work to light their candles so that they can then light the candles of others.”

In their first semester at Alverno, nine Bowman Scholars have stayed connected through weekly virtual discussions; longer virtual meetings are held monthly to explore leadership themes. They have engaged with their community, from presenting at virtual conferences to training to be poll workers. Above all, they have found strength in sisterhood.

“Bowman is an amazing program. The conversations that we’ve had have been so uplifting and encouraging and just real, and I really appreciate it,” says Bowman Scholar Janel Riseling, Class of 2024. “I’m glad to know there are women behind me who I can always count on.”


Sister Thea Bowman is depicted in “Every Time I Feel the Spirit,” created by Brother Mickey O’Neill McGrath, Oblate of St. Francis de Sales.

Who was Sister Thea Bowman?

Our leadership institute honors the late Thea Bowman, a Black Franciscan nun from Mississippi who was educated in Wisconsin. Sister Thea held a PhD in English and served as a professor at three universities. She gained national and international renown for her passionate advocacy for racial justice.

“We watched a video where Sister Thea was the only Black person in the room. Standing in front of hundreds of people, she shared her experiences, her beliefs, what she thought needed to change and how we could change it. She wasn’t afraid to stand up and speak up for what was right,” says Bowman Scholar Amira Adams, Class of 2024.

Meet the Bowman Scholars

The nine young women who serve as the first class of Bowman Scholars are strong leaders and motivated learners who dedicated to community service. Here, they share which of the seven principles (Nguzo Saba) of Kwanzaa — the African American cultural holiday — that they feel called to display in their leadership:

• Umoja (unity)
• Kujichagulia (self-determination)
• Ujima (collective work and responsibility)
• Ujamaa (cooperative economics)
• Nia (purpose)
• Kuumba (creativity)
• Imani (faith)

Amira Adams 

“I’m a spoken word artist and poet, so the idea to leave our community more beautiful than we found it really resonates with me. Everything is art to me; I speak to issues that are going on in our community, our world, and how we can resolve them to move forward.”

Iyanna Bailey

“I’m really good at bringing all types of people together. I’m usually the friend that everyone is comfortable with talking to about anything because they know I’ll always be there for them and I won’t judge them. They trust me. I’ve learned that true leadership is when people trust you enough to follow your lead. You don’t ask to become a leader – people choose you to lead them.”

Nia Brittain

“Purpose describes me the best because in the Kwanzaa celebration, purpose stands for Nia, which is my name. When my parents picked that name for me, they knew that my life would have a purpose. Through meeting Ronett Jacobs and my sisters in the Bowman Scholars, I’m discovering my purpose, which is leading the community, helping others, and being a leader within my sisterhood of the Bowman Scholars.”

Zalaina Harrell 

“Knowing who you are and what you have to offer is one of the most important things that you can bring to life and to yourself. You are you, and that’s something nobody can take away from you. Being yourself is a quality that a leader has. Being able to wake up and look in the mirror and be proud of who you are and what you created for yourself is a beautiful thing.”

Chanese Knox 

“Coming from a predominantly white high school, it was hard for me to find unity with people who looked like me. So I started a Black Student Alliance, and I reached out to other schools to start clubs there. We made sure people have a safe place to belong. I’m inspired by Sister Thea and her message that we can work together to find a solution to injustice. ”

Ameera Pearsall 

“I am able to choose my own path, but a lot of people don’t have that privilege. Because I do, I have a responsibility to use it and make the most of it. I can choose who I am, what I do and how I live. I can choose my own values and how I live those values. I’d really like to encourage that in other people.”

Janel Riseling 

“Creativity is who I am and everything that I do. I look at something that’s so simple to someone else, and I pick it apart: its structure, how it looks, its color. I teach other people to not just look at something as it is but to look beyond. Our lives and what we create don’t just have a meaning to ourselves. They also mean something to other people.”

Dorian Tellis 

“I teach restorative practices, so I share a lot of stories. I always share my bumps in the road. As a leader, you have to let people know: ‘I’ve messed up before, so don’t think that I’m perfect.’ I want to inspire people and to show them that even with those downfalls, you can figure it out and keep going. ”

Shanyia Wade 

“With everything going on in the United States and here in Wisconsin, we should be more focused on coming together and being stronger together instead of tearing each other apart. I also want people to pay more attention to climate change. If we don’t work together, we’re not going to have a world to live in.”


Ronett Jacobs ’98 coined the term “Inspi-A-Neers” for the professionals serving as mentors to the Bowman Scholars, honoring their role as pioneers and sources of inspiration (noted below with an asterisk). Thank you to all who have helped dream, build and support Sister Andrea’s vision of the Bowman Institute, including:

Angel Brown, Alverno graduate and adult admissions counselor *

Tifene Brown ’15 ’20, Alverno assistant director for student success *

Alexis Carter ’09, Alverno assistant director of admissions for high school enrollment *

Lauren Feaster, chief executive, Professional Dimensions

Jolynn Franklin ’20, 5th grade STEM teacher, CICS Lloyd Bond school *

Cecelia Gore ’92 ’08, Alverno trustee; executive director, Brewers Community Foundation

Vanessa Hintz, Alverno assistant professor, community psychology *

Serina Jamison, Alverno instructor of education*

Ronett Jacobs ’98, Alverno’s Teach for America coordinator; director, Bowman Institute

Kishia Ross ’06, Alverno academic advisor

This article appears in the fall/winter 2020 issue of Alverno Magazine.

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