Alverno's Women and Leadership class

Creating Tomorrow’s Leaders Today

Too few girls and women are taught how to become leaders, let alone told that they can.

That’s one of the key problems that Alverno students identified in a research project, and it’s one that they’re helping to solve.

During the fall 2018 semester, undergraduate students in Assistant Professor of Business Stephani Richards-Wilson’s Women & Leadership class researched famous female leaders in history and interviewed dozens of women and girls about everyday challenges. The students read books about leadership, recorded podcasts and created leadership action plans discussing how they will apply all they have learned to their own growth as leaders.

One highlight of the course was creating podcasts honoring members of the National Women’s Hall of Fame in Seneca, N.Y. After exploring historical materials, the students shared the stories of famous women like Harriet Tubman, Eleanor Roosevelt and Shirley Chisholm in fictionalized podcasts that the Hall proudly published on its website.

“Looking back in the past and seeing what women had done before inspires us to consider what we can do to continue moving forward,” says student Cailey Jeske, who took on the role of Mildred “Babe” Didrikson Zaharias, a multi-talented athlete and Olympic gold medalist.

The culmination of the course was a presentation in which the students shared their research with the Women and Girls Fund of Waukesha County (WGF). The nonprofit counts on such data to help inform decisions on how best to deploy its resources to advance the status of women and girls in the region.

“The interviews captured many voices about the barriers that exist for women and girls,” says Michelle DuBord, WGF executive director. “The information provides insight in the areas in which our grant funding can be invested to alleviate barriers in the future.”

DuBord and several WGF board members attended the presentation and were impressed with the academic research and personal stories that the students shared.

“The student presentations were remarkable and inspiring,” says DuBord, who added that the nonprofit has adopted the theme of courage to guide their work this year as a direct result of its growing Alverno partnership.

That growing partnership includes WGF hosting an Alverno student, Marissa Sarson, as a social media marketing intern for the spring semester, as well as inviting Richards-Wilson and her students to WGF’s annual Women of Distinction luncheon.

Ultimately, the students’ main takeaway from the class is that not only do they have what it takes to lead, but that they are also called to help other women and girls discover the leaders within.

“It was rewarding to see how much my students learned about themselves and to facilitate their leadership development,” says Richards-Wilson, an associate professor of business and director of Alverno’s graduate business programs. “They gained newfound knowledge about other strong women and can now envision a future path to making a difference in the world.”