Despite delivery challenges, programs for young leaders continue to resonate

By Mount Mary University

Posted on May 19, 2021

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This year, the Women’s Leadership Institute (WLI) at Mount Mary had to make adjustments in order to maintain impactful programming for young women. While some things needed to pivot, they searched for ways to remain true to their mission.

What they learned was sometimes surprising.

When the staff shifted the Summer Leadership Academy (SLA) for high school girls from a residential experience to a completely virtual program, they had no idea what to expect. Feeling “Zoomed out” themselves from months of a surprise national quarantine, they were encouraged that the student applicants showed up and then returned for day two and day three.
“The topics of college preparation, career exploration and leadership were as relevant as ever,” said Anne Kahl, Executive Director of the Leadership Institute.

“We were overwhelmed at the participants’ sentiments during the closing ceremony about the community, saying that they now felt part of the group,
and how their futures felt clearer as a result of the knowledge gained during
the academy,” she said.

“Increasing the confidence in these young women at this stage of their lives
is critical. For some it helps them be sure of choosing a particular career path, but for others it helps them realize that college is actually an option for them and they can succeed.”

That encouragement prompted WLI staff to challenge themselves: How can
we do more, and reach even more young women? The virtual format offered
a unique opportunity on which they hoped to capitalize.

After a busy fall meeting with high school counselors to explore interests, needs and gaps in their current curriculums, they identified areas where the Women’s Leadership Institute could offer support.

Focusing on the three tenets of SLA leadership, college prep and career exploration, the first edition of the Leadership Academy Mornings pilot was launched in March.

Young women from Saint Joan Antida, Brookfield East and Brookfield Central high schools learned about different programs of study and careers that could be pursued with the different majors and minors. They also received supply kits to participate in various hands-on activities that allowed them to dig a little deeper into what it would be like to study fashion, food science, nursing, history, studio art, interior architecture and design, English and business.

“We put into practice the same leadership that we instill in our future leaders,” Kahl said. “We turned a challenge into an opportunity.”

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