Students gain perspective on women in public life

Participants of the 2010 21st Century Leadership Academy gather in front of UMSL's Provincial House, home of the Pierre Laclede Honors College.

Jessy Chisholm aspires to attain a doctorate in political science and public policy administration with the goal of working to improve international human rights. She sees herself perhaps someday working at a university with the aim of researching the changing effects of gendered stereotypes on political campaigns. The ambitious University of Missouri–St. Louis junior, a political science major also working to earn a certificate in women and gender studies, might even run for political office someday.

For Chisholm, the 21st Century Leadership Academy, an intensive weeklong residential leadership development program overseen by UMSL’s Sue Shear Institute for Women in Public Life, was a natural fit.

“I believe that it really accomplishes its goals to raise awareness about problems women have in the public sector, teach women networking skills and inspire women to take on active roles in their community,” said Chisholm, who also is involved in numerous UMSL organizations and works 18 hours each week at her hometown Ferguson (Missouri) Library.

Chisholm was one of 35 women from nine Missouri universities to participate as “Shear Fellows” in the program, which ran from May 23 to 28 at UMSL. They took part in interactive panel discussions, skill-building workshops, small-group exercises and networking opportunities. The students honed their leadership skills with elected officials, government leaders and policy advocates.

One day of the academy was devoted to Jefferson City, Mo., where the students took part in a mock legislative session in the House Chamber with the Honorable Sue Schoemehl presiding as madam speaker. They also had lunch at the governor’s mansion, where they rubbed elbows with several prominent Missouri women in public life, including State Auditor Susan Montee, Department of Health and Senior Services Margaret Donnelly and Chris Nicastro, commissioner of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and UMSL alumna (MEd 1982).

“The leadership academy has changed lives because it has exposed young women to women in public life who are doing things that the students might never have considered,” said Dayna Stock, St. Louis manager of the Sue Shear Institute for Women and Public Life and director of the 21st Century Leadership Academy. “When the students leave the academy, I think they really have a clearer sense of where they’re going and a lot of confidence that they’re going to get there.”

Another highlight for the week was the keynote dinner and address at the Saint Louis Woman’s Club. Dora Schriro, the commissioner of the New York City Department of Correction, was this year’s keynote speaker. Schriro has also served as the director of corrections departments for Missouri, Arizona and St. Louis. (Visit http://bit.ly/d3tgdN to download an interview with Schriro on “St. Louis Public Radio | 90.7 KWMU.)

Academy participants also met Kelly Newsome McNichols, a 2004 Shear Fellow who went on to become a successful consultant at Church Development, a capital consulting firm in Kansas City, Mo. The alumna returned to the academy to accept the Amethyst Award that is presented annually to an academy graduate who inspires others through achievement.

More information:
http://www.umsl.edu/~iwpl/

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