Patrice Hutton didn’t want to go to college; she wanted to go to cosmetology school and open her own salon — a dream she still has. Yet today, Hutton, a student coordinator for the Network of Female Leaders at MU, is part of the initiative to help women move from college into the workforce.
The number of women attending college is rising. The National Center for Education Statistics reported a 143 percent increase in female enrollment from 1970 to 2000, compared with a 33 percent increase in male enrollment. The Center also reported that female enrollment has increased from 678,977 in 1947 to 8,967,172 in 2001, and has surpassed male enrollment
MU initiatives, such as the Network of Female Leaders and the Griffiths Leadership Society for Women, help the increasing number of college women find mentors who help them move into the workforce.
“Programs like the Network of Female Leaders will encourage women to continuously develop their leadership as they become more engaged at the university,” said Laura Gray, the network’s adviser. “Student engagement will provide women with the knowledge, skills and abilities to remain competitive in today’s job market.”
For almost six years, the Network of Female Leaders has connected its members with strong female students and members of the community to offer them networking opportunities. The network held its largest event, the annual day-long Women’s Leadership Conference, in February. At the conference, the network and Office of Leadership Development invited students and members of the community to its sessions on wellness, communication, relationships, self-defense and gender and leadership.
“It works to create a common bond,” Hutton said. “Just knowing there are strong females there to back you up can be all the assurance you may need.”
Hutton said the network helps college women by giving them the tools to realize their leadership potential. She also emphasized the importance of networks and mentors.
“We realize that sometimes, knowing the right person can mean a world of difference,” she said. “We learn from one another and can use each other as resources.”
As two of the network’s student coordinators, Hutton and Jamie Walsh plan programs, speakers and events that illustrate the network’s goals of leadership, education, empowerment for women and networking. Hutton said a panel on women in male-dominated careers was one of their most successful programs.
She also said the network is working on a two-part program for the fall, which will teach students how to make good first impressions and the correct etiquette for business dinners. In an age of rising female enrollment in colleges across the nation, the program empowers women by connecting them with women in the field.
Walsh’s experience with the network also helped her grow. She said that she never had a strong female role model when growing up but that the network has offered her the chance to connect and relate to women in strong leadership roles.
“Having these relationships we can build on because we’re all women and in leadership positions — that just helps us relate to each other easier,” she said.
The network also offers initiatives on campus. In September, the network organized a panel of female campus leaders. Walsh said the 12 women on the panel offered an example for young women to emulate.
Over the next few years, network leaders hope to develop a mentoring program to help female students make connections. Gray said they would like to create a networking database on the organization’s Web site where students can access information about female leaders on campus and in the community.
The MU Alumni Association has developed a similar project, the Griffiths Leadership Society for Women, which groups MU alumni with the university’s juniors, seniors and graduate students. The program will have two-day on-campus meetings in the fall and spring where it will teach career development, life skills and panel discussions on different aspects of leadership.
The Griffiths Leadership Society was not started as a response to the increase in female enrollment; Shannon Walls, the program’s coordinator, said it was meant to help women see the many possibilities of merging their work lives with their family lives by providing them with role models who can help them succeed.
“I see the program benefiting the perspectives of the women that participate — to see the possibilities through the eyes of their mentors, to see the success of the women who have gone down the road before them,” Walls said. “I think it’ll help bridge their transition to professional life.”