Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Alumna inspires in RMU Women's Leadership and Mentorship Program.

small_FutureLeaderThe conversation flows as three women meet at a RoMo's Cafe table. University development officer Jen Salvador '04 chats with Julie Powell, an undeclared business major, and Molly Smith, Powell's peer mentor, a junior majoring in accounting. Their meeting is part of the Women's Leadership and Mentorship Program, a competitive four-year program and scholarship that matches incoming freshmen women with a faculty or staff mentor and an older student peer mentor.

Now in its second year, the program has 92 students, who each receive a $1,000 annual tuition scholarship and an additional one-time stipend of $2,000 towards a junior year study abroad program. Participants meet frequently with their mentoring team to discuss professional experiences and seek academic advice and support, while learning to network, build a professional resume, and gain resources and experiences in their prospective fields.

Salvador, who also majored in business at RMU, considers herself Powell's "professional tweaker," assisting with elements like resume-building and interview preparation. During the biweekly sit-down, she encourages Powell to ask questions about the various business careers and then provides her experiences and knowledge as insight. "I was the oldest of 15 grandchildren, and my younger cousins asked me for advice over the years about college, so I wanted to continue to help empower women," Salvador says.

There is a trust formed quickly between mentors and students in the program. "We discuss things from Julie's boyfriend training for the Army to which professors are good to take," says Smith. Powell says Smith is a great resource and friend, and they usually cover all topics, personal and professional. The three attend many program conferences, luncheons, and speaker sessions together. It's stimulating to hear successful women speak about their careers, says Powell, who believes guest speakers are some of the best resources for cohort members.

Next year, when the first cohort of students enters their junior year, they will also become peer mentors for the incoming freshmen in the program. Also in their junior year, they will be connected with a professional mentor outside the university. The program includes an annual leadership symposium, where students can share their experiences in the program including service, professional internships, study abroad, and research.

As the acting dean of the School of Business, Lois Bryan has a full schedule, but she pays special attention to one accounting student, Madelyn Plummer. As Plummer's mentor in the university's Women's Leadership and Mentorship Program, Bryan meets regularly with her to discuss challenges for women in the accounting industry — Bryan is a C.P.A. — and how it has changed over the years. "As an educator, it's important to know how these changes relate to women students," says Bryan. "Women should support other women."

Rika Carlsen, assistant professor of mechanical/biomedical engineering, says she remembers the guidance and support that women faculty provided to her when she was an undergraduate, so she became a mentor to offer support to the next generation of leaders. She also benefits from the program and the student she mentors, Marykate Freeman, majoring in psychology. "We both joined RMU at the same time," says Carlsen. "I would not have as much knowledge about campus life and the university as a whole if it wasn't for her insight and the knowledge and experiences that she has shared with me." Freeman says joining WLMP is one of the best decisions she has made. "I didn't yet know anyone at RMU, so it made me feel a lot better knowing that I would have two mentors and all the other girls in the program to support me," she says.

Students mentored in this program say they enjoy the enthusiasm from all involved. "I feel very lucky to be surrounded by motivated and ambitious women," says Freeman. "It pushes me to do better not only in my classes but also in every aspect of my life." Plummer says her favorite part of the program is all of the women she has met, especially Dr. Bryan. "She is a great mentor and is always willing to answer my questions about accounting," Plummer says.

Carlsen says she is impressed with the leadership roles that the peer mentors and cohort members hold. From the Nonprofit Leadership Association to RMU-TV to the varsity rowing team, these women cover a wide range of on-campus involvement.

By Michelle Emanuele '14
Photos by Joe Appel

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