The Lead Your Way program of the Milgard Women’s Initiative brings together high school sophomores, juniors and community leaders for mentoring and self-recognition.
At its core, college is all about personal growth. A person comes to campus to learn and explore. This is true whether or not you are currently a college student. Take the recent example of students from 12 Pierce County high schools who came to UW Tacoma on Saturday, Feb. 11, to take part in Lead Your Way.
“Lead Your Way is focused on teaching young people in the South Sound area about women’s leadership development,” said Rachel Vaughn, executive director of UW Tacoma’s Center for Leadership & Social Responsibility (CSLR) in the Milgard School of Business.
Lead Your Way is part of the Milgard Women’s Initiative, whose mission is to “advocate for all women,” and to “engage women as creative and innovative leaders throughout their organizations and communities.”
The February event was the second for Lead Your Way. The first took place in the summer of 2022. “For that first event we spent a lot of time working with students to get their input on what they’d like to see from the program moving forward,” said Vaughn.
Based on this feedback, Vaughn and the CSLR’s Community Liaison Dani Small put together a day-long workshop that covered a range of topics. “We had a set of panel discussions,” said Small. “One included UW Tacoma’s Dr. Jill Purdy, entrepreneur Kyro Parker, and Kent Chamber of Commerce CEO Zenovia Harris.”
The event included opening remarks from Chancellor Sheila Edwards Lange as well as a presentation by Dr. Paige Westcott about the neuroscience around anxiety during public speaking and how to calm that anxiety. A second panel discussion, centered around self-advocacy, included opera singer Allison Pohl and LGBTQ youth advocate Stella Keating.
“We ended the day talking about what’s called a ‘Thrival Guide,’ said Small. “We have an entrepreneur, Rachel Askew, on our advisory board that put this together and it’s focused on navigating issues at school
and work involving diversity, equity and inclusion, to not just survive, but thrive.”
Participants were enthusiastic about the workshop, based on their post-event evaluations. “Of the surveys we received, 91% said Lead Your Way was a valuable use of their time and 100% said they learned better ways to advocate for themselves and for others,” said Small.
The next Lead Your Way event is scheduled for April 22. “Ideally, the students who came in February will join us again in April and then come back during the summer, and so on,” said Vaughn. “For the April event we’re going to do some group leadership development activities and we’ll do a community service project in the afternoon.”
The Milgard Women’s Initiative and Lead Your Way have been made possible by support from generous individuals and from the larger community. “We have received funding from the Bamford Foundation, the Milgard School of Business Dean’s Office and one other donor that wishes to remain anonymous,” said Vaughn. Small added, “We have really great partners at Tacoma Public Schools that have helped us get the word out.”
Lead Your Way is geared toward high school sophomores and juniors. “These events are open to students of all gender identities and expressions, but there does need to be an interest in women’s leadership development,” said Vaughn.
The programs hit home the points that learning doesn’t always happen in a book and sometimes education isn’t just about discovery but can be about self-recognition. “This program is for students that want to feel empowered, uplifted, reminded of what is possible and what they are capable of,” said Small. “Women can do it all and, I think, Lead Your Way brings attention and awareness to that.”
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