Priming Women for Public Leadership
UMass Women into Leadership (UWiL), a one-year-old UMass Amherst program designed to prepare women for public leadership, is well on its way to meeting its mission. Last year’s efforts drew high interest from women across the campus, an alumna pledged $1 million to the program, and U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, the state’s first female senator, endorsed the effort.
“Women’s voices are not yet equally represented and a program like this one at UMass Amherst gives us a real chance to hear from women,” says Warren, a Democrat whose Springfield office was one of the inaugural internship sites for the program. After completing the UWiL program, Heather Ducharme ’16 interned in Warren’s Springfield office. “Today, I can say that I have experience working for a U.S. senator, a former state senator, and the mayor of Holyoke, all because of one program and a group of women who believed in me,” says Ducharme. She adds that before her involvement with UWiL she was plagued by self-doubt and now has a group of like-minded women who will support each other as their careers advance.
Liana Ascolese ’16, another UWiL fellow, says the program’s workshops and mentoring relationship have added value to her UMass Amherst education. “There is an extra skill set that you need in the professional world and participation in UWiL offers opportunities to acquire that knowledge,” says Ascolese. She says her relationship with her mentor, Jennifer A. Nassour, founder and president of Conservative Women for a Better Future, was insightful and helped her make post-graduation plans.
The Department of Political Science founded UWiL as a way to close the gender gap in public service. The program is now housed in the chancellor’s office. UWiL has four central components: leadership training, shared community, academic instruction, and applied experience. Jean Vogel ’82, whose gift will be transformative for the program, says UWiL has a critical role to play, and she is excited that it connects her to campus and enables her to help others.
Warren believes programs such as UWiL will spur women into public leadership. “We need more women in government for the same reasons that we need to hear from different people throughout our society. Women bring different perspectives to problems and bring different problem solving skills,” says Warren.