What’s Happening With The Women’s Education Initiative

Throughout the institution’s 137-year history, it has been often said that Women’s College students learn leadership skills at Brenau because all the leaders in Women’s College organizations are women. True enough, but in the 2014-15 academic year, Brenau launched an initiative that literally institutionalizes the process – a curriculum- and experienced-based Women’s Leadership Undergraduate Certificate program designed to help provide young women with leadership training.

Although the program is not a “degree in women’s leadership,” Women’s College Dean Debra Dobkins says that, as an add-on to existing degree programs, it could be the next best thing. Certificates are reflected on student transcripts – not to mention on their resumes.

Brenau's Star Beaufait displays some of her fashion design work during the 2015 Women's Leadership Colloquium.
Brenau’s Star Beaufait displays some of her fashion design work during the 2015 Women’s Leadership Colloquium.

Requirements for the certificate include students’ completing foundational courses in gender studies and leadership principles. Each student must complete an internship directly related to women in leadership. As part of the experience, each student will submit a paper or project about the internship and present it to a faculty committee for review and approval.

Ideas for the program surfaced after a group of Brenau resident assistants attended the Georgia Resident Assistant Saturday Seminar at Emory University in January 2013. They returned to Gainesville brimming with ideas for implementing the interdisciplinary certificate idea at Brenau.

“The Women’s Leadership Certificate stemmed from our students who desired more leadership emphasis in every course of study,” said Tami English, executive director of student life at Brenau. The irony of students taking the lead in an effort to create more leadership opportunities did not escape her. “The students are the ones who run everything here,” English said wryly.

“There is great power in quiet leadership.”
– Dr. Debra Dobkins

Tentatively approved in March 2014, the program’s initial recruits, again ironically, already were regarded as stellar leaders on campus: general studies major Byronica Banks from Irmo, South Carolina, and junior fashion design major Austalia “Star” Beaufait, from Macon, Georgia. Banks used her work as Student Government president to help plan the women’s leadership conference on campus in March. Star Beaufait went to work for her internship at Gateway House, the domestic violence shelter in Gainesville, helping women prepare for job interviews and build self-esteem.

Five more students started the certificate in the fall term, including Bridgett Tiller, a freshman from Hawkinsville, Georgia, who learned about the program through English’s first-year seminar class.

Marissa Kraxberger,  the VP of Creative with Ivanka Trump, was the keynote speaker at this year's Women's Leadership Colloquium.
Marissa Kraxberger, the VP of Creative with Ivanka Trump, was the keynote speaker at this year’s Women’s Leadership Colloquium. Click here or the photo for a gallery from the event.

“I know there is a personality trait in me that shows leadership in different aspects,” Tiller says. “I expect working toward the certificate will give me a jump-start on where I want to be in the future.”

The program is also unique in being gender-focused and not limited to Women’s College students, but for any female students. Participants will be required to keep a journal of their work. Students will also be required to make a presentation at the leadership conference in order to complete the certificate. As the conference and the certificate program grow, Dr. Dobkins hopes to see Brenau become the center of women’s leadership around the Southeast.

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