Editor’s Note: This post comes from the University of Texas at Austin.
With women making up more than half the nation’s population—51 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau—the need for scientists, leaders in business and government, engineers, and doctors of both sexes is greater than ever. Fortunately for young women studying at UT Austin, the university increasingly provides both a social climate and an intellectual environment to encourage their ambitions.
INSPIRE Leadership is a three-year revolving program serving sophomores to seniors that helps women develop the skills they need to achieve the highest levels within their academic fields. Under the direction of the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies, which is part of the College of Liberal Arts, INSPIRE has served as UT’s signature leadership program for women undergraduates since 2009. About 90 percent of participants are young women of color, most are in underrepresented majors, and many are first-generation college students.
Mary Braunagel-Brown is committed to the establishment of an endowment supporting students selected for the program. Retired in Austin with her husband, Bruce Brown, following a successful career in business and higher education, Braunagel-Brown is an active community volunteer. She would like to see her INSPIRE fund grow quickly and support as many students as possible. She has therefore pledged to match new gifts to the fund dollar-for-dollar up to a total of $25,000.
“I am delighted to support INSPIRE,” Braunagel-Brown says. “I am impressed with the program’s efficient structure, which allows even a modest contribution such as mine to have a demonstrable impact.”
INSPIRE participants gain the confidence and knowledge to express their voice in the classroom, on campus, and in leadership roles in the community, making a difference by engaging in public service and working with other young women in supportive and interdisciplinary environments. They develop skills in areas such as critical thinking, public presentation, group motivation, and negotiation.
“The INSPIRE Leadership Program is unique and transformative,” says program facilitator Juan Portillo. “While we provide professional development workshops, take the students to conferences, and help them work on group and personal projects, the biggest impact that I feel this program provides is the space and time to take a step back and reflect on what it means to be a female student, more than likely a first-generation college student, and more often than not in a male-dominated field.”
Participant Bibha Suvedi, who is studying neurobiology and expects to graduate in 2014, says the program has helped her focus her ambitions. “Freshman year, before I was in INSPIRE, felt like a never-ending journey toward something that I didn’t quite have the idea of,” she says. “With so many students and their respective student organizations, it was surprisingly difficult to fit in. Joining INSPIRE and being able to interact regularly with an amazing group of diverse young women became the highlight of my week.”
In the academic environment, where what can seem most valued is the number of internships one has or the importance of competing and leaving others behind, INSPIRE teaches that becoming a leader requires many skills—originality, inspiration, imagination, resourcefulness, creativity, vision, and the power to influence. Moreover, students learn how to develop these skills directly from the experiences of successful female mentors drawn from both the academy and the community.
“I support this program,” says Braunagel-Brown, “because the world will simply be a better place when UT women—particularly first-generation college students, those from underrepresented groups, and those pursuing degrees in science, technology, engineering, and math-related fields—have the skills and confidence to reach their potential.”