In Women and Leadership: Strategies for Success and Professional Development, there is no one right answer. The course, taught by Professor of Management Lori Coakley, Ph.D., examines the approaches women use to be successful, and charges each student with developing their own path to success. Supported by dedicated mentors, a passionate teacher, and a supportive community, they develop the skills and mindset to excel in their personal and professional lives.
The class attracts students from a wide range of disciplines, from International Business majors to aspiring ophthalmologists. “The lessons I’ve learned through the course tie into everything I’ve done,” notes Kirsty Beauchesne ’17, now a marketing consultant with Sinclair Broadcast Group and the Marketing Director of PROPEL Portland. “This is such an important course for females going into the workplace. I’d recommend it to anyone studying any subject.”
“A class like this is so important. It takes everything you’ve worked on over the course of four years and helps you figure out how to package that and use it to make a real impact.”
Full professional development
The students work on a range of professional development topics, including defining their leadership style, developing their personal brand, learning to communicate professionally, and building their networks. Guest speakers lead workshops on practical skills such as perfecting your resume, interviewing effectively, and creating a professional LinkedIn page.
“The women at Bryant are smart, they’re leaders, and they’re extraordinarily successful. The class is about providing them with the tools that will help them get where they want to go,” says Coakley. “The students here have studied all sorts of different things and the Women and Leadership course helps them figure out ‘What are you going to do with that?’ and why that’s important to them.”
The experience can be a game-changer. “A class like this is so important,” says Jessica Sackal ’20, a Team and Project Management major who aspires to enter the consumer products industry. “It takes everything you’ve worked on over the course of four years and helps you figure out how to package that and use it to make a real impact.”
“I’m getting a very different perspective on the world, and a better understanding of my classmates. I’m learning about what it’s actually like to be a women in the workplace, as well as what I can do to help promote equality.”
The course also examines the unique situations and challenges women face in the workplace. Case studies about successful women such as IBM CEO Ginni Rometty, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Kristen Giest and Shaye Haver, the first female Army’s Ranger, serve as launching points for discussion. Issues such as negotiating raises and confronting discrimination are addressed and workshopped. “By discussing and confronting these situations now, it helps us figure out how we’ll respond to them in the future,” says Marianna Politis ’20.
“We’re learning how to maintain our values and integrity in the workplace, what we stand for and what we believe in,” says Biology major Alaina Scifo ’20.
“It’s so important to figure out who you are when you’re in college because when you’re out in the world everything is so much more complicated. Because of this course, you can say ‘this is who I am and what I believe, and these are the expectations I have for myself.’”
Though the course is predominantly women, male students are welcome. “It’s been really enlightening,” says Applied Economics student Nate Taylor ’20. “I’m getting a very different perspective on the world, and a better understanding of my classmates. I’m learning about what it’s actually like to be a women in the workplace, as well as what I can do to help promote equality.”
“This isn’t about us versus them,” says Literary and Cultural Studies Maggie Pressler ’20. “It’s about working together and helping us all go forward.”
"Rethinking what we're capable of"
Going forward, says Coakley, requires reflection. “Your success as a leader comes from being able to reflect,” Coakley states. “I want the students I teach to think about more than how to become successful. I want them to think about their own personal definition of success and who they want to be.”
“It’s so important to figure out who you are when you’re in college because when you’re out in the world everything is so much more complicated,” notes Sarah Defeo ’17, now a Key Account Manager at PepsiCo. “Because of this course, you can say ‘This is who I am and what I believe, and these are the expectations I have for myself.’”
The reflections the students engage in as part of the course are often deeply personal and help them determine answers to big questions. “For some of them, this is the first time they’ve asked, or answered, these questions,” says Coakley. “There are a lot of ‘aha’ moments in the course.”
“Professor Coakley helps us rethink what we’re capable of,” says Politis. “She’s able to bring out qualities in people that they don’t even know that they have.”
“It’s hard for students to see what’s ahead, to understand what working in their field is really like. Being able to ask someone who’s already experienced it, ‘how did you get from Point A to Point B, or from Point C to Point D' is extremely important.”
A roomful of mentors
To broaden their horizons, each student is paired with a professional mentor. “They get to interact with a top female executive in their field of interest, someone who's seasoned and who has weathered the challenges,” says Coakley. “They have field-specific experience that I don’t and they can share that experience. They can tell you what it’s actually like to prepare for the MCAT exam, or work for a marketing firm, or go to law school.”
For Katy Griffault, vice president and insight hunter for Global Consumer Insights & Consumer Care at Hasbro Inc., it’s an opportunity to pay things forward. “It’s important to take women aside and tell them ‘These are the challenges you’re actually going to face in the working world’ and help them figure out how to navigate them,” says Griffault.
“It’s hard for students to see what’s ahead, to understand what working in their field is really like,” notes Sackal, who says the discussions she’s had with Griffault have been invaluable. “Being able to ask someone who’s already experienced ‘How did you get from Point A to Point B, or from Point C to Point D' is extremely important.”
“She made a real commitment to every one of us. She makes it clear from the beginning that she would always be there for us and she has never wavered from that.”
At the end of the every semester, there is a reception for everyone involved in the course: the students, the mentors, and even alumni return to network and celebrate. “Look around you,” Coakley told the students at this year’s reception. “Everyone in this room is here because they believe in you.”
Definition of success
No one believes in them more than Coakley, the students say. “Professor Coakley is absolutely phenomenal,” says International Business major Jenna Sadecki ’20. “She’s so passionate about what she does and she’s truly invested in the development of her students and everyone around her.”
“I’ve reached out to Professor Coakley for advice at least a dozen times since graduation,” says Beauchesne, who remembers calling Coakley to walk her through negotiating for her first pay raise.
“She made a real commitment to every one of us,” adds Defeo. “She makes it clear from the beginning that she would always be there for us and she has never wavered from that.”