Olivet College in Olivet, Michigan, has a long history of challenging the status quo.
From its inception in 1844, Olivet College admitted women and persons of color on a coequal basis with men—19 years prior to the enactment of the Emancipation Proclamation, four years before the movement for women's rights was nationally launched, and 76 years before women had the right to vote.
For nearly 175 years, Olivet College has empowered and inspired women.
Yet the educational institution recognizes that women still face considerable social, workforce, economic and political challenges of inequity—and that more work needs to be done.
Enter the Women's Leadership Institute (WLI).
Formed in collaboration with ATHENA International, WLI's mission is to cultivate confident women leaders who embrace their authenticity in order to facilitate and lead positive change. The specialized yearlong women's leadership development program is open to all young female students of Olivet College, who receive leadership training utilizing the ATHENA International Leadership Model.
"Olivet College has always been about who we include, not who we exclude," said Traci Corey, presidential spouse of Olivet College and director of WLI. "Our founders sought to empower and educate everyone."
Corey has always had a passion for empowering young women. She has an extensive work history preceding her role at Olivet College, including more than 20 years of experience playing and coaching collegiate volleyball. As a coach, she saw firsthand the challenges young women face—from low self-esteem and lack of confidence to bullying.
"They believe in themselves zero," Corey said.
Research shows that exposure to positive messages early and often about leadership, and understanding how to make informed decisions about the future as potential leaders, is critical to the success of young girls.
WLI provides those messages early and often through a fully-immersive, relationship-based leadership experience that enables young women to gain the insight, self-awareness and effective communication skills essential to leadership. Successful female leaders from around the state have volunteered as mentors, to provide guidance and investments in resources and time.
WLI launched in October 2017 with 39 enrolled students and was developed as a result of a successful inaugural Cultivating Women Leaders (CWL) event held on March 3, 2017, which gathered 250 attendees.
Olivet College is hosting its second annual Cultivating Women Leaders: Pioneering the Future event on March 2, 2018. The daylong program will equip current and prospective female students with the necessary tools and resources needed to establish them as leaders.
"I hope that what we do here will help make them feel inspired and empowered and important," Corey said.
Written by Cassie Westrate, staff writer for West Michigan Woman.
Photo Courtesy of Olivet College, Women's Leadership Institute.