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Towson University launches women’s leadership program for Baltimore County students

Nancy Grasmick, Towson University's Presidential Scholar, addresses Baltimore County students selected to participate in the college's first Women's Leadership Collective, a program that pairs young women with local community and business leaders to develop leadership skills, during the program's welcoming retreat Jan. 23.
Nancy Grasmick, Towson University's Presidential Scholar, addresses Baltimore County students selected to participate in the college's first Women's Leadership Collective, a program that pairs young women with local community and business leaders to develop leadership skills, during the program's welcoming retreat Jan. 23.(Courtesy of Towson University / Baltimore Sun)

Twenty-four rising seniors at Baltimore County high schools have been selected to participate in Towson University’s Women’s Leadership Collective, an initiative launched this year to connect young women with local female leaders.

The program, an expansion of Towson’s Professional Leadership Program for Women, is led by the college’s Presidential Scholar Nancy Grasmick, the first woman appointed as the state superintendent of Maryland schools from 1991 to 2011.

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“We thought that this was really an interesting opportunity,” Grasmick said. “This is the 100th year of the suffrage movement; we wanted to put more emphasis on women’s leadership, and we just saw we need more women who are going to serve on boards.”

The Maryland General Assembly in 2019 passed a law, primarily sponsored by newly appointed Baltimore County Sen. Shelly Hettleman and Anne Arundel Sen. Pam Beidle, both Democrats, requiring businesses and larger nonprofits to report the number of women that sit on their boards to the Department of Assessments and Taxation, the goal being to shed more light on the lack of women in Maryland board rooms.

Women make up 16.8% of board members for Maryland organizations, lagging behind the national average of 22% for Fortune 500 companies, according to The Executive Alliance’s 2018 report Women Board of Directors in Maryland, the most recent data available.

The yearlong program, which began with a welcoming retreat Jan. 23, is meant to pair local business and nonprofit leaders one-on-one with public school students who were nominated by school principals and chosen by a university committee based on their GPAs, level of involvement in school programs and leadership roles they’ve assumed, Grasmick said.

“They’re very talented young women,” she said.

Participating students will be guided on numerous topics meant to develop their leadership skills, Grasmick said. Those include financial literacy, interview training and resume writing, ethical considerations in leadership, developing resilience, along with a trip to the state house in March to learn more about government and how legislation that “effects their lives” is crafted and passed, Grasmick said.

The classes and activities are tailored for young women, she said.

Students will be paired with local leaders and Towson professors based on their career aspirations. Their mentors are meant to communicate with students even outside their scheduled meetings throughout the year, Grasmick said.

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During the summer, university professors who instruct on areas in line with students’ career goals will help them chart paths forward to achieving them, she said.

Karli Cluster was chosen to join the program from among the Lansdowne High School students who were nominated. The 16-year-old plays sports on numerous Lansdowne teams and coaches basketball with the Arbutus Recreation and Parks Council.

The collective sounded “like an amazing opportunity,” she said. She hopes to pursue a career in nursing after she graduates, and said she hoped the collective will help her develop social and leadership skills that she could begin using at Lansdowne to motivate her peers.

“A lot of kids in the school don’t really care that much about school,” she said. “I’m really hoping to find a good mentor for me that can truly help me ... learn how to help others as well as help myself.”

The mentors include alumnae from the Towson University Professional Leadership Program for Women; more than 50% of women professionals who graduated from that program “elevated from their [previous] position to one of greater responsibility — and in some cases, [they’re] actually leading an entity,” Grasmick said.

“It’s never too early to start" preparing for achievement, Grasmick said. “These are young women who already are in high school, who have already demonstrated both an interest in leadership and are exhibiting leadership skills.”

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The program will run until December. Grasmick said she hopes to expand it in 2021 to include more area public school students.

“Towson University has a long history of preparing leaders," said Towson University President Kim Schatzel in an email.

“Through this important initiative, celebrated national leader and revered TU alumna Presidential Scholar Dr. Nancy Grasmick is innovating once again by advocating for leadership preparation for young women to begin as early as possible. It is never too early to begin preparing our future leaders,” Schatzel said.

The following students were chosen for participation by the Towson’s nominating committee:

  • Carmelli Leal, Eastern Tech High School
  • Caroline Woodring, Jenwood High School
  • Chahat Kumari, Dundalk High School
  • Sophia Wilson, Sparrows Point High School
  • Adria Fialkowski, Sollers Point Technical
  • Lesly Guevara, Chesapeake High School
  • Bianca Skipper, Patapsco High School
  • Karalyn Varricchio, Perry Hall High School
  • Carmen Roy, Dulaney High School
  • Humera Fatima, Franklin High School
  • Nasreen Naqvi, George Washington Carver High School
  • Georgia Hammond, Hereford High School
  • Anabel Yeboah, Owings Mills High School
  • Michelle Ramirez, Overlea High School
  • Tyjia N. Nance, Pikesville High School
  • Eliya Behailu, Parkville High School
  • Macie Hakim, Towson High School
  • Hazel Montgomery-Walsh, Catonsville High School
  • Karli Cluster, Lansdowne High School
  • Rameen Aamir, Woodlawn High School
  • Amira Bailey, New Town High School
  • Carina Henandez-Soto, Randallstown High School
  • T’ana Elliana Ashley Joseph, Western Tech High School
  • Surena Ortega, Milford Mill Academy
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