Looking through the glass ceiling: Course focuses on the diversity of experiences of female leaders

Women in Leadership and Social ChangeElevating women’s leadership in Detroit: That’s what University of Michigan-Dearborn students are doing in the Women Leadership and Social Change class, taught by Carla Vecchiola.

The course, originally designed by Georgina Hickey, aims to celebrate and highlight the diversity of experiences of female leaders in the past and present.

“In the seminar we use a historical lens to analyze leadership movements,” said student Julia Cuneo. “We compare and contrast leadership styles and talk about what contexts make them more or less effective.”

The course includes an academic service learning project built into the curriculum. Students examine women’s leadership in movements in social change with a project focusing on women leaders in Detroit.

“What the assignment requires that the students do is interview a woman leader in the city of Detroit,” said Vecchiola, director of the Civic Engagement Project. “We work with Detroit Future City and they gave us a list of women leaders in the city who would make good interview subjects.”

These leaders actively engage with the city of Detroit to move it forward and include Alice Thompson from Black Family Development, Rebecca Salimen-Witt from the Greening of Detroit and Heidi Alcock from Detroit Future City.

“I interviewed Olga Stella from the Detroit Economic Corporation and something she told me that really resonated with me was that she didn’t know the glass ceiling was there until she hit it,” said student Abigail Hartge. “This stuck with me because sometimes we aren’t aware of all of the inequalities we face, especially within higher management. This is why mentorship is important; some women have paved the path already so they are in the position to help pull up younger women.”

The course came out of the UM-Dearborn program Women in Learning and Leadership (WILL). The program, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary in 2014, helps develop women leaders on UM-Dearborn’s campus.

“WILL is about leadership in action, and I think it’s necessary to study leadership in order to participate in it. In WILL I’ve been able to experiment with the ideas we discuss in class, putting them in action and seeing how they work, how I feel about them,” said Cuneo. “I’ve really appreciated this chance to take a big-picture look at women’s leadership while still working in the muck and mire of social activism.”

For more information on WILL or the classes that they offer, contact WILL Director Tiffany Marra at tmarra@umich.edu or at 313-593-5058.

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