Female Forward

March 2022 View more

(Front row) Gwen Palmer, Abilgail Salazar, Leah Navarro, Shay Baker-Watson, Noor Abdullah, Hiba Siddiqui, Danielle Panzeca, Ayesha Fatima. (Back row) Julia Handzel, Julia Makuch, Anjali Maliekkal, Cailin Cartamone, Alexandra Skokos, Jennifer Almaraz, Gabrielle Magdalena-Tan, Amtul Siddiqui, Brittany Chally, Brooke Taylor.

Last fall, Benedictine University launched a unique initiative for undergraduate women called LEADS, an acronym for leadership, empowerment, action, development, and service. This one-of-a-kind, four-year program provides opportunities for students to develop themselves both personally and professionally so they can go out and make positive changes in the world. 

The program was the brainchild of Benedictine’s president, Charles Gregory, who hired Nicki Anderson—former president and CEO of the Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce—to develop and manage the program. As she researched other universities, Anderson discovered that while many schools have leadership centers for women, most do not offer a formal four-year program. 

Working with Nancy Sayer, a doctoral degree recipient in values-driven leadership from Benedictine, Anderson developed a program focusing on how the power of benevolence and authenticity can culminate into confident, effective, and high-impact leadership qualities. 

“I’m really proud of what we’ve created. It’s not a club,” she explains. “It’s a four-year program full of really rich, meaningful content.” 

In addition to learning leadership skills, LEADS participants can earn scholarships by participating in workshops, attending presentations, and volunteering. During their senior year, the women complete a Leadership Vision Portfolio, a capstone project where they demonstrate how they will use the principles learned in the program. Participants also have the opportunity to present their projects at an annual luncheon.

As the program grows and health restrictions lessen, Anderson plans to have students visit women leaders at work to see them in action. Eventually, she also hopes to provide summer leadership camps for
area high school students at Benedictine University.

LEADing the Way

Anderson sees a world of possibilities in the 20 students who make up the first cohort, shown above. “These young women give me so much hope and positivity about our future. They are just incredible. They are smart. They are curious. They are passionate and compassionate,” she says. “We’ve only finished our first semester, and we already see amazing possibilities with these young ladies and, ultimately, with the program.” 

Anderson encourages any interested high school senior to apply. “This isn’t just for 4.0 students, it’s for young women who are passionate about being the next generation of leaders in our world,” she explains. Admittance to LEADS is based on a submitted essay, letters of recommendation, an interview, and a 20- to 30-hour commitment each academic year. Learn more at ben.edu/leads.  

Photo courtesy Benedictine University