LAWRENCE – A leadership institute at the University of Kansas has expanded so female students from the state of Kansas can work alongside women from around the world on projects to make changes in their communities.
The Women’s Leadership Institute will for the first time invite students from around the state to participate in its four-week residency at the KU campus with students from countries in areas including the Middle East, South Asia and North Africa.
Undergraduate women at Kansas universities and colleges are invited to apply, with preference to applicants from small or rural communities. The institute directors, who come from small communities, view the expansion as an opportunity to enhance the resources available for leadership development in the state.
“We know firsthand that the resources in many small and rural communities are not as prolific and available to young people, and particularly young women,” said Mary Banwart, co-director of the institute and associate professor of communication studies. “We view this as an incredible opportunity to give back to Kansas and contribute to developing leadership capacity in those communities.”
The institute also wants to include Kansans as an opportunity to deepen the international students’ understanding of American culture and society and for students from Kansas to gain first-hand understanding of other cultures. The institute has included KU students recently in a course offered through the Department of Communication Studies; however, their interaction has been limited to the amount of time students are in classes or on field trips.
“Our international participants want to learn more about American culture, what it’s like to be an American. We provide those experiences, but just for a couple of hours each week,” said Allison Colburn, a 2013 KU graduate and multiyear institute staff member. “I’m excited for them to live together and take classes together because there are a lot more opportunities to share everything.”
Students will participate in discussions on leadership with KU faculty and staff, and with female professionals in a variety of fields. Throughout the program, each participant will develop a project through which she will address a challenge in her home community that warrants stronger leadership practices.
“The issues faced by women in small and rural communities in the U.S. are often not so different from those of our international women,” said Becky Eason, co-director of the institute and associate director of the Center for Public Partnerships and Research. “Access to quality health care, elder care and economic opportunity are often worldwide problems.”
Previous participants have enacted several projects as a result of their participation in the institute. A participant from Bahrain became the first woman from her country to travel to Antarctica, raising $25,000 within seven months to fund the trip with an environmental organization. A group of three women from Mongolia won a grant within a couple of months of their return home that will allow them to develop workshops on body image and its societal implications for women in their country.
Interested applicants can find more information on the Kansas Women’s Leadership Institute site or on the institute’s Facebook page. Applicants must be enrolled in a Kansas institution of higher education with at least one year of coursework remaining in their college education. Applications are due by Friday, Nov. 1.
Banwart, also coordinator of KU’s leadership studies minor, founded and serves as the academic director for the institute. Eason is the administrative director.
This will be the fifth consecutive year KU has hosted the Women’s Leadership Institute, which is funded through the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Other programs supported by the bureau include the Fulbright Program and the International Visitor Leadership Program. The goal of the programs overseen by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs is to increase mutual understanding between the United States and other countries.
The Department of Communication Studies is part of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.