After a year off due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Utah State University is participating in the Utah Women’s Leadership Exchange (UWLE) along with other Utah System of Higher Education institutions for the second time.
The project was developed to address the gaps faced by women in Utah when it comes to professional development. UWLE aims to provide help for women to thrive in leadership roles, according to Heidi Kesler, USU’s director of student retention and completion and a current fellow in the program.
“We’re investing in our women leaders and providing opportunities to advance and learn about ourselves as leaders, and I think that has great value,” Kesler said. “I also think there is value that comes from it being a system wide endeavor, because we're making connections and networking with people from across the system.”
A presentation by the Utah System of Higher Education in February showed there was equal breakdown between the number of men and women who live in Utah in 2020, yet only 35% of leadership roles in Utah’s higher education were held by women.
While a 2017 study showed “equal rates of men and women apply for leadership positions at their own institutions,” a 2018 study revealed “men were more than twice as likely to apply for a leadership position at another institution,” the presentation added.
Mykel Beorchia, director of university and exploratory advising at Utah State, was a fellow in the first cohort from 2019-2020. She agreed that the opportunity to be partnered with a mentor at other institutions adds value to the program.
“I feel like I get a lot of great coaching here at USU, but I think the thing that UWLE adds is that it's not someone that you work with every day,” Beorchia said. “They get to see you in action, and you get to see them in action in a different context.”
Fellows are also able to gain hands-on experience as they learn and grow as professionals, such as engaging in mock-interviews for promotions and exploring leadership topics.
“The goal is to cultivate those leaders,” said James Morales, USU’s vice president for student affairs. “We know the capacity is there, we know that talent is there, we just need to be able to tap into both and help prepare them for those future roles.”
Morales, a mentor in the program, says it’s also an opportunity for those in leadership roles to give back to the community.
“Long ago, when I was in their place as an aspiring young professional, someone helped me,” he said. “Someone was my mentor — in fact, I had several — and so this is really an opportunity for me to pay that back, and to do for them what someone did for me.”