Women’s Leadership Institute at FAU

Weppner Center for LEAD & Service-Learning at Florida Atlantic University

May 3, 2018

A Story of Student-Directed Service-Learning, Collaboration, and Leadership in Action 

See a need? Make change. Start something that matters. The Women’s Leadership Institute (WLI) began as a Capstone Project for the Leadership Studies Minor by Florida Atlantic University (FAU) student Kristi Peterson in spring 2016. The Capstone project is a required experience of LDR 4951: Capstone Seminar on Leadership, a core requirement for the interdisciplinary Leadership Studies Minor (a designated Academic Service-Learning course requiring 45 hours completed by the student). Students in this course engage in a variety of service-learning projects specifically focusing on creating a meaningful experience that makes an impact on the community. Students connect with organizations and agencies on-campus and in the greater community to build “something that matters” and then reflect on the creation of the experience.

Kristi saw a need for raising awareness of critical issues of women in leadership to provide opportunities to transform that awareness into action by exciting participants to advocate for themselves and others. WLI centers on empowering women and building civic literacy and skill-building by engaging women leaders in a way that mobilizes the next generation to challenge the process around the deep-seated systemic issues that women face in leadership.  The program is a day-long and has included a panel and spotlight speakers representing various industries and backgrounds. Following year one, Kristi shared “Through my experience in the Leadership Studies Minor, I was challenged to explore leadership from the individual and global perspectives. I was enabled to shadow campus and community leaders, build practical skills that have helped me develop as a student leader, and learn to apply leadership theory into practice. For my leadership capstone I created the first Women’s Leadership Institute at FAU. In this project I was able to show my commitment to leadership development, and demonstrate the attributes that I learned during my studies in the Leadership Studies Minor at FAU.” Kristi was also the first graduate from the Leadership Studies Minor at FAU, a program approved in April of 2015.

Now, three years later, WLI has been a story of practicing civic literacy and understanding what is happening in the world. The outcomes have stayed similar, though the approach has slightly shifted. A participant from Women’s Leadership Institute shared “being a female leader does not involve ‘being as good as a man’. It is embracing your natural qualities of empathy, listening, etc. to bring a different and better perspective to the table. It can also be beneficial to harness emotion into passion, authenticity, and genuineness”. WLI integrated 50/50: Rethinking the past, present, and future of power and women directed by Tiffany Shlain. Attendees watched the video, which portrays struggles in Women leadership over the past 10,000 years and how some of the themes are still present today, highlighting and bringing familiarity to several key historical struggles and campaigns to depict the continuing social movement for change in gender issues.

Attendees then moved into small groups to debrief their thoughts on the experience with Professional Staff Members, sharing their personal takeaways from the video, oppressions they (or others) have experienced, and the importance of today’s movements and women in leadership. Following this, attendees created signs to hold in a simulated Women’s March. The signs were representations of each member in the group (either through word or picture) and were held up as they marched through the Florida Atlantic University Breezeway. 

The process of planning and executing the WLI experience was a true collaboration wherein participants worked collectively to address common problems. Members of this year’s planning team included a student Program Coordinator and Intern (Samantha Hurley and Etna Niyah Anderson). The team also included an Advisory Committee comprised of women leaders across FAU’s campus, including the new Women Gender Equity and Resource Center (WGERC). A unique component this year was the addition of the Faculty/Staff track. This track offered an opportunity for faculty and staff attendees to participate in breakout sessions with guest speakers who shared about navigating politics in the academy and personal finance – overall, how women’s leadership can affect their career and personal development.

All entities involved with bringing WLI to life (students, advisory committee, guest speakers, panelist, and participants) displayed that collaboration is powerful and makes civic action possible. In the words of the student program coordinator, “working as the program coordinator for the Women’s Leadership Institute was an experience I will never forget. I learned skills and techniques for event planning I would not have learned if I did not have this opportunity… The experience WLI brings to aspiring leaders is awesome.” 


  • Katie G. Burke, Ph.D., assistant dean, Weppner Center for LEAD & Service-Learning, Florida Atlantic University
  • Aaron Hackman, associate director, Weppner Center for LEAD & Service-Learning, Florida Atlantic University
  • Ashley Williams, assistant director, Weppner Center for LEAD & Service-Learning, Florida Atlantic University
  • Jordan DiPentima, coordinator, Weppner Center for LEAD & Service-Learning, Florida Atlantic University

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