In 2009, Dr. Kathy Krendl became the first female president in Otterbein University’s 160+ year history. Since the history of the University involved including women as faculty and students from the very beginning, Dr. Krendl determined that a program promoting women as leaders would be part of her legacy.
She began by holding meetings with women leaders from central Ohio and asking what was missing from the broad spectrum of programming currently available for women. The answer that emerged was the need for a strong, structured mentoring and sponsorship program. Such a program would:
- support junior high and high school girls in developing strong self-confidence and esteem
- support university women in exploring career options and maximizing newly developed skills
- support new professionals in developing professional networks and meeting the challenges of a transition into the workforce
- support mid-career women in balancing work/family issues and continuing to develop professionally
- support later career women in achieving professional goals, gaining executive positions, and gaining visibility and influence by joining Boards.
Otterbein’s role in this structure would be to train student leaders, and to connect them to professional mentors, while allowing them to mentor younger girls. Thus, the Otterbein Women's Leadership Network (The NET) program was born. Thanks to generous and enthusiastic support from The Women's Fund of Central Ohio, the pilot version of the program took place during the school year in 2011-12.
During fall semester 2011, Dr. Krendl taught a First Year Seminar (FYS), titled Women and Leadership, to a select group of 20, first-year college women. These women learned about leadership theory and skills, interacted with local women leaders, and worked with girls’ clubs in local junior high schools. In December 2011, these students, and other invited women student leaders, met with local professional women in a “speed matching” opportunity. In January 2012, the NET matched 36 university women with 36 women leader mentors from the Columbus community.
In an evaluation in May 2012, students reported not only feeling more connected through the program with women in the community, but 100 percent of students involved had also developed new strategies with their mentors to overcome barriers to future success.
Since the pilot year, a new cohort of select university women have enrolled in President Krendl’s FYS class each fall. One change to the program is that these women are now linked to peer mentors - sophomores in the NET program - in November each year. As sophomores, they are connected to local professional mentors. Additionally, students have the opportunity to get involved in various community service projects and student leadership organizations, such as Sisters in Leadership.
As the program continues to evolve and grow, our goals include:
- Annual Women in Leadership classes
- Expanded possibilities for inter-generational activities to provide real-life, hands-on leadership opportunities for women, students and girls
- Expanded training courses and workshops on specific leadership skills
- A vital growing pool of professional mentors from the central Ohio area
- Specific programmatic elements for the junior and senior years of university women which include opportunities for practicum, internships, and community-based projects.