Otterbein Prepares Women to be Leaders through Unique Course 

Posted Jun 03, 2022

By Payton Kaufman ’24 

Otterbein University was founded 175 years ago with women on equal footing with men — as faculty members and students. It took the rest of the world some time to catch up. It wasn’t until June 4, 1919, that Congress passed the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote in the United States.  

Despite this, women are still underrepresented in leadership roles. Ten years ago, President Emeritus Kathy Krendl saw an opportunity to change that by mentoring female students. The result was the Women’s Leadership First Year Seminar (FYS) course, which is still being offered a decade later. 

Krendl taught the course on her own for a few years before Wendy Sherman Heckler, dean of university programs at the time, shared the responsibility. Now, as provost and senior vice president, Sherman Heckler is the sole instructor of the first-year course. 

“In Kathy Krendl’s various roles throughout her career, she was often the first woman to do something,” Sherman Heckler said. “She felt a strong call to see other women succeed, so she started the class.” 

To support the assigned reading about what make successful female leaders, Sherman Heckler invites leaders from the central Ohio community to speak to the class. Students have the opportunity to ask the guests about their experiences. 

“The panelists, almost always, talk about times they have failed or changed direction,” Sherman Heckler said. “It is good for first-year students, who face a lot of uncertainty, to hear that they are not alone and they can do it.” 

The students in the class sharpen their communication abilities through various assignments such as short speeches and reflections. Another goal of the course, like all FYS courses, is to get students connected on campus with knowledge of different, available resources. 

“My hope is that students find a sense of belonging at Otterbein, think about leadership, and build their communication skills,” Sherman Heckler said. 

Sherman Heckler said she was missing a course like this in college, because it helps her students critically analyze the socialization of women to please society. 

“In high school I was getting all A’s, however, I don’t think I was a particularly thoughtful student.” Sherman Heckler said. “I did what I thought would please others, rather than think about my talents, gifts, and what was right for me.” 

Otterbein’s longstanding commitment to diversity is tied to the course. Sherman Heckler has the students read about the views of Ottebein’s founders on coeducation. 

“Diversity goes beyond just men and women, so we think about a lot of different forms of diversity and how it impacts your ability to lead others,” Sherman Heckler said. 

Alumni of the Women’s Leadership FYS, known as Miller Winter Scholars, were asked to reflect on the course’s impact on their careers and personal life. Here’s what they had to say: 

“Having our classroom in the board room really did give me the confidence to take a seat at the table, no matter what or where that table is. I see many of my colleagues, strong women with Ph.D’s, quick to take a seat along the edge of the room instead of at the table with their male counterparts.” – Cara Hardy ’16  

“This course taught me the basics of what good leadership looks like and what good FEMALE leadership looks like. Following this course, I went on to pursue a leadership minor at Otterbein and hold a number of leadership positions at the university before my graduation.” – Maria Slovikovski ’17  

“The class equipped us with strategies to be a change agent in our place of work, advocate for ourselves, and empower our sisters alongside us. Being a participant of this class was undoubtedly one of my favorite and most treasured experiences at Otterbein.” – Hannah Starnes Ewald ’15  

“As a teacher, with the knowledge I gained through Women in Leadership course, my students of all genders will learn that they can do anything and through the power of their voices and actions. I am teaching the next generation of powerful, courageous, and empathetic leaders.” – Rebecca McCarty ’20  

“I never imagined the impact that my freshman year seminar would have on my life. From kickstarting my leadership and service work as an Otterbein student to connecting me with role models and mentors that continue to offer guidance and support in my career after graduation, I am forever grateful for the course.” – Haylie Schmoll ’19  

“Imagine going off to college, transitioning into adulthood, being exposed to a higher level of education, and walking into a board room for a class taught by the president of the university herself. Instead of being another freshman, another tuition payment, another number, I felt like a valued member of the community, an investment as a future professional woman.” – Regan Donoughe ’17