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‘Rise’ Turns Tables With Senior Leaders As Mentees

On a college campus, freshmen have among the best opportunities to work with upperclassmen leaders. Once those freshmen become juniors and seniors and take on mentees of their own, however, they often lose the ability to seek advice from older mentors.

This week, the Women’s Center launched Rise, an initiative aiming to fill that void for women in leadership positions at Boston College.

The Women’s Center already runs several mentorship programs for freshman girls. Duo, one of the most popular offerings, matches a freshman with a sophomore, junior, or senior mentor who helps smooth the adjustment to college life.

Rise, however, is a first-of-its-kind program. It seeks to match each group of seven to nine seniors with a mentor. The mentors are nine of BC’s most visible and influential female faculty members, including philosophy professor Kerry Cronin, associate professor of political science Kathleen Bailey, and Vice President for Planning and Assessment Kelli Armstrong.

Director of the Women’s Center Katie Dalton said that the concept for Rise was first formulated a number of years ago in a faculty committee convened by Vice Provost of Faculties Pat Deleeuw to explore data on women’s self-esteem at BC. The committee analyzed data taken from surveys administered by the Office of Institutional Research, Planning, and Assessment every other year at freshman orientation and senior exit interviews, and found that women left BC with lower self-esteem, whereas men’s self-esteem grew.

“The data said that a lot of women had very low self-esteem, and we had some idea why, but we wanted to find out more and help fix it,” Dalton said.

One of the suggestions made by the committee was the creation of a mentorship program for junior and senior women, many of whom had leadership roles but felt they lacked a guide themselves. The initiative could also seek to explain the troubling self-esteem data.

The program is intended for juniors and seniors, but because of extremely high demand and a wish to include as many seniors as possible, Dalton and other Rise organizers chose to make this year’s group of students exclusive to the Class of 2016. Juniors who applied will be given priority for inclusion in next year’s Rise class.

Although applicants included some of the most involved students on campus, Dalton said the student participants are a very diverse group.

“We had some people apply who are seniors and said ‘I haven’t done anything at BC, and I want to do something before I leave,’” Dalton said.

The core of the program is a monthly dinner, where each mentor will meet with her small group, but mentors can decide on any programming outside of the dinners. Each dinner has a specific theme—the first semester will explore self-esteem, portrayals of women in media, and the BC social culture, including a talk by Cronin and a viewing of University of Houston professor Brene Brown’s TED Talk, “The Power of Vulnerability.” After Christmas, the themes will be based on feedback from program participants. One idea is to talk in-depth about social pressure and its effects on women in particular.

“Each dinner feels like a big project itself,” Dalton said.

In addition to the dinners, the group of nine mentors will meet each month for lunch to discuss Rise’s trajectory and some of the main points brought up in the small groups.

“They are a group of such passionate, driven, intelligent women, and we are lucky to have them as a part of this program,” said Teresa Sullivan, LSOE ’17, who is involved with Rise through the Women’s Center and sat in on one of the mentors’ lunches.

Rise does not emphasize preparing women for their professional lives after BC. Dalton said that its purpose instead is to facilitate discussions about personal issues and experiences, specifically by creating a close group environment in which some of the University’s most accomplished members can air their thoughts and feelings. This year’s program is just a pilot, and Rise is only expected to grow.

“The ultimate goal is to serve as many students as possible,” Dalton said.

The Women’s Center would be open to expanding Rise to hundreds of students if the first year is successful and enough mentors and students are interested.

“Hopefully, students who participate in this program gain confidence, a stronger sense of self, and a community of women who support and care about them,” Sullivan said.

Featured Image by Sarah Hodgens / Heights Staff

September 23, 2015