Women's Leadership Institute kicks off fall semester with guest speakers, student workshops

October 17, 2023 - Patti McDonald


The Women's Leadership Institute at Michigan State University held its first events of the year last month, hosting a mentorship/coaching orientation session for the 2023-24 Student Cohort, followed by a healthy leadership talk and networking reception featuring a conversation with Susan Packard.

The 2023-2024 WLI cohort is made up of 46 students, including 20 returning participants. This year also saw an increase in cohort applicants and interest in the WLI from students in the College of Social Science and across the University. 

Junior transfer student and social relations and policy major Carly Kalkauski is in her first year with the WLI, saying she joined the cohort because she wanted to find a community where she felt connected and supported. 

"MSU is a really big school, so trying to find a community inside of MSU was really important to me and I thought that WLI would be a really good way for me to find other people to connect with," she said.   

The mentorship/coaching session was led by alumnae Stacy Sollenberger, an executive coach who earned her Bachelor of Arts in Social Science and a Master of Labor Relations and Human Resources at MSU. Sollenberger helped students recognize what effective mentorship and peer coaching looks like through a presentation and mock mentoring/coaching sessions. 

"I teach these skills to leaders in corporate settings all the time and it is a really important skill to have as an effective leader and mentor," Sollenberger said. "A lot of us have gone to friends or family for advice and those loved ones end up just telling us what to do or what decision to make and most of the time, that is not helpful for whatever situation we are seeking guidance with."

WLIDuring the mentorship/coaching session, students paired up with each other to engage in peer coaching, where each student would coach a fellow student through something going on in their lives, be it work, school, or another situation where the students were seeking insight. 

Kalkauski said during the mentoring event, she learned how to recognize good coaching versus someone just giving her advice. 

"I have done a lot of trainings, and this [one] has been so helpful, I actually had to pull aside Stacy to tell her about it. Learning to ask more questions instead of telling people what to do has been a huge takeaway for me," she said. 

In addition to the mentoring/coaching session, the 2023-2024 WLI cohort participated in a healthy leadership event featuring a welcome from MSU alums Margaret Trimer, vice president of strategic partnerships at Delta Dental, and a presentation from Stacey Packard, Media Entrepreneur (co-founder of CNBC, HGTV, and Food Network). 

During the healthy leadership event, Packard discussed healthy leadership, emotional fitness, and her book, Fully Human: Three steps to grow your emotional fitness in work, leadership, and life. 

After Packard spoke, the cohort worked in interactive breakout sessions: Action steps for fully human: the willingness to grow in self-awareness, trust building, and live and lead with we principles. Students identified their strengths and limits, practiced active listening, and learned more about service leadership. The cohort also had the opportunity to work with mentors to discuss healthy leadership and learn skills to help them in their future careers.  

Senior Aubree Muethel, a microbiology major who is also studying pharmacology and toxicology, is in her second year of the WLI cohort. She said she has gained valuable experience and insight from her WLI involvement. 

"It's been a great experience learning how to support women as leaders and improve my own skills as a woman leader, so I just really wanted to return to get more wisdom and try to take in as much as I can before I graduate."  

Muethel said she believes her involvement with the WLI will help elevate her career and motivate other women to become leaders, too. 

"I am really passionate about uplifting women in STEM, myself included and just getting more women as leaders in that field and so learning these skills can help me become a better leader to help bring other people up." 

For more information on the WLI, click here.
Photos by Jackie Belden Hawthorne, College of Social Science.