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Program empowers deaf women

September 21, 2009
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Although deaf women have made significant contributions to the deaf community and society, they do not often make headlines. This summer, a group of women took steps to change this trend during the Women’s Leadership Development Program, a week-long professional studies course at Gallaudet. Eleven participants of varying backgrounds, goals, and career experiences came together to discuss leadership styles and strategies, mentorship, and achieving their goals.

For Sarah Elliott, who attended Gallaudet as an undergraduate and is now pursuing a Ph.D. in industrial organizational psychology, the program is meant as a place to gain tools to take on a personal and professional challenge. Her ultimate goal is to start a consulting business to help nonprofit organizations become independent of government funding and infrastructure.

Though Elliott has a clear goal and a strong educational background, including a master’s degree in management, she wanted to bolster herself in other areas. When she learned that her alma mater was offering leadership training for women, she immediately made plans to fly in from her Tuscon, Az. home.

A few days into the program, Elliott was getting exactly what brought her to Kendall Green.

“I’m learning about my strengths and weaknesses,” Elliott said, adding that she looked forward to continued guidance with mentorship, a relationship she was able to set in motion during the DWLP. That is something she sees as “the turning point.” For Elliott, this transformational experience will help her reach yet another dream. “I want to give back to my organization [DWU], to Gallaudet University, and to the community,” said Elliott.

The head start in mentorship came through a DWLP session with Stephanie Summers, co-fundraising coordinator of the organization Deaf Women United, Inc. (DWU). The three-credit DWLP course drew on the organization’s established mentoring program to match each program participant with a mentor and kick off an eight-week relationship.

The department behind this boost to careers and communities is the Gallaudet Leadership Institute (GLI) of the College of Professional Studies and Outreach. GLI collaborated with DWU to provide a program featuring presentation by nationally-recognized women leaders and covered a range of topics. In addition to mentoring, the sessions promoted knowledge of leadership styles, networking, fundraising, and community development. The program also aimed to improve the quality of the participants’ lives through exploring community engagement, life balance, and community service.

The partnership with DWU brought with it Melissa Draganac-Hawk, the organization’s executive director, who facilitated the program. Draganac-Hawk drew on her experience as president of the National Council of Hispano Deaf and Hard of Hearing and a member of the National Association of the Deaf board, among other roles.

This year, the DWLP served a number of budding leaders. Sylvie Marc-Charles, who is solidifying her goals after completion of a graduate degree at Gallaudet, immediately saw benefits in spending time with “team players and good discussion.”

A master’s of social work candidate and a student assistant in the Office of Community Relations, Marc-Charles knows that she wants to create a synergy among her backgrounds in visual art, fashion design, community relations, and social work.

She hopes to lead youth, specifically young black women, and help them make choices that will enhance their self-esteem and self-confidence. Participating in the WLDP, she felt, was an important step as she moved toward her goals.

Another leader who is new-in some respects, at least-is Karen Guteng. This mother of three is well-versed in heading child-rearing initiatives and managing household responsibilities. She has also worked as a child care counselor and a teacher’s assistant at deaf schools. Now, she is ready to take on new roles, and saw the DWLP as the perfect launch pad.

“This program was a breakthrough to help me do more with my life,” Guteng said.

The opportunity to share knowledge among the participants was a major plus for her. “With what I learn from you, and what you learn from me,” she said, “we grow by leaps and bounds.”

The consensus among the participants was that the program can fit into any life and compliment any goal.

“I would highly recommend this to anyone, regardless of age, or professional background,” said Marc-Charles. Really, she said “all women should go to this.”

21 September 2009

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