Campus News

Fourth cohort of Women’s Staff Leadership Institute celebrates graduation

Members of the fourth cohort of the Women's Staff Leadership Institute gathered for a celebratory luncheon with coordinators and their executive sponsor. In back, from left, are LaRhonda Biggers, Courtney Simmons-Dorsey, Emily Saunders, Julia Butler-Mayes, Chrystal Cox McDowell, Allie Cox, Lauren Anglin, Sharon Shannon and Jennifer Frum. In front, from left, are Stephanie Rosso, Suzanne Graham and Lynh Tran. Not picture is Lisa Kelly. (Photo by Dorothy Kozlowski/UGA)

Participants have gone on to lead, participate in variety of projects

The fourth cohort of the Women’s Staff Leadership Institute marked its graduation with a celebratory luncheon Nov. 10.

“I want to offer a very special congratulations to the outstanding women who participated in the program during COVID-19,” said Jennifer Frum, vice president for public service and outreach and WSLI executive sponsor. “I have no doubt that they will look back on this program as a significant milestone in their career and professional development.”

Launched in 2017, the WSLI is an annual program aligned with the Women’s Leadership Initiative launched in 2015 by the Office of the President and the Office of the Provost.

“The Women’s Staff Leadership Institute has been a wonderful program to be able to offer to our female staff members to assist in their aspirations and development for leadership opportunities. I especially appreciate the willingness of the women of this campus in senior leadership roles to offer their time, insights and perspectives to each WSLI cohort,” said Juan Jarrett, associate vice president for human resources.

The program is administered through University Human Resources’ Learning and Development. Emily Saunders, senior managing consultant, co-coordinated this year’s institute with Allie Cox, clinical assistant professor in the College of Education’s lifelong education, administration, and policy department and outgoing Learning and Development director.

“During a pandemic, the women in this year’s cohort successfully navigated numerous complex challenges and worked tirelessly to support each other, their teams and our institution. Their willingness to prioritize leadership development amid many personal and professional commitments should be a model for aspiring leaders everywhere,” Saunders said. “They’ve proven that they possess the courage, dedication and vision to lead UGA into the future.”

Continuing to grow

The institute provides participants the chance to explore leadership opportunities, reflect upon key leadership traits and skills, and support one another in issues that women leaders face in higher education administration.

“This WSLI experience has been life changing,” said Chrystal Cox McDowell, assistant director of student affairs at the UGA Griffin campus. “The experiences planned, relationships formed, and learning that happened were transformational. WSLI gave me the space for reflection about my personal and professional goals. During most sessions, we were given time with top university officials, which allowed for a deeper understanding and appreciation for the university, its leaders and their roles. The level of inquiry, self-discovery and sponsorship I have experienced by being a part of WSLI has been game-changing. I highly encourage fellow UGA colleagues to apply to this amazing institute.”

Members of the Women’s Staff Leadership Institute’s fourth cohort met monthly for workshops and discussions. (Photo by Dorothy Kozlowski/UGA)

The 2021 program ran from April through November, and participants met monthly for workshops and discussions. Learning and Development will begin accepting nominations for the fifth WSLI on Jan. 4. Find out more at

“As a result of my experience in the 2021 WSLI cohort, I have grown both professionally and personally,” said Julia Butler-Mayes, director of the Office of University Academic Advising Services. “The WSLI curriculum provides a strong foundation for self-reflection and self-exploration, but it’s the people—facilitators, speakers, alumni and fellow cohort members—who create the environment necessary to really take advantage of all WSLI has to offer. Through the program, I’ve learned so much about myself and how to achieve my goals, but more importantly, I’ve gained a network I can rely on for guidance and support throughout the rest of my career.”

Additional members of the 2021 cohort include Lauren Anglin, director of experiential learning and outreach in the College of Engineering’s Office of Student Success; LaRhonda Biggers, assistant director of building services (South Zone) in the Facilities Management Division; Suzanne Graham, administrative manager at the Institute of Higher Education; Lisa Kelly, support services director for the Office of Research Integrity and Safety and the Professional Education Portal (PEP) global director for human resources; Stephanie Rosso, senior director for finance and administration within the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences; Sharon Shannon, coordinator of student support services and state authorization for the UGA Office of Online Learning; Courtney Simmons-Dorsey, administrative manager in the Augusta University/University of Georgia Medical Partnership; and Lynh Tran, associate director of strategy and operations for the Peabody Awards in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication.

Continuing to connect and engage

WSLI alumnae have gone on to lead and participate in a variety of projects. One introduced this year was The Collective. This initiative provides an opportunity for women staff at UGA who seek to connect and engage with other women in open, safe dialogue through five Collective Circles. Through monthly small group discussions focused on a variety of topics, these Collective Circles offer a learning experience that cultivates support, development and belonging.

“In higher education, we often find ourselves consumed with the emerging crisis, unplanned projects and the constant flow of emails. I am grateful for the Women’s Staff Leadership Institute because it provides a space for women to step away from the ‘tyranny of the urgent’ in order to connect, learn and thrive through a collective experience of growth and exploration,” said Jan Davis Barham, associate dean of ­students and director of the Tate Student Center in the Division of Student Affairs, member of the inaugural WSLI cohort in 2017 and facilitator of one of the Collective Circles. “The positive impact of the institute continues to manifest in my personal work, as well as the campus at large, through institute alumnae programs such as The Collective.”