Georgia Impact

UGA leadership program helps boost women

Christina Ruiz, Sara Myers and Jenna Mashburn are the first women to hold their respective positions in Pulaski County.

One of the first priorities of the Pulaski County Archway Partnership was to identify new and emerging leaders in the community.

Today, just nine years after the Pulaski Tomorrow Leadership Program began, women are holding top leadership positions in the county for the first time.

Jenna Mashburn, elected Pulaski County’s sole commissioner in November, Sara Myers, Hawkinsville city manager, and Christina Ruiz, manager of the Hawkinsville Hollingsworth & Vose manufacturing plant, are the first females in Pulaski County to hold each of these positions.

“I’ve been interested in running for commissioner for a number of years and my involvement in Pulaski Tomorrow was actually a strategic piece in that plan,” Mashburn said. “It gave me the opportunity to become involved with community leadership and the Archway executive committee and to learn from the challenges that surfaced as needs for Pulaski County’s government.”

Pulaski Tomorrow began in 2010, facilitated by faculty from the J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development. Both Archway and Fanning are UGA public service and outreach units.

Multiple solutions

“Pulaski Tomorrow has provided a doorway for a diverse group of people to obtain leadership positions within our community,” said Sherry Berryhill, executive committee chair of the Pulaski County Archway Partnership. “We have had an influx of younger people. People of multiple races and genders are now filling up leadership positions that have seemed unobtainable in the past. By having people that may approach problems differently, we are able to be presented with multiple solutions to problems rather than the same old tired solutions.”

Twenty-one adults participated in Pulaski Tomorrow in 2010. Since then more than 100 Pulaski adults and about 150 youth participants have graduated from the program.

“My current role as plant manager requires that I manage and lead all types of people,” said Ruiz, who worked for Hollingsworth & Vose for almost 13 years before becoming plant manager. “I often recall the experience from Pulaski Tomorrow as I handle various situations.”

Leadership must be grown from the ground up, not from the top, said Jessica Walden, an expert in communications strategy and co-owner of Rock Candy Tours in Macon.

Bridging gaps

“Georgia is a better place when leadership programs strive to expand the understanding of our own communities and how our sense of place, and purpose, fits into our state’s overall socioeconomic well-being,” Walden said. “That’s when the gaps of Georgia are bridged, and we discover innovative, progressive solutions to our issues and opportunities.”

Myers worked in administration in health care before she became Pulaski County clerk in 2011 and later city manager. In that larger role, it was important for her to understand that not all individuals learn the same way.

“In my current position, I have employees who all learn differently,” she said. “It’s up to me as a leader to provide them with the necessary learning tools that will enable them to perform their job tasks to the best of their ability.”