by Andrea Judy
No truer words could be spoken of the WomenLead program. Since its beginning in the J. Mack Robinson College of Business, the WomenLead program has been about making changes in the lives of young women. The course teaches students the leadership skills needed to excel in their careers and also provides coaching, encouragement, inspiration and a start in the right direction.
Open to all Georgia State University students, the program has grown from 20 students in its first semester to more than 60 this spring, including one section designed for those with an interest in the sciences. While WomenLead is a class, it’s also so much more. Students have access to faculty, research, community partners, leadership skills, networking and strategic career development to encourage them to strive for top leadership positions across various sectors.
In honor of Women’s History Month, here’s a glimpse of just four of the more than 250 students who have been impacted by WomenLead.
computer information systems (CIS) and managerial sciences, double major
Thien Vo grew up in Washington state but had family in Georgia. When deciding what university to attend, she thought coming to Georgia State made sense. “At the time I didn’t really think it mattered where you got your undergraduate degree from but as I’ve become more involved, I know that I made the right choice,” Vo said. After a rocky freshmen year, she found her place at Georgia State by diving into campus life; now she’s involved in activities like Panther Breakaway, Touch the Earth and the Lead with Honors program.
When Vo first heard about the WomenLead class, she wasn’t sure it would fit her schedule but after a meeting with Angie Allen, a GSU alumna and supporter of the WomenLead program, she knew she had to jump into the program. The class gave her more than she ever expected. “This isn’t a normal class. It’s an opportunity to learn more about yourself, about how gender can affect the way the world works, and also it’s something that you can take away. This experience applies to your future and works to your benefit.”
Vo credits the program with helping her find her confidence and voice. “We learned that when we don’t have a platform to actually speak, it’s not just hurting us, it’s hurting everyone. We need to speak up more and lean in.” She’s learned how to stand strong and speak up for herself and for others. “We have the power to change the world and we will.”
In the future, she hopes to work abroad as an information technology (IT) consultant and come back to Robinson for her MBA.
neuroscience major with a philosophy minor
A Presidential Scholarship made Georgia State an easy choice for Sara Abdulla. Originally from South Georgia, Abdulla’s enjoyed getting to live in Atlanta. “Georgia State isn’t a normal campus. We’re not isolated from the world. We get a lot of exposure to a lot of experiences. We get a lot of access to outside businesses and resources,” Abdulla said. Those experiences and that integration into the city is what sets Georgia State apart for her.
Walking into her first WomenLead class was a breath of fresh air. In many of her science and philosophy classes, there are few women, but WomenLead gave her a classroom of other ambitious women. “It’s nice to be in a class of women for us to talk about our experiences,” Abdulla said.
One of the biggest lessons Abdulla took from the class was how to negotiate. “I thought I already knew how to negotiate!” Abdulla said, “But I didn’t. The class really showed me ways to negotiate for myself, and I know I’ll use that in the future.” On top of negotiation tactics, the class also discussed women in sciences and how to overcome obstacles in the workplace.
She’s optimistic for the program’s growth and expansion into even more areas of study. “Professional development for women is necessary in any field, whether STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), business or the arts.”
With her eye on medical school, Abdulla is confident she can overcome whatever the future has in store.
computer science with a concentration in graphics and human-computer interaction
Born in Zimbabwe, Natsai Ndebele’s path to Georgia State involved a gap year spent teaching IT in Malawi. That year is what turned her towards computing. “When I got out of high school I thought I was done with IT; I was going to go into finance, but then I realized computer science gave me a lot of flexibility in my future.” With technology use only continuing to rise, she knows a computer degree will help her enter a range of fields.
When Ndebele first found out about the WomenLead class she was thrilled. “In CIS most of my classes are male dominated, so this was exciting. And there was a scholarship opportunity in it, so I was sold!” she said. The class not only gave her the chance to meet with fellow female students but also helped her network with professional women at all stages of their careers.
Networking was a struggle for Ndebele at first, but her fellow classmates helped her by including her in conversations and helping her introduce herself and overcoming her shyness. “We all have a voice. Start where you are,” she said. Now she’s an incredible networker who has just started an internship with a nonprofit she met during WomenLead. She also has a YouTube channel where she talks about black women in the IT field.
She hopes to take her experiences and return home to start a technology business. “We can bring these new skills back to my community. If we can grow those areas, then we can change the world.”
marketing and CIS analytical program, double major
Originally from Russia, Yana Nakhtigal jumped at the chance to take the WomenLead program to learn more about women’s rights and feminism. The class challenged her and at first she thought about dropping it, but founder and director of WomenLead, Nancy Mansfield, asked her to give it a try. Nakhtigal’s thrilled that she stayed. “The class was amazing, but not only that, I got a scholarship from the Committee of 200 that will let me study abroad in Japan this summer!”
Yana has always been interested in marketing and data, and her WomenLead experience encouraged her to pursue her passions. “After the WomenLead program, I started asking can I do both of these things? And now I’m doing it!” She’s excited to blend marketing and analytics together and hopes to be part of Robinson’s Panthers in the Valley program next year.
The moments that will stand out for Yana are the dinner with the Committee of 200. “I sat beside a Grammy winning producer and got to ask all of my questions,” Nakhtigal said. She learned from the women speakers and found a mentor among the panelists from the WomenLead networking events. Instead of being intimidated by these successful women, Nakhtigal learned, “When you see someone around you who is better than you, see it as an opportunity to learn from them.”