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New women’s program aims to create ‘agents of change’

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Professors and administrators across campus shared hopes of helping female students become “agents of change” through a new women’s program beginning this year.

The Margaret Boyd Scholars program, named after the first female student to graduate from Ohio University, has been in the making for two years, and is now debuting during the 2013-2014 school year. The program is designed to provide academic enrichment to female students from their first year to their last, but it is more than that, said Patricia McSteen, director and co-founder of the program.

“It’s really about that spark in the woman who wants to be an agent of change on campus,” McSteen said. “Helping to address the culture, both on campus and in our community, and in our world—how women are treated, the assumptions that are made, the presence of women in higher education.

“This isn’t about just Ohio University. This is about the world we live in.”

Program Co-Founder Tanya Barnett similarly said she wants to see this program help women to achieve high-level leadership positions.

“For me, it’s really [about] seeing more women in high-level leadership positions, students and/or faculty and staff, and I’m seeing this globally, not just at Ohio University,” Barnett said.  “Women are more successful than ever, attending higher education institutions in higher levels than ever before, outperforming men in many aspects of academics and in the workplace.”

But Barnett said that the percentages of women getting to those high-level positions, whether it be in the workplace or as undergraduate students, is still significantly less than their male counterparts.

“Even though our undergraduate women might be more successful than some of their male peers, we’re not seeing them necessarily go on to those same levels of achievement,” she said.

According to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, less than a quarter of all state legislators are women. About 22 percent of statewide elected executives are women, and women make up less than 20 percent of Congress. As of January 2013, only 12 mayors of the top 100 largest U.S. cities were female.

On the state level, approximately 23 percent of the Ohio House of Representatives and 24 percent of the Ohio Senate were women, and there is only one female mayor out of the top 20 largest cities in Ohio. Women are leading, however, in the Ohio Supreme Court, with four women and three men.

As for Ohio University, the number of full-time female administrators is about equal to the number of men, but only two of 12 deans are women, including the dean of University Libraries, and there has not yet been a female president of the university.

Yet, women are attending college in larger numbers than previously. According to the Office of Institutional Research, enrollment for Ohio University was about equal for women and men for the 2012- 2013 academic year, with women leading by 380, compared to men leading by almost 2,000 students thirty years ago.

Like Barnett, McSteen said she hopes to give women in the program more confidence to be able to become “strong leaders who will go out and do great things.”

McSteen also mentioned a movement on campus called f*ckrapeculture, whose Facebook pages describes it as “a social movement to challenge, undermine, and eradicate rape culture at OU.” While she said f*ckrapeculture will not be an integral part of the curriculum, the ideas behind the movement are “something [they] ought to pay attention to.”

Most of the women involved in the program hope that the Margaret Boyd Scholars will be the type of women who lead by example.

Gerardine Botte, a chemistry and biomolecular engineering professor, described  how these scholars could impact others.

“It is a unique thing,” she said. “It’s going to grow and bring more progress, and progress, and this could be an exponential factor like we say in engineering, because it’s not going to stop.”

Botte will be teaching a section of a seminar the scholars will take during their first year. The other sections will be taught by a history professor and an art professor.

The founders and instructors said they hope to instill these values through providing the students with broad perspective and connections across disciplines.

Assistant Professor of History Miriam Shadis, who studies women in the medieval age, will be teaching the history section of the freshman seminar for scholars.

“History is one of those undervalued skills,” she said. “If people don’t understand the context for things, then they really don’t get the most out of whatever it is they’re working on. Historians have a way of thinking about the past, and a way of thinking about the present, that I think is valuable.”

Similarly, Botte said she believes learning about sciences will help to create a broader perspective for students.

“What I am hoping is that they will basically get inspired to learn more about how [science] could play a role in whatever career they choose,” she said.

The program is named for the first female student and graduate of the university. Margaret Boyd began attending Ohio University under the name M. Boyd, and posed as a man in to be able to go to college. After a faculty member discovered she was a woman, he opened the doors for her and for other women to attend the university.

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