In 1873, North Georgia Agricultural College, now the University of North Georgia (UNG), became the first college in Georgia to open its doors to both men and women. After 144 years, UNG still places high value on equal leadership opportunities, regardless of gender.
During Women's History Month, UNG celebrates and honors the women of its past and its future.
In 1879, the college granted a bachelor's degree to Willie Lewis, namesake of UNG's Lewis Hall and daughter of university president David W. Lewis, becoming the first public college in Georgia to confer a degree upon a woman. Many schools, although unopposed to educating women, had refused to give them a degree, since women could not be considered "bachelors."
In 1973, UNG continued the push for women to receive quality higher education by welcoming women into the Corps of Cadets. The inclusion of women in the ROTC program at UNG, one of six senior military colleges in the nation, happened two decades before Virginia Military Institute and the Citadel would face lawsuits by young women seeking admission.
The UNG Women's Leadership Initiative, established in 2015 by a group of staff members, prepares women for a lifetime of leadership, from UNG to their communities and to their future workplaces. Through empowering events and mentorship, the initiative creates a culture of acceptance and persistence within the community.
This March, the initiative hosts a series of weekly empowerment sessions on various topics surrounding the modern UNG woman. Mimi Fortune, coordinator of student leadership and commuter services for the Dahlonega Campus, chairs the Women's Leadership Initiative.
"The Women's Leadership Initiative is important to the UNG community because it supports the university's mission of developing leaders and preparing women for the dynamic world we live in," Fortune said. "Through the various programs we are hosting, women are developing certain skill sets, becoming more aware of their potential and learning how to advance themselves and mentor others."
Lindsay Bailey, another coordinator within the Women's Leadership Initiative and director of student involvement for the UNG Oconee Campus, thinks their efforts may be paying off.
"This year, all of our campus SGA presidents are female," Bailey said. "It's a funny thing that ended up happening, everyone just got so empowered. In the past, we've had many potential female leaders who didn't think that they could go that extra mile and get those leadership positions, and that was distressing. Now, we've created a culture in which anyone can be a leader. We don't want them to sell themselves short."
Past events have included cooperation from the Women of UNG, a Special Interest Group under the umbrella of the UNG Alumni Association, and the Georgia Association of Women in Higher Education.
The weekly series began with "Assertiveness in the Workplace" on March 3, featuring Dr. Simon Cordery, director of UNG Student Counseling, and continued with "Mentorship and Leadership" on March 10, featuring Michelle Brown, assistant vice president of student affairs and dean of students for the Oconee Campus.
Next, the Women's Leadership Initiative and Cierra Durden, a UGA graduate student interning for the UNG Oconee Counseling Center, will host "The History of Feminism" on March 24. The events scheduled will end with Alexis Carter, assistant director of the UNG Office of Multicultural Student Affairs, presenting "Women in the Civil Rights Movement" on March 31. Faculty, staff and students are all encouraged to attend.
Sessions will be held from 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. and will be simulcast on four UNG campuses from the following locations:
- Cumming Campus Room 262
- Dahlonega Campus, Stewart Success Center, Room 260
- Gainesville Campus, Nesbit 5105
- Oconee Campus, Room 522
The Women's Leadership Initiative was awarded a $5,000 Presidential Innovation Award in 2015. Coordinators for the initiative include: Bailey, Fortune, Gicorey Keys, coordinator of student leadership for the Oconee Campus; Cara Ray, associate vice president for student affairs and dean of students for the Cumming and Gainesville campuses; and Stacie Rowley, associate dean for student life for the Gainesville Campus.
Other upcoming events include Denim Day, along with "Women in the Wilderness," a weekend of encouragement and outdoor exploration, on April 1-2.
To get involved, Bailey and Fortune recommend students request to join the Women's Leadership Initiative's OrgSync page.