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EmpoWer workshops expanding after successful start

by Luanne Williams

Navigating life after graduation can be more difficult for women, who are less likely to negotiate their salaries and more likely to have significant student debt. Wingate is finding ways to help level the playing field.

EmpoWer – a series of workshops designed to help Wingate’s female students better navigate life after graduation – is living up to its name, according to the program’s developers, Dr. Terese Lund and Dr. Christi Sporl. The pair surveyed participants before and after the inaugural series last year and found significant improvements in their financial literacy, leadership skills and self-esteem. Results showed that by the end of the workshops, the women had greater confidence in finding a job, getting into their preferred graduate school and negotiating their salary.

In fact, the results were so affirming that Lund and Sporl have developed a second, expanded version of the series, which, like its predecessor, has been awarded a grant from the Association of American University Women.

“The first workshops were just for undergrad students. EmpoWer 2.0 will include graduate students as well, in the spirit of One Dog,” says Lund, an assistant psychology professor and Wingate’s chair of Women’s and Gender Studies. “Last time we had 25 students. This spring we are hoping to have 40.”

Lund expects graduate students to benefit from the program as much as, if not more than, their undergraduate counterparts, since grad students are on the verge of plunging headlong into their professional careers.

“People are most receptive to information when the information is needed,” she says. “For example, students are really attentive about salary negotiation right when they are doing their job search because that’s what they are focused on.”

Studies show that 57 percent of men, but only seven percent of women, negotiate their salaries. Women represent just over half of those enrolled in American colleges and universities but hold nearly two-thirds of the nation’s outstanding student debt, according to a recent AAUW report.

Ashae Mason portrait

It’s these facts and her experience in last year’s seminar that lead senior Ashae Mason to promote EmpoWer to her peers.

"The information you are given is factual but also insightful,” says Mason, 21. “For me, it brought to the forefront things I had never paid attention to. We learned that it’s OK to negotiate, OK to speak up for yourself, OK to look at other opportunities when you get an offer.”

Mason says role-playing during the workshops helped her overcome her reluctance to discuss pay. “The information given in the workshops will give you confidence without you even realizing that it is doing so,” she says.

Mason used her newfound confidence to negotiate her salary at her summer job in Chesapeake, Virginia, where she was promoted from cashier to keyholder at a women’s clothing store.

A human services major with a business management minor, Mason plans to pursue a master’s in social work on the way to a career as a middle school counselor. She says the EmpoWer workshops provided a space to discuss everything from appropriate interview attire to student-loan counseling. She particularly benefited, she says, from a panel discussion featuring female University administrators.

“After the leadership panel, I got a chance to talk with Dr. Dawn Norwood (director of Wingate’s master of sport management program),” Mason says. “She gave me advice and met with me later on. Having people on the panel who are willing to do that is great.”

Lund says many of the workshop participants have become ambassadors of a sort, sharing the information they received with other women in their lives.

Sporl, an assistant sociology and human services professor, will do some sharing of her own this April as she reports the results of the research regarding EmpoWer to the Southern Sociological Society at its annual meeting in Atlanta. Two Wingate students who teamed up with the professors on the project last year will give presentations at undergraduate research symposiums.

Meanwhile, female students interested in the next round of workshops can apply now. Deadline for applications is Monday, Feb. 11.

An opening celebration will be held Feb. 20, with workshops following on Feb. 27, March 28 and April 17 and a closing celebration on April 24. All events will be at 5:30 p.m.

This year’s EmpoWer series will be slightly longer than last, as organizers added the opening session to give participants a chance to complete a pre-workshop survey and to get to know each other better before programming gets underway. “The close-knit community that we created is a feature of the program,” Lund says.

Mason says that the support from those leading the program doesn’t end with the last workshop.

“I think being able to go back to faculty, to ask them to clarify information or remind us of the website resources they provided right when we need them is so helpful,” she says. “They are so good about being a really great support system. They get just as excited as you when something good happens, and when it’s not good, they will sit there and talk you through it.”

Mason and fellow students Hannah Bonnet, Kirby Goodin and Sierra Laney, along with assistant sociology professor Lacey Ritter, will assist Lund and Sporl with EmpoWer 2.0.

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