by Kelsey Ketterling
Tiphanie, aka “PH,” stands at the podium and says into the microphone, “Guys, we’re going to have a dance party.” “Feel Good Inc.” blasts through the speakers. The three-minute dance party has begun.
This scene’s not typical of a Tri-College National Education for Women Leadership Development Institute event, but it’s former attendee Caroline McGuire’s favorite NEW Leadership memory.
The Florida State University environmental studies and political science alumna said most of the nationwide NEW Leadership program is offered only to college students, but MSUM sociology professor Deborah White, who she calls attendees’ “fearless leader,” wanted to include prominent community members as well.
“At any stage in your life, you should be able to empower yourself and have the same opportunities,” McGuire said.
McGuire coordinates volunteer services at Great Plains Food Bank and is vice chair of NEW Leadership’s recruitment committee. Though the program is targeted at women, men can also apply, she said.
“The way we accept individuals is through a numerical scale,” McGuire said. “We assign someone a number so we don’t gender specify when selecting people.”
McGuire said she’d recommend NEW Leadership to anyone wanting to get involved with community leadership but unsure how.
“If you think that you have what it takes and you have that ‘itch’ in the back of your mind that something’s not right (and you want to) change it, but you just don’t know how, then NEW Leadership is for you,” McGuire said. “You have to go into it with an open mind.”
She joined NEW Leadership a year ago during what she calls her “enlightenment phase.”
“It’s the worst and best experience in my life,” McGuire said. “The worst experience in that now I feel like I have to do everything. I know so much now. I’ve learned so much, and I feel like if I’m just going home and sitting on my couch and watching a Netflix documentary, that’s not enough. I need to be out there, grassroots, on the ground, changing things.”
During the program’s “intensive” five-day span, bonds are formed and life-long friendships made, she said.
This is especially true for MSUM women’s and gender studies professor Kandace Creel Falcón, who met her wife, Liz Kuoppala, at NEW Leadership.
“When we got married in 2013, we didn’t ask for gifts,” Falcón said. “We actually held a fundraiser, and some of the wedding gifts were given in honor to NEW Leadership. It’s certainly an organization I hold dear to my heart.”
NEW Leadership’s aim is ensuring women’s roles in political and leadership positions, Falcón said.
The “transformative experience” includes faculty and community members who form groups with students and teach them real-world skills, she said. Some of these include organizing a rally, creating press releases, conducting a press conference and managing a protest.
The event also includes key-note speakers and projects.
“Prepare to be sleep-deprived,” Falcón said. “But it’s the good kind of sleep-deprived.”
MSUM art alumna Sara Watson Curry remembers the early mornings and long nights of her NEW Leadership experience.
“I was actually getting married two months after being in NEW Leadership, and I thought, ‘Oh, I’ll work on addressing invitations or a few RSVPs or something,’” she said. “I brought that project with, and I did not have time for it.”
Curry, who got involved in 2009, said participants are “pulled from their everyday life” to stay on one tri-college campus the entire five days of the “eye-opening” event.
The several-hundred-member-strong NEW Leadership program is coordinated by White. She is the “heart and soul” of NEW Leadership and has been nominated for the YWCA’s Woman of the Year award, the winner of which is announced April 25, McGuire said.
“I think (White’s nomination) is fantastic,” Falcón said. “So much of the work of NEW Leadership is possible because of Deb’s commitment to it.”
White also fundraises for NEW Leadership so women of all incomes have the opportunity to take part in the free leadership opportunity.
NEW Leadership’s application deadline is March 18. Those interested in the program, which is also available for credit, can apply online at tri-college.org. Its 40 chosen participants will be based at Concordia June 8 – 12.