Michigan 4-H partners with MSU’s Women’s Leadership Institute to energize women leaders

To learn more about female leadership, 21 youth gathered together on September 24 to attend the Michigan State University Women’s Leadership Institute, which included a special component just for youth leaders.

Youth attendees at the Women's Leadership Institute youth reception.
Youth attendees at the Women's Leadership Institute youth reception, as well as Michigan 4-H staff.

Every day, in every way, women are leaders.

To learn more about female leadership, 21 youth gathered together on September 24 to attend the Michigan State University (MSU) Women’s Leadership Institute (WLI). An annual event now in its fourth consecutive year, the WLI is designed to empower women students with leadership aspirations.

A collaborative effort between MSU’s College of Social Science, MSU alumni, professional women and students, the WLI seeks to ignite the passion of women leaders with “a vision of advancing leadership equity for women globally through thought leadership, creating a sustainable community, and providing high-quality programming for students, faculty and broader MSU community.” Among the institute’s executive board is Dr. Amy Bonomi, director of children and youth programming for MSU Extension. Bonomi worked to include high-school students for the first time in this year’s event. 

“One of the 2019 WLI themes was ‘we’re never not leaders’ and we know youth are leaders in their own communities, every day,” said Bonomi. “They’re leaders in clubs, churches, schools, friend groups and even their families. So as we thought about this year’s event, we knew it was the perfect time to invite high-schoolers to participate.”

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Michigan 4-H, the youth development program of MSU Extension, led the youth component of the event. Youth ages 14–19 were invited to attend a special pre-reception hosted by Bonomi and Dr. Erica Tobe, associate director of children and youth programming for MSU Extension. Several other members of MSU Extension’s 4-H staff also supported the pre-reception, and MSU Athletics Chief of Staff Alan Haller and MSU College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) Dean Ron Hendrick delivered keynote addresses.

“Having the ability to listen to adults with higher experiences than what I have had so far in my life, and being able to identify and relate with the things they have gone through on their own leadership journeys was an opportunity like no other,” said Savannah Mauk, a Michigan 4-H’er from Eaton County.

After the keynote presentations, the youth interacted with the speakers, CANR and MSU Extension staff and each other to share their leadership stories. Following the reception, youth attended a WLI panel discussion at the Wharton Center, which featured world leaders Carolyn Woo, Tiffany L. Jones and Anne Whelan. Youth also participated in a pre-session in advance of the reception that discussed the themes of the evening and how to share their own leadership stories.

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“The WLI was an awesome opportunity that challenged everyone, regardless of their stage in life, to be a better leader and develop their leadership skills,” said Grace Schmidt, a 4-H’er from Livingston County.

“I left the WLI feeling inspired to embrace authenticity in my own leadership,” said another 4-H’er, Addy Battel of Huron County. “That experience is having lasting effects on my personal life.”

Plans are already underway for another youth-focused event to be held in collaboration with the 2020 WLI. To learn more about other ways youth can explore leadership with Michigan 4-H, visit 4h.msue.msu.edu.

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