New program created to give underclassmen women leadership opportunities

Steve Shapiro, Bexley Women Lead co-founder and leader of experiential learning and community outreach, talks with freshman Owynn Lafollette during a Nov. 18 meeting. (Photo by Emma Magee)

Bromley Phay

Guest Reporter

Bexley Women Lead is a new program designed to identify and develop leadership qualities in current female freshman and sophomore students.

Steve Shapiro, leader of experiential learning and community outreach for Bexley City Schools, created this program with social studies teacher Nancy Mallory. Shapiro said that this program was designed to help female students identify their leadership style and strengths, learn from and network with successful female leaders and experience mentorship and internship opportunities.

Bexley Women Lead is composed of 13 freshmen and three sophomores who meet every Thursday in Mallory’s room, Shapiro said. He added that the program is open to cisgender and transgender girls and gender queer, nonbinary and gender fluid individuals.

The first weekly meeting was on Thursday Nov. 4, and meetings consist of leadership activities, community building, monthly speakers and planning sessions, Mallory said. She added that there was an opening luncheon Wednesday, Nov. 10, and there will be a closing luncheon at the end of the school year.

The luncheon kickoff was held at Capital University, Shapiro said. He said that they also gathered 15 successful women to talk to the members about leadership and to begin forming connections to eventually lead to mentorships.

Shapiro said the closing luncheon will take place in May with all of the women involved throughout the year. The program is receiving funding from the Bexley Education Foundation to make these events possible, he added.

The idea for this program began with Executive Director of the Bexley Chamber of Commerce Elaine Pelz, who explained that it started in a Bexley Chamber program in 2017 with a group of successful business women who wanted to give young women an opportunity to develop as leaders.

“Harnessing that knowledge to share with younger generations so they could benefit from the roads we’d traveled and the hurdles we’d overcome seemed like something we needed to do,” she said.

Pelz said she then got into contact with Shapiro to begin bringing this idea to life.

When creating this program, Shapiro and Mallory explained they didn’t want to put a firm limit on which sophomores or freshmen could join.

“It’s part of our commitment to inclusivity,” Shapiro said. “We were very open in communicating that the program is open to all students.”

Shapiro explained that he felt it was important to have a female leader for the group because he wanted to create a “women’s space,” so he decided to get Mallory involved.

She runs the meetings, and it is her group, he said, but he helps with organizing, support and connections.

Shapiro said that originally he went to every freshman class to recruit members, as it was only offered to current freshmen. After realizing there were available spots left, Shapiro explained that they decided to open it up to sophomores as well by emailing the entire class.

Shapiro said they focused on underclassmen because they wanted to give younger students an opportunity to develop leadership skills that will be useful during high school and in their futures.

“The students are entering into the school at this stage, and that’s a place where developing the leadership gives them a chance to utilize those leadership skills throughout the rest of their high school years,” he explained.

Mallory, Shapiro and Pelz all have very high hopes for this program and are excited to assist these young women, Mallory explained.

She said she is excited to see what she will learn from the girls in addition to helping them.

“My hope is that the students find it to be valuable and that they can transfer what they learn to other settings, including the classroom, teams and clubs and activities outside and beyond high school,” Mallory said.

Shapiro explained that he wants to go beyond the stereotype that leaders are people who only talk in front of crowds. Instead, the club aims to promote leadership in other ways, he said.

“Hopefully every student in the program will be able to answer the question, ‘what kind of leader am I?’” he said.

Pelz said she is excited to see what this program will become in the future.

“Our goal is that the businesswomen involved can provide real world perspectives to help these young women along their career paths,” she said.