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Wurtele Center for Leadership

Student in a classroom

In our work with students, faculty, and staff, the Wurtele Center for Leadership embraces and advocates for a collaborative approach to leadership. We strive to empower members of the Smith community with an understanding that they can lead from any vantage point, whether they hold positional power or not. At the same time, we recognize and seek to dismantle the power structures that produce inequities in leadership. We design workshops, intensives, talks, partnerships with other campus units, and other learning experiences that encourage participants to understand themselves (ME) and collaborate productively with others (WE) in order to apply their knowledge and lead change (IMPACT).

Our Mission

Our mission is to equip all members of the Smith community with the creativity, courage and collaborative capacity to lead positive change at scales both large and small. During the 2019–20 academic year, the Wurtele Center for Leadership is undertaking a comprehensive strategic planning project using an approach inspired by Human-Centered Design.



The Art of Leading Teams: A Lunch Series for Staff and Faculty

The Art of Leading Teams is a monthly lunch series that provides a space for cross-unit community-building, discussion and learning about methods for leading teams in collaboration, maintenance, and management.  Join us for lunch and engage with others on campus to share experiences, absorb one another’s wisdom, and garner some new strategies for building and maintaining a healthy and productive team.

Who is it for? Anyone on the staff (and potentially interested faculty members) who leads a team. This includes formal team leaders; however, in keeping with Wurtele Center for Leadership’s belief that people can lead from anywhere within a team, regardless of positional authority, these lunches are open to anyone interested in the topic.

Unless otherwise noted, all Art of Leading Teams lunches are held from noon-1:15 p.m., in Campus Center 204. Lunch will be provided.


What Do We Mean By Collaboration within a Team? (Wednesday, September 18, noon-1:15, CC204)
By definition, teams need to collaborate with one another, and yet we rarely define exactly what we mean by the term.  Come and learn how other teams across campus collaborate, and gain a tool to help your team define and be more intentional in your collaborative work.

What Do We Mean By Collaboration Across Campus Units? (Wednesday, October 16, noon-1:15 p.m., CC204)
Increasingly, campus units are joining forces and finding ways to cross-pollinate their programming. Hear colleagues who have engaged in collaborative partnerships discuss what they learned, and consider how we might deepen our efforts to collaborate across campus.

Building and Maintaining a Team Culture (Wednesday, November 20, noon-1:15 p.m., CC204)
Every team has a culture of its own, whether that culture is intentionally created and maintained, or it develops through how members interact with one another over time. Find out what other units on campus do to build and maintain the culture of their team, and discuss how to shift and shape team culture when a change feels necessary.

Tools for Building Culture: The User’s Manual (Wednesday, December 18, noon-1:15 p.m., CC204)
Team conflicts often emerge out of underlying misunderstandings about team members’ personalities, values, needs and world views. Learn how to surface these qualities in your team by creating and sharing “user’s manuals” that will help team members make sense of one another in order to work together more productively.


Tools for Building Culture: Intentional Meeting Design (Wednesday, January 22, noon-1:15 p.m., CC204)
A good segment of a team leader’s role is holding meetings. Share and discuss your unit’s meeting culture, and explore how you might design your meetings more intentionally in order to maximize your team’s collaborative work.

Making Group Decisions (Wednesday, February 19, noon-1:15 p.m., CC204)
Some decisions need to be made unilaterally by a team leader, while others require group convergence. Sometimes it’s not entirely clear to team members how the decision will be made, which can foster conflict. Find out how other units handle decision-making, and learn some tools to facilitate collaborative decision-making with your team.

Giving and Receiving Feedback (Wednesday, March 18, noon-1:15 p.m., CC204)
Most people crave feedback, but few of us enjoy giving it.  Learn from your fellow team leaders how feedback functions within their unit, and discuss how we might foster feedback-rich environments in our units by practicing “radical candor.”

Striking the Balance: Empowering Staff While Leading toward Vision (Wednesday, April 15, noon-1:15 p.m., CC204)
Leading a team is tricky insofar as it requires us to build the capacity and strengths of our team members at the same time that we are responsible for moving the team’s work towards a common vision or set of strategic goals. Engage in a discussion with fellow team leaders of how to find this balance. How might we support one another in that work?

Phoebe Reese Lewis Leadership Program

The Lewis Leadership program is an intimate cohort program developing the foundations of emotionally intelligent, resilient leadership: self-awareness, courage, purpose and community. Lewis Leaders will convene to learn skills in each of these domains throughout the academic year. During an interterm leadership intensive, students will travel to New York City to continue skill-building, connect personally with global change makers and discover one of the most extraordinary cities on the planet. Directed by bestselling author Rachel Simmons, the program will focus on building close-knit community, courage through vulnerability, and practice by doing. The skills students build as Lewis Leaders are foundational to becoming the kind of leader who is able to engage others in inclusive, collaborative change-making efforts.

Past Visits
  • Jamia Wilson, Activist and Publisher of the Feminist Press
  • Playwright and actor Diana Oh ’08, creator of My Lingerie Play
  • The Novo Foundation, the world’s leading funder of initiatives fighting violence against women and girls
  • Girl Up, a global leadership initiative positioning girls to be leaders in the movement for gender equality
  • Young alumnae in New York
  • Senior women leaders at Google and Instagram
  • Trapeze School of New York
  • Rattlestick Theater

The Lewis Leadership program begins with an overnight retreat on October 12 and includes (but is not strictly limited to):

  • Several Saturday morning workshops during the fall and spring
  • A weeklong interterm intensive which includes a fully funded overnight trip to New York City
  • Community building events on weeknights

Applications are due by September 27. APPLY NOW.

The Leaders for Equity-Centered Design

The Leaders for Equity-Centered Design (LED) Program is a two-tiered cohort program that focuses on building leadership capacity through design for social change. Partnering with the Design Thinking Initiative, the program’s mission is to equip students with the skills to apply human-centered design to address some of our greatest social inequities. A cohort of 12 students will explore who they are as leaders, how their social identities impact their leadership, how to develop deep and meaningful relationships with one another, as well as experiment with different approaches to addressing social problems by working with their campus community.

After year one, cohort members will have the opportunity to apply for an LED Fellowship. Selected fellows will engage with the LED cohort as mentors, program co-designers and facilitators of group activities. They’ll learn and practice deeper facilitative leadership strategies such as deep listening, radical collaboration and emergent strategy, and liberatory design. 

Who It Is For

Anyone passionate about working toward social change through innovative practices and design. Students from historically and currently marginalized identities (ability, religion, socioeconomic class, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, first-gen, undocumented, race, ethnicity) are encourage to apply.

What Else You Need To Know

Applying to the 2019–20 LED cohort requires the following:

  • 2-hour weekly time commitment for cohort meetings/workshops on Thursdays from 3:30-5:30 p.m.

For the 2019-20 academic year, the fellowship track is only open to returning students who participated in the BridgeUp/BOLD cohort program. Contact Annie DelBusto Cohen for more information.


Leadership Programs and Workshops

This year, the Wurtele Center for Leadership will offer programming that delves into a range of monthly themes in order to engage the larger Smith College community in exploratory conversations around the possible meanings and applications of women’s leadership. Join us for these talks, panels and hands-on workshops that will:

  • Provide opportunities for students and faculty to forge connections between their scholarship and the practice of leadership.
  • Explore and critique the nuances of “leadership” as a concept.
  • Engage community members in direct practice to build a skillset that will help them galvanize others to accomplish goals.

February - Bridging Divides in Public Discourse 

As public discourse becomes increasingly polarized, leadership requires an ability to articulate one’s own position clearly and ethically; listen deeply and openly to others; and recognize a common humanity in those with whom we disagree.  During the month of February, we will be examining how we can communicate across difference through both personal interchange and public discourse, to forge connections with those who believe, act, or feel differently than we do in order to effect real and lasting change.


February 3rd, 2020 - Bridging Divides: An Evening with Negin Farsad

Join humorist, author, podcaster and filmmaker Negin Farsad on February 3rd, 2020, for a talk and facilitated conversation about how to reach (and lead) across political, social, and ideological divides through delight and human connection.  Farsad is the author of How to Make White People Laugh, host of the Fake the Nation podcast where she invites fellow comedians to discuss current issues and events, and frequent panelist on NPR’s “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me.”  Blending humor with her passion for politics, equity and inclusion, Farsad is often billed as a “social justice comedian.”  Her TED Talk, “A Highly Scientific Taxonomy of Haters,” has been viewed over 1.4 million times.

Farsad will tabling in the Campus Center mid-day on the 3rd, working with a group of students to encourage Smith community members to write valentines to an ideological adversary.  The talk begins at 6:30pm in Weinstein Auditorium, where she’ll share some of the outcomes from the day’s work, discuss her efforts to bridge divides as a social justice comedian, and engage in a conversation with Kim Alston, followed by audience Q&A.  

Sponsored by Wurtele Center for Leadership, in partnership with the Office of Equity and Inclusion

October—Leadership, Activism and the Arts

Is activism a form of leadership? Can artists lead change through their work? During the month of October, our programming will explore the arts as a medium and method for leadership and activism. We will contemplate cultural activism as a form of leadership, and speak with artist activists about their work and philosophy.

October 23rd, Jessica Sabogal, Muralist and Activist, 6pm, Davis Ballroom

November—Women’s Leadership Across Cultures

Smith College seeks to “develop engaged global citizens and leaders to address society’s challenges.” Our community brings together and works to empower students from a wide range of identities and cultural backgrounds. November’s programs explore the different forms that women’s leadership can take in both U.S. domestic and global cultures, and fosters conversations about the challenges and opportunities presented to Smithies seeking to lead through a global lens.

November 21st, Zubaida Bai, Advocate, Engineer, Entrepreneur. 

Zubaida Bai is an expert in the field of health products for the developing world. Her company, Ayzh, designs healthcare products for women and girls living in poverty. Zubaida will be joining us to tell her story of entrepreneurship, leadership, and design in the field of women's health. 

February—Bridging Divides in Public Discourse

As public discourse becomes increasingly polarized, leadership requires an ability to articulate one’s own position clearly and ethically; listen deeply and openly to others; and recognize a common humanity in those with whom we disagree. During the month of February, we will be examining how we can communicate across difference through both personal interchange and public discourse, to forge connections with those who believe, act, or feel differently than we do in order to effect real and lasting change.

March - Leading Around Big Issues: Climate Change

In celebration of the Year on Climate Change, in March we will delve into leadership within the climate movement. We’ll explore how those who lead in this arena tackle leading change in the context of a seemingly intractable and often overwhelming global problem. How can we do justice in our leadership to the complexities of the issue, while at the same time engage in concrete actions that move ourselves and others to create change?

April—Creativity, Innovation and Leadership

There is a natural partnership between innovation and leadership. Innovators tend to be leaders by necessity; they identify a need and design a creative way to address it. Similarly, many successful leaders have been innovators, driving change in novel ways. We end our year with an exploration of these connections, fostering conversations about how Smithies can channel their natural tendencies to question the status quo into creative leadership.

Failing Well

Failing Well is a set of programs dedicated to the discussion of failure, risk taking and mistakes. A partnership between the Wurtele Center and the Lazarus Center for Career Development, our mission is to increase student resilience by teaching, telling stories, and opening a campus conversation about failure.

What does it mean to fail well?
  • When you can fail well, the world opens up to you. There's no challenge you can't pursue, no risk you can't take, because you know how to get back up when you're knocked down. Your potential for change, for possibility and for success as you define it becomes limitless.
  • 'When you can fail well, your self-worth doesn't ride on your success. You know that you are enough as you are, no matter what—and don't have to lose your sense of self when things don't work out.
  • When you can fail well, you have the courage to ask for help when you need it—and leverage every resource available to get the job done. You have the ability to be vulnerable about your limits and authentic with your peers—and forge powerful networks as a result.
How Do I Learn to Fail Well?

Failing well is a skill—a set of skills, actually. Skills are like muscles: the more you flex them, the stronger they get. Our programs will give you the opportunity to start learning and failing well.

Past Failing Well Workshops

To get a sense of some of the topics covered in the Failing Well Program, here are a few past workshops:

  • Self-Promotion for People Who Hate to Brag
  • Communication Norms Beyond the Bubble
  • The Art of Small Talk and Networking
  • Imposter Phenomenon: Why So Many High Acheivers Think They're Frauds
  • How to Quit Overthinking

Important COVID-19 Information

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, all Smith campus buildings are closed and on-campus events have been canceled. We will keep the site updated with events and programs that will happen virtually. For updates on Smith’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak, please visit the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) page.

Leadership Events at Smith

This year, the Wurtele Center for Leadership is pleased to announce the 2020 Smith College Impact Awards via video. The Impact Awards recognize students, faculty and staff who demonstrate the creativity, courage and collaborative capacity to make positive change at scales both large and small.

The awards celebrate the impact that Smith community members have had on the campus and on the local community, as well as on the planet.

A diverse committee of students, faculty and staff came together to create 10 award categories and to select award winners. In the video, nominators share their insights about each award winner. The Wurtele Center hopes to inspire you and remind you of the courage, resilience and collaborative spirit that are an integral part of Smith College.


Meet the Team

Erin Park Cohn
Erin Park Cohn ’00

Director of the Wurtele Center
Erin is a Smithie who trained as a historian and has since used her critical thinking skills as an educator and facilitator of institutional change projects. Most recently, she served as senior partner at Leadership+Design, a nonprofit consultancy working to transform K-12 education through developing educational leaders’ capacity as change agents and human-centered designers. Prior to her work at L+D, she served as dean of faculty and history instructor at a New England boarding school Erin holds a Ph.D. in history from the University of Pennsylvania; her dissertation research explored the work of a group of visual artists who understood themselves as civil rights activists in the mid-20th century.

Annie DelBusto Cohen
Annie DelBusto Cohen

Leadership Development Designer
Annie holds a B.A. in psychology from Wells College and an M.S. in college student personnel administration from Canisius College. Trained in social justice mediation and intergroup dialogue, Annie has done work facilitating spaces to explore identity, equity and justice. She has a decade’s worth of experience in student affairs, specifically residence life and most recently managing the BOLD Women’s Leadership Network. She believes in the need for creating opportunities for students and the campus to engage at the intersection of human-centered design and leading for social justice/change.

Rachel Simmons
Rachel Simmons

Leadership Development Specialist
Rachel is the author of several books about the psychology of girls and young women, including the New York Times bestsellers Odd Girl Out and The Curse of the Good Girl, and Enough As She Is. She is co-founder of the national nonprofit Girls Leadership and develops women’s leadership programs at such companies as Google, Soul Cycle and Converse. At Smith, Simmons’ programs focus on building skills for risk taking, resilience and emotional intelligence.

Sarah Hampton
Sarah Hampton

Administrative Assistant
Sarah worked for 15 years in the frenetic world of magazine publishing in New York City before moving to Northampton in 2017. She developed her creative thinking and organizational skills through roles as a photo editor/producer and studio manager. Her appreciation for collaborative leadership and social innovation began with her upbringing in the Quaker community of Barnesville, Ohio, and continued at Earlham College, where she earned a B.A. in photography. Sarah values developing meaningful working relationships and has been learning the importance of strength, resilience and joy through nearly 10 years of trying to surf.


Throughout the year we bring a variety of speakers to campus to help students expand their leadership horizons. 

Past Speakers
  • Jamia Wilson (left), writer, commentator and feminist activist; executive director and publisher of Feminist Press at City University of New York, January 2018
  • Jamie Lee ’11 (center left), negotiation and leadership coach with SheNegotiates; specialist in working with self-starters to help them confront the fear of asking so they can own their negotiation prowess, November 2017
  • Tara Mohr (center right), author of Playing Big: Practical Wisdom for Women Who Want to Speak Up, Create and Lead and an expert on women’s leadership and well-being, October 2017
  • Tarana Burke (far right), founder of the ‘me too.’ Movement, March 2019

Photos of Jamia Wilson, Jamie Lee, Tara Mohr and Tarana Burke



Wurtele Center for Leadership
Clark Hall
Smith College
Northampton, MA 01060
Phone: 413-585-4937

Director: Erin Park Cohn