Campus Transformation: Smith Launches BOLD Leadership Program

Smith's inaugural BOLD Scholars, all members of the class of 2018 are front row from left: Katie Chong, Enas Jahangir, Rita Flournoy and Daniela Deny. Back row from left: Bethaney Gulla-Devaney, Natalie James, Jennifer Aguirre, Priscilla Semphere, Tiara Austin, Kate Fessler.

Being part of a new women’s leadership initiative at Smith has changed the way Ada Comstock Scholar Rita Flournoy sees her role on campus.

“Before, when issues would come up, my question to people was, ‘Why weren’t you there?’” she says. “Now, my question has become, ‘How can I be there, helping to get things done?’”

Flournoy is one of 10 remarkable Smithies selected last fall as the college’s first group of BOLD Leadership Scholars. Five rising Smith juniors will join BOLD in the fall: Kiki Teshome ’19, Felicia Villalobos ’19, Sofi Vergara ’19, Yohana Beyene ’19 and Sally Kyale ’19.

A project launched by the Pussycat Foundation in honor of its founder, Cosmopolitan magazine editor Helen Gurley Brown, BOLD aims to create a national network of emerging women leaders focused on challenging social issues.

Smith is one of four colleges participating in a two-year pilot initiative to support BOLD scholars on their campuses. The other schools are Rutgers University-Newark, California State University-Fullerton and Middlebury College.

In addition to scholarships, BOLD participants receive mentoring and an opportunity to implement “transformation projects” on their home campuses. This summer, Smith’s BOLD scholars will spend three weeks studying abroad in Africa, India, Southeast Asia and South America as part of the program’s international immersion curriculum.

The BOLD initiative “fits perfectly with Smith’s mission to produce women who are agents of change,” says Stacie Hagenbaugh, director of the Lazarus Center for Career Development at Smith, which is overseeing the pilot program. “It builds on the college’s longstanding commitment to fostering women leaders, and encourages scholars to use their skills and commitment to social justice to positively impact the Smith community.”

Donna Lisker, vice president for campus life at Smith, says BOLD also builds on the legacy of Helen Gurley Brown, whose papers are part of the college’s extensive women’s history archive.

“The BOLD program at Smith will make Helen Gurley Brown’s legacy more tangible,” Lisker says.

Priscilla Semphere ’18, one of Smith’s inaugural BOLD Scholars, says she applied to the program out of “a hunger for a space where people genuinely want to make the world a better place.”

“I like the way BOLD is so action-oriented,” she adds.

Fellow scholar Daniela Deny ’18 says being involved in residence life at Smith sparked her thinking about what it means to be a student leader.

“BOLD is building on that awareness,” she says. “I know I like to exert my power through collaboration. I appreciate that the program puts being authentic at the center of the mission.”

In addition to leadership skills, Smith’s BOLD Scholars bring a range of identities and experiences to the network, says Annie Cohen, program site coordinator for the college’s BOLD initiative.

“BOLD encourages students to think about what it means to build community around their identities,” Cohen says. “We’re thrilled to be building this program from the ground up with such a fantastic inaugural cohort.”

What’s the most important thing to know about the BOLD program?

“That people on campus can reach out to us with their ideas,” Semphere says. “A lot of Smithies are focused on social justice—we’re not unique in that. We’re just fortunate to have the resources and a space to actively work on issues.”

Flournoy feels the same. “We have all of these different groups on campus and we really want to link everyone up,” she says. “When you see us on campus, come talk to us!”