Programs that Empower and Accelerate Women

Learn about campus programs that support all women while advancing gender equity


Categories: Alumni , Campus , Academic , Athletics , History , Research , Arts

Montana NEW Leadership  

The Montana NEW Leadership educates, empowers, and encourages college women to become civically engaged leaders. Stemming from a national bi-partisan program developed by Rutgers University’s Center for American Women and Politics. UM’s Mansfield Center hosts the sole chapter of Montana NEW Leadership in Montana.

The Montana NEW Leadership Summer Institute features a non-partisan five-day residential program at UM, where 20 students meet with women leaders and learn about women in American politics. The students develop and practice leadership skills through panel discussions, workshops and hands-on projects and travel to the state’s capital in Helena for a day. The summer institute curriculum applies a Montana lens to adapt the training derived from the Center for Women and Politics, enhancing this nationwide curriculum.

The Montana NEW Leadership welcomes all women and strongly encourages women of color, nontraditional college women and students majoring in fields outside political science to apply. Women who are Montana residents or attend a Montana college or university as an undergraduate, are eligible to apply.

The program is led by faculty advisor Sara Rinfret, chair of the Department of Public Administration and Policy, Deeana Mansour, Interim executive director of the Maureen and Mike Mansfield center, provides administrative direction and Diane Sands serves as fundraising support.

Montana NEW Leadership holistically supports the state of Montana by participating in a broader network in which students make lasting connections with Montana influencers in politics and business. Students build a lifelong leadership capacity with the ability to work across political perspectives and disciplines.

S.E.A. Change motivator: Similar to the UM Women’s Leadership Initiative and other programs at UM, Montana NEW Leadership works to overcome traditional barriers to women’s participation in politics, business, and leadership. Montana NEW Leadership serves women beginning their careers as leaders. Students in academic fields of study such as UM’s Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies learn about historical and contemporary barriers to women’s and other marginalized group’s full participation in traditionally male-dominated fields. WGSS classroom experiences provide students with the tools to identify and analyze these problems.

Programs like Montana NEW Leadership provide students with the tools and resources to work to address those problems.


AAUW Salary Negotiation Workshops

Founded in 1881, the American Association of College University Women is the oldest women’s organization in the country. A research and nonpartisan organization, AAUW advances gender equality for women and girls through advocacy, education and research. 

Each semester, UM offers an AAUW Work Smart salary negotiation workshop for students and employees. This workshop educates participants about the gender pay gap, teaches how to access salary and market data and provides strategies for negotiating salary and asking for a promotion. Through these interactive workshops, participants gain confidence in their ability to advocate for fair pay.


Work Smart workshops are available to all UM students and employees, and to employers who want to ensure their employees are paid fairly.

The workshops are coordinated by UM’s office of Experiential Learning and Career Success, in conjunction with AAUW representative AAUW-Montana Salary Negotiation Project Executive Director Jesse Kuntz and G.G. Weix, professor of anthropology at UM and current president of AAUW-Montana. 

SEA Change motivator: AAUW Work Smart workshops address the gender wage gap and its compounding, long-term impacts. Recent wage gap research shows that women lose an average of $406,760 throughout a 40-year career on average. The pay gap affects women differently according to their race. In comparison to white, non-Hispanic men’s earnings in 2018, Hispanic or Latina women earned 54%, American Indian or Native American women made 57%, Black or African American women made 62%, and White women made 79%. 

AAUW’s research shows that the gender wage gap means some Montana women have fewer resources to support their families, invest in the future and afford goods and services that would in turn benefit Montana families, businesses and the state economy. When women have control of their finances they are able to have a greater impact on the economy. 

 – Research provided by faculty in UM’s Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program



Women’s Leadership Initiative 

The Women’s Leadership Initiative is an expression of UM’s commitment to recognizing women’s contributions and their impacts as professionals in the UM community. Founded in 2015, the initiative uses a cohort model to build the leadership capacity of female faculty, administrators and staff and in including members of the Missoula community. WLI focuses on empowerment, networking and creating systemic change to build empowering institutions that prioritize equity for all.

 The WLI serves a cohort of female employees who are mid-career at UM and Clearwater Credit Union, as well as in the broader community. 

Members participate in regular gatherings and leadership trainings; spend dedicated time with campus, community and state leaders; and lead community-wide discussions to build awareness of the cultural factors that both impede and enhance women’s advancement in leadership. 

The WLI is coordinated by Dr. Nicky Phear, Mansfield Center program director and UM Davidson Honors College faculty member. 


 The WLI empowers members to identify personal strengths and areas for growth relative to leadership roles, and to articulate their vision and goals for their career paths. WLI members expand and deepen their networks of allies, supporters and mentors. Additionally, they develop and enhance professional relationships and build bridges across organizations. 

In the community, the WLI has built a network of allies, supporters, and mentors to empower women. The partnership with Clearwater Credit Union forms an important bridge between UM and female leaders in private business.

 S.E.A. Change motivator: According to research in UM’s Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, programs like WLI are integral to making meaningful change for women. WLI participants serve as mentors to younger faculty and business women and provide support to peers. The children’s rights activist Marian Wright Edelman famously said, “You can’t be what you can’t see.”  Without role models and colleagues with similar backgrounds and experiences, it can be hard for women to see themselves advancing in a career. WLI is a place where women in the workplace can see and inspire each other to overcome that barrier. Partnerships between programs like Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, Montana NEW Leadership, and WLI are providing broad-based tools and venues to overcome gender inequities.  

 –Research provided by faculty in UM’s Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program                                           

The WLI 2019 cohort members are:

  •  Alison Pepper, associate professor in the Department of Applied Arts and Sciences, UM Missoula College 
  • Amy Fowler Kinch, director, UM Faculty Development Office.
  • Erika Sylvester, financial service representative supervisor, Missoula Federal Credit Union.
  • Jasmine Zink Laine, policy and culture manager, UM Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost.
  • Jeanne Loftus, director, UM Franke Global Leadership Initiative. 
  • Jennifer Bell, assistant professor, UM School of Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Science.
  • Ke Wu, associate professor, UM Department of Mathematical Sciences.
  • Melissa Neidigh, associate director of operations, UM Housing.
  • Rachel Maki, community engagement coordinator, Missoula Federal Credit Union.
  • Rachel Severson, assistant professor, UM Department of Psychology. 
  • Sara Rinfret, associate professor and chair, UM Department of Public Administration and Policy.
  • Twila Old Coyote, director, UM TRiO Upward Bound.
The 2019-20 cohort of the Women's Leadership Initiative

Pursue Your Passions

The Pursue Your Passions program at UM builds educational, experimental and entrepreneurial programs for Montana women to create equitable, prosperous and collaborative futures for all.  

Serving students, recent UM alumni, as well as community members,

the program provides resources women need to pursue a career or launch a new business they’re passionate about. 

Directed by Morgan Slemberger, Pursue Your Passions lays the foundation for women to be entrepreneurs within the workplace by building leadership and problem solving skills and by empowering members with the understanding that they can be successful.  Considering and acknowledging biases in entrepreneurship, Pursue Your Passions works also to make systemic change in businesses and non-profit organizations.


Participants in this program form a better understanding of their abilities to design their own careers. Since the inception of the current model of the Pursue Your Passions program in 2017, five to 10 businesses have been created by graduates of the year-long cohort.   

The Pursue Your Passions program also reaches women across the spectrum at UM. Its cohorts represents UM’s diversity through serving a wide variety of majors, undergraduates and graduate students, intergenerational students, Native Americans, LGBTQ students and international students. 

S.E.A Change motivator: In 2019, the number of women CEOs of Fortune 500 companies reached an all-time high at 33. Unfortunately, that number is still represents less than 7% of all CEOs. Researchers point to the rising number of women on company boards as one explanation for this recent upward trend in women CEOs. Programs like Pursue Your Passions serve to further increase those numbers by providing women with mentors and training to pursue passions in a field historically dominated by men.   

– Research provided by faculty in UM’s Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program

Women’s Law Caucus

The Women’s Law Caucus, housed in UM’s Alexander Blewett III School of Law, focuses on women’s issues in law, helps women and families in the community and connects law students to attorneys and the Missoula community. The WLC is committed to celebrating strong, successful advocates.

The WLC serves UM law students and addresses needs in the Missoula community through existing and new efforts.

Through its mentorship program, the WLC hosts social and networking events including discussion panels that give students a better understanding of their field.

For the past 23 years, the WLC has held its annual silent auction with proceeds directly given to the YWCA’s Pathways Program, which offers shelter, crisis counseling and support for survivors of domestic and sexual violence.

The WLC is currently led by President Elaine Nichols and Vice-President Afton Jessop.


The WLC promotes awareness of the systemic issues women experience as practicing attorneys and within the legal system. Students become not only informed about but also empowered with the tools necessary to be forces of change in the practice of law.

Through its mentorship program, the WLC creates positive relationships with the community. Each year its strong advocates perpetuate this cycle of relationship building.

SEA Change Motivator: Research shows that mentors and networking are key to the success of marginalized groups in fields traditionally dominated by or associated with men. While women represent an equal proportion of law school students, the realities of the legal field still pose numerous challenges for them. The Women’s Law Caucus serves a vital role for women in UM’s School of Law who wish to better understand those issues, to develop mentorship networks and to give back to their community.

 – Research provided by faculty in UM’s Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program


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