Professor DeCurtis '08SM Talks Women Leaders in Boston

June 30, 2016

Erin DeCurtis

Find out what Professor DeCurtis loves about the new PLAN curriculum!

What made you make the move to teach at Simmons?

I graduated from the MBA program at Simmons in 2008. The program was a transformational learning experience for me — so I was excited to be able to contribute to a community that had such a powerful impact on me as a professional and as a person.

What's your favorite thing about your students?

I love seeing the light go on when they learn something new and are able to apply it to a new situation. Seeing that is truly one of my favorite things in the world!

Tell us about your PLAN course: Boston Women Leaders.

My course exposes students to Boston women leaders from the 1600s to present day who are not as well known but who had groundbreaking impacts on the professions they were a part of. While learning about these women leaders, students read several books about leadership written by women authors. 

What inspired you to teach a course on this topic?

Women — and especially women of color — often get lost in our cultural dialogue about leadership. I wanted to make sure that students had female leaders from a variety of different backgrounds throughout Boston’s history to serve as role models for them as they pursue their own professional careers.

Which Boston women leaders do you most admire? Why?

It's really hard to narrow it down! What I’ve learned through teaching this class is how many “firsts” there were in Boston and how much women overcame to create the lives they led. I admire women like: 

  • Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler, the first African American medical doctor in the U.S. who was trained in Boston. 
  • Mary Eliza Mahoney, the first African American professionally trained nurse in the U.S. She was trained at the New England Hospital for Women and Children — which was founded by a woman, Dr. Marie Zakrzewska. 
  • Williamina Patton Flemming, a domestic worker, working for Harvard Astronomy Professor, Edward Pickering, who saw how smart she was and hired her to work in his lab. She helped develop a common way of classifying stars. She worked with two other women in Pickering’s lab who were also groundbreakers in astronomy – Annie Jump Cannon and Henrietta Swan Leavitt – both of whom were deaf.

These are just a few of the amazing —but rarely heard of — women who were groundbreakers in Boston that we’ve discussed in this class. You can see why it’s so hard to narrow it down!

Which Boston leaders do students interview during this class?

Students have the opportunity to identify a woman leader that they would like to interview and then I help them identify networking contacts to connect them with that woman. A number of the leadership books my students are reading emphasize the importance of networking, so this exercise helps them practice. 

How can students develop their own leadership philosophy?

By studying best practices of leaders (especially women leaders) and actually trying out different leadership styles and tactics to determine what works best for them. Each leadership scenario an individual approaches may require different skill sets. By “playing” with your leadership identity throughout your life, as suggested by Herminia Ibarra, author of one of the books we read, you can learn and evolve as a leader.

What's the most exciting part of working with PLAN?

I love how interdisciplinary the PLAN program allows students to be in their coursework. Few experiences in the workplace will ever focus exclusively on one topic so it's important for students to be able to see the connections between different fields of study. My hope is that it helps them adapt to the working world in a more seamless way and progress in their careers with greater ease.