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From One Leader to Another – State Department program Brings Women Together

August 13, 2013

Five Simmons students got the chance of a lifetime this summer, taking part in a special five-week women’s leadership program with 20 African female college students.

The U.S. State Department program, “The Study of the U.S. Institute on Women’s Leadership,” brought together students from across Africa with five Simmons Richardson International Fellows, whose participation was supported by alumna Grace Richardson ’60.

The Simmons Richardson Fellows (left to right above) included:
Rimsha Khan '14 International Relations 
Kimberly Lopez '16 Master's in Social Work
Hannah Raiche '14 Political Science
Criosanna Allred '16 Biostatistics
Kristen Canuto '16 ESL/psychology major and Spanish 

Here, the Richardson Fellows share what they learned from the African students, what they learned about themselves, and their favorite moments in international sisterhood.

What motivated you to participate in this program?

Raiche: My positive experiences with mentor-based programs motivated me to do this program where I could share my experiences as a scholar, a leader, and a woman, and form a mutually beneficial and empowering relationship with all of the African students.

Lopez: I did not know enough about people’s lives in Africa, and I recognized that I had a lot of growing to do in leadership. I wanted to share this experience with women I had never before met.

What have you gained from this experience? 

Canuto: I was able to understand the significance of voicing my opinion. This experience has allowed me to build my character and become an even stronger, more effective leader than I was before. Lopez: I have gained an invaluable connection to my global neighbors and—in particular—24 women who I view as the next change agents to help resolve social issues, which affect women and girls.

Allred: Learning about the differing cultures and people from Sierra Leone, Cote d'Ivore, Liberia, Sudan, and South Sudan has not only given me a completely different perspective of Africa, but also some valuable friends and peers that I will keep in touch with for years to come.

Raiche: This experience has been transformative beyond words. I have learned more about the impact of international politics in the span of just a few weeks than I have in a whole semester at college merely by listening to each of the students’ personal stories about their diverse cultures. Above all else though, this program has helped us all to gain empowerment and affirmation in our limitless capacities as female leaders.

What were some lessons about success, and women and leadership that you took away?

In different cultures and countries, women are looked at very differently than they are here in the U.S., so it is extremely important to completely understand the culture that you are trying to help if you want to be successful. The expectations of women are vastly different in other parts of the world, and being aware of these norms could be the difference between offending hundreds of people and giving them the opportunity to reinvent their lives.

Canuto: A guest speaker shared with us, “The woman in you is limitless.” No one can stop me from achieving my dreams other than myself. I am in control of what I set my mind to and how I accomplish my goals.

Lopez: I left with a quote embedded in my mind: “Don't be afraid to go out to where the big boats are. You can’t stay at the shore.” For someone who has struggled with fear of failure, this serves as a reminder that growth lies beyond where I place my limits.

What were some personal life and/or school lessons you shared with the African students?

Lopez: circumstances do not define your limitations, and success is not the linear path that we may all attribute it to be. Success involves struggle, self-awareness and a strong will, and the time in which you reach it is the right time for you.

Canuto: My lessons were never really expressed through words, but with laughter. I chose to bring positivity to each day and make the best of each moment by staying happy.

Allred: We shared unbelievable stories about accomplishments or things we learned from our failures. The stories empowered all of us to do what we can, and never give up.

What was the most fun you had during the program?

Raiche: I was able to share my 22nd birthday with all the students. The most memorable part of the celebration was hearing ‘Happy Birthday’ sung to me in four different languages!

Canuto: My favorite moments involved all of us dancing to classic and upbeat African music that reminded the students of home. We all got to be ourselves and enjoy one another’s company through dance