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Weissman Center codirector Lee Bowie works with a student.
Mount Holyoke has long been known for graduating women who spearhead change in their own careers and for the public good. The new Harriet L. and Paul M. Weissman Center for Leadership at Mount Holyoke College will make sure this tradition thrives into the twenty-first century. The Weissman Center combines the work of the College's Speaking, Arguing, and Writing Program and the Center for Leadership and Public Interest Advocacy and is supported by a generous donation from trustee Harriet Levine Weissman '58 and her husband, Paul.

The merged center is a natural, say center codirectors Eva Paus and Lee Bowie. "Effective leadership requires the ability to frame, articulate, and advocate for positions. Effective speaking, arguing, and writing require taking control of one's authorial position."

Developing articulate leaders is the center's mission. "This is one way Mount Holyoke is recognizing that we send women out into the world ready to be leaders, but we need to be sure to equip them to do that," says Leah L. Kane '99. "The skills of critical thought and responsible action are useless if they can't be expressed clearly and argued constructively. Students can't learn effective argument construction and public speaking by the wayside. The skills can only be fully developed with a dedicated effort on the part of both students and faculty."

That effort began even before the programs joined forces as the Weissman Center, and there is already much to be proud of. "Students' consciousness has been raised in multiple ways about the necessity of speaking, arguing, and writing; the meaning of leadership; and the importance of thinking beyond their MHC experience," says Paus.

Learning to Lead

Interest has been high for leadership and public advocacy events examining critical public policy issues such as welfare reform, power and gender, and efforts to transform public education. And a semester-long series invited students to ask questions of accomplished graduates in a Web-based "Alumna Leader/Advocate of the Week" discussion.


Writing assistants give
one-to-one advice.
"Through its various symposia and discussion sessions, [the center] has provided me with different viewpoints on current issues of public concern. Now I am better equipped to make choices about how I want to influence the shape of the world," says Carrie A. Alme '01. "The center provides a great service by promoting awareness of issues of public concern and then providing a forum where students can gain leadership and advocacy skills. By encouraging active participation in real-world issues, the Center for Leadership builds a positive force for change among MHC students."

That force is felt by others, too, especially in community-based learning courses offered through the Center for Leadership. In disciplines such as anthropology, education, politics, dance, and Russian, students combine academic analysis with community action on areas of public concern.

In one such effort, seniors honed their leadership skills in a community-based learning seminar in women's studies by developing and teaching a science curriculum at a local center for disadvantaged girls. Another recent community-based learning course had geology students collaborating with staff at the Quabbin Reservoir to construct a computer model for estimating pollutants.

Speaking of Speaking (and Arguing and Writing)

Most of us can speak and write, but it takes skill and training to do so effectively. The speaking, arguing, and writing component of the Center for Leadership is heavily used and has many claims to fame.

  • Mount Holyoke is the only college in the country to have a combined speaking and writing program. (Other institutions offer separate programs; only MHC provides integrated development of both skills.)
  • Mount Holyoke College is also the only U.S. college to provide writing instruction in foreign languages as well as in English through its writing center.
  • The innovative mentor program currently provides writing mentors for forty-two courses, and Mount Holyoke is the only U.S. college known to have undergraduate speaking mentors assigned to particular courses. In addition, writing and speaking assistants are trained to help students with all kinds of oral and written work.
  • The program is transforming teaching, too, as faculty incorporate speaking elements into existing courses. They're also creating new "speaking-intensive" courses that offer students multiple opportunities to prepare for and receive feedback on oral presentations. During spring semester, 259 students enrolled in twenty speaking-intensive courses. In addition, faculty are using debates, enactments, mock trials, and intensive discussions to incorporate speaking into their classes.
  • Faculty are also creating writing-intensive courses in many disciplines, including mathematics, German studies, art history, and philosophy. This spring, 600 students took twenty-eight such courses. A faculty group also meets regularly for brown-bag lunches, at which they discuss new teaching techniques, and for workshops on topics such as using speaking, writing, and the case-study method.

Now Everybody's Talking

With all these activities, the Weissman Center for Leadership is having a profound effect on the College community. Its impact has been felt off campus, too, as national media have found the programs newsworthy. The New York Times included MHC in an article on the upsurge in interest in promoting leadership skills for college students. And a February Boston Globe article about "mallspeak"--the tendency of students to insert words such as "like" and "you know" into sentences--led to other major media coverage for the College's Speaking Program. The Los Angeles Times published an article, and Good Morning America, 20/20, and Fox News filmed footage on campus and ran segments on MHC's efforts to help students be adept with a range of speaking styles. They know a good thing when they see it.

For more information, visit the Weissman Center for Leadership's Web pages.


Copyright © 1999 Mount Holyoke College. This page created and maintained by Don St. John. Last modified on July 14, 1999.