With help from historical figures to Disney princesses, UCF program inspires women leaders

Program includes seminars, research projects about role of women leaders

2014 ElectHer Summit (Courtesy of Dr. Stacey Malaret)

ORLANDO, Fla. – A UCF program has been highlighting and inspiring women leaders for more than a decade.

The UCF LEAD Scholars Academy’s Inspire Women’s Leadership Program focuses on leadership topics related to the enhancement and empowerment of women in leadership.

“Leadership is having the courage to make a positive social change, and I think women are part of that,” said Dr. Stacey Malaret, director of UCF’s LEAD Scholars Academy.

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Malaret is one of the people behind the development of the Inspire program and has been involved in leadership since her high school days, with one of her main inspirations being Eleanor Roosevelt.

Roosevelt, former First Lady of the United States, started conducting press conferences only with female journalists present, encouraging the hire of more women in the field.

Malaret said the program serves as an avenue for people to learn about the role of women such as Roosevelt in leadership.

Inspire had its origins in the 1990s and included the ElectHer Summit, which was about inspiring women to apply for UCF Student Government positions. In 2007, Brandie Hollinger, a LEAD Scholar student, became the first ever female SG president.

About a year later, the program was developed to the format it is today. It consists of a semester-long course, with the option to extend for a total of two semesters, and also involves seminars and research projects.

The Inspire program’s official page said students who complete it will be able to better identify aspects of women’s and/or gender issues important to them, as well as analyze leadership roles in the “change process,” which Malaret said was the process of social change when the role of leaders is crucial.

“I think that women being part of that process is going to not just help society but help them as individuals grow as well,” Malaret said.

Kimberly Batres, currently an office support assistant at LEAD Scholars Academy, was the graduate teaching assistant in one of the Inspire courses during summer 2020.

She said the program created a space for the students who have the drive to help other communities, regardless of their social aspects.

“It gave the students a space to talk about things that aren’t necessarily covered very often about women’s history,” Batres said. “It allowed them to relate with different aspects of history, as well as express their own experiences.”

Batres, who has been part of the UCF community since 2014 when she started her undergraduate journey, said she has noticed more and more the importance and role of women due to her time with Inspire.

“I’ve been here in different stages of my life,” Batres said. “What I learned in the program will always stay with me.”

To discuss some topics, the program uses examples from popular culture regarding the evolution and foundation of women in leadership.

When talking about feminism, the class analyzes Disney princesses and how they have changed through the years, stemming from Snow White, and Aurora from “Sleeping Beauty” — both of whom had to wait for a prince to save them — to more recent ones such as Moana, and Tiana from “Princess and the Frog,” who sought to explore the world and to become a businesswoman, respectively.

“Finally, we have strong role models for girls,” Malaret said. “Where before it was, you know, when you thought about princesses it was about your beauty, and now it’s about your strengths.”

Students who are part of the Inspire program also work on a research project where they perform a literature review on a topic that interests them, as long it has a connection with women in leadership. From domestic violence in third world countries to human trafficking in the United States, Malaret said they explore what leaders can do to help.

Malaret said students are learning about women in class, but also being able to take that information and transform into action with community service for agencies that serve women, then reflecting on their roles on those services.

She also said she hopes more people who care about women and gender issues take the opportunity of joining the program because the knowledge will help them beyond a classroom, making them better members of society and better allies for equity, diversity and inclusion.

“It’s exciting to see so many women wanting to make a difference,” Malaret said. “Not just in themselves, but in the world.”

About the Author:

Gui Leal started with ClickOrlando.com in January 2022.