When Dr. Kathy Loyd arrived on the Arkansas State University campus she had one child and another on the way. She brought with her five transcripts from other schools she attended and had no degrees.
One day, a counselor told her she was bright and should consider graduate school. Those words changed her life.
Loyd, a Mattel Inc. board member, will lead the newly formed ASU Women’s Business Leadership Center. She told Talk Business & Politics the center will develop leadership and mentoring programs for young women from college to middle school age. It will also provide scholarships.
“I truly believe a girl cannot be what she cannot see,” Loyd said. “Encouragement and goal setting from a mentor can make all the difference.”
The center opened Thursday (Nov. 10) and will be located inside the ASU Business College building. Business College Dean Shane Hunt told Talk Business & Politics 32 “founders” were recruited to give money and volunteer time and expertise to this new program. It has garnered $350,000 in donations toward programs and another $160,000 in donations toward scholarships, Hunt said. The center plans to initially dole six, $1,000 scholarships in the fall of 2017. The university did not provide details on upfront program costs or an annual operating budget.
A national mentoring program will be the center’s primary focus, founder Patricia Robertson said. The Step Up Reach Back program will recruit successful and professional woman from Little Rock, New York City, Nashville, and other locales to mentor upper class students at the college. Those students will then mentor freshman.
Freshman will go out into the community and mentor high school students. Those high school students will then mentor middle school students, she said. Girls are often not taught at school or at home to set goals, she said. Without goals, it’s hard to achieve to maximum potential, she said.
“We want them to learn how to set goals and be leaders,” Robertson said.
Arkansas First Lady Susan Hutchinson spoke to the 100-pluse attendees at the center’s grand opening. The center’s goals fall in line with the education proposals pushed by the governor, she said. Computer coding classes are expanding in Arkansas high schools, and girls have been encouraged in large numbers to participate, she said. There are more than 500,000 computer jobs available across the country today, and females need to be encouraged to enroll in computer, math, and science classes to help fill these job deficits, she said.
In Arkansas, more than 5,500 high school students are enrolled in some type of computer classes, and 20% of them are taking more than one computer-related class, she said.
Women also need to be encouraged to become business owners, Hutchinson said. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that less than 30% of all businesses in the U.S. are owned by women. In addition to the goals, skills, and leadership qualities needed to push women forward, emphasis must also be placed on character and morals in the business and corporate world, she said.
The center is the next step after the university started a Women’s Leadership Business Conference in 2015. About 400 people attended the event, and this year more than 600 participated. In addition to the scholarships and mentoring program, the center will form partnerships with appropriate state organizations, Loyd said. One day programs will likely be held at different places throughout the summer.
A leadership academy, upward bound academy, and other programs will be instituted on the ASU campus starting in the spring, Hunt said. The center began as a five year project, but the response has been so overwhelming he thinks it will survive well beyond that. The first year will serve as a “benchmark year” meaning the center doesn’t have finite financial goals or have exact numbers of how many females will participate in these programs.
“This is the first center of its kind in the state … we hope it serves as a model for other centers around the state and nation,” Loyd said.