Case Studies of Undergraduate Women's Leadership Development at a State University

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Virginia Tech

Leadership development among undergraduate college women is essential to institutions of higher education and to society. Research has indicated that sex-bias and sex-stereotypes are abundant, with men frequently being labeled as the more prominent gender in leadership roles and situations. Opportunities for women to emerge as leaders have not been as plentiful as they have for men, often limiting the self-awareness that women may have of their own strengths. The purpose of this study was to identify the leadership development factors associated with individual women leaders at a state institution of higher education.

The methodology used in this study focused on personal interviews with women who had been selected for the Who's Who Among Students in American Universities and Colleges (Who's Who) 1998-1999 membership. Two-hour individual sessions were arranged for 20 undergraduate women student leaders. An interview protocol was designed to ask seven questions to each of the participants to answer five research questions regarding influences that affected their undergraduate leadership development. While 18 women participated in the study, a total of 17 stories are included in this dissertation after one woman decided not to share her study following her interview.

The results from this study indicate that higher education did not create leadership in the women who participated. Colleges and universities nurture and develop pre-existing leadership characteristics that women bring with them from their pre-college experiences. Institutions also provide mechanisms to allow women to become aware of their leadership strengths.

The intent of this study was to share the individual stories of women's leadership development. Prominent leadership development themes emerged from the analysis of the interviews. Values, attitudes, behaviors, and personal attributes were most influential to the leadership development of the majority of undergraduate women who participated in this study. The institutional environment and family members of many of the participants were also very influential to their undergraduate leadership development. The women reported that peers, faculty, staff, administration, and society in general had little or no influence on their leadership development.

Education, Higher, undergraduate women, Leadership