A program designed and developed by the UGA J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development continues to prepare young women in southeast Georgia for career and community leadership roles.

The second class of the Lynda Brannen Williamson Foundation Women’s Leadership Academy graduated on May 18 in Statesboro.

Williamson, a civic leader in the Statesboro community, established the foundation before her death in November 2014 to help guide and mentor young women in southeast Georgia.

As for the women’s leadership academy, it is designed to develop participants’ personal leadership skills to improve career, mentoring, and service opportunities.

The academy offers something unique to women in southeast Georgia, said Lisa Lee, President of the Lynda Brannen Williamson Foundation.

“We are doing a leadership program for women through a woman’s lens,” said Lee. “We are looking at how women view leadership, how women go about life – doing servant leadership, managing their families, doing their job – and putting it all together.”

Fanning Institute faculty, led by Maritza Soto Keen and Carolina Darbisi, delivered sessions over a nine-month period on topics such as servant leadership, communication and conflict, strategies for effective leadership, career and professional skill development, and life-work balance.

“The sessions focus on unique situations that women in leadership face,” said Darbisi, a public service associate at the Fanning Institute. “The academy is a space where the women can discuss these experiences and how they can navigate the world as a female leader.”

This year’s academy also involved mentors, who met with the participants on a number of occasions.

In addition to all of that, the women also plan and complete a class project.

This year’s participants chose to continue the work of last year’s inaugural class by organizing and hosting a second career day for women in the area, offering services like professional makeovers, interview training, and résumé development.

Sixteen women completed the leadership academy this year.

“They engaged in all of the discussions, and they embraced the mission of the program and what the vision for the foundation is,” said Darbisi.

The academy provided a great opportunity for growth, said Caitlyn Cofer, a career development specialist at Georgia Southern University in Statesboro.

“It was an even greater opportunity than I thought it was going to be,” said Cofer. “I really liked that they picked women with diverse talents and diverse experiences to be a part of this. That has really helped me in developing different perspectives as far as leadership goes.”

According to Lee, this academy benefits not only the women who participate, but also their communities.

“The benefits are huge,” said Lee. “I think everyone from our first class is involved in some type of service organization. Five of them got promotions. They have taken on new leadership roles. We have people calling us and asking us about this program.”

Curriculum, facilitation, and support from the Fanning Institute has played a vital role in the program’s success, Lee said.

“All we had was an idea that we wanted to do a women’s leadership academy,” said Lee. “The Fanning Institute took the heart of what we wanted to do and made it beat.”

The Lynda Brannen Williamson Foundation is already planning the third year of the women’s leadership academy to start in the fall, and more than 40 women have already been nominated for it, Lee said.

For more information on the Lynda Brannen Williamson Foundation, visit http://bit.ly/2qgfXUM