Writer: by Gabriela Enamorado
2 min read March 2023 — As the economic landscape proceeds to change and shift, women’s liberal arts colleges in the Atlanta region continue to strive for excellence in preparing women to enter the workforce of the future. With Focus:, Leocadia Zak, president of Agnes Scott College, and Helene Gayle, president of Spelman College, shared their insights on how their institutions are pushing the envelope in higher education for women by making sure they listen to students’ needs, expand their programs and provide unique learning experiences.
How do you ensure students are prepared for future employment?
Leocadia Zak: “Our amazing faculty and staff have reached out to businesses and not-for-profit organizations in the Atlanta community to ask what they need. In addition, they have done research with respect to the skill sets that are important for the work world, and faculty have mapped their courses to align with those skills. We also have a very close relationship with the Chamber of Commerce which has helped us to develop a list of in-demand employment skills and an understanding of what employers are looking for. Through SCALE, we work with 32 different Atlanta businesses and not-for-profit organizations. Our admissions team does a wonderful job working with K-12 schools, sometimes volunteering in those schools to explain the college application process. We have a very strong commitment to DeKalb County and the City of Decatur, where Agnes Scott is located, as well as Atlanta.”
Helene Gayle: “We’re able to expose young women to a broad array of experiences here. We have exchange programs. We provide global and international programs. Most importantly, we give young women a sense of pride in who they are and a belief in themselves. They feel very grounded in a sense of themselves and their identity as Black women. They’ve not only received an excellent academic experience, but they also feel they’ve gotten the kind of nurturing appreciation for who they are as young Black women and the contribution that young Black women can make in this world. They have both the skills and the self-confidence.”
Have you noticed any change in demand among students in terms of majors, and in what areas is the college increasing its offerings?
Zak: “Agnes Scott has expanded our graduate programs. In particular, our graduate programs are focused on medical science, counseling and communications. We have a fabulous post-bacc pre-med program for students who were not pre-med in college but later decide to go to medical school. We’ve developed certificates in medical science. We’ve added a master’s degree in counseling. Agnes Scott has public health as an undergraduate major. We’re one of the few colleges in the country with an undergraduate public health major, and it is growing. Our business management program is growing as well. Our college is known for developing excellent writers, and that’s something that we continue to do. Writing and speaking skills are what employers are looking for. Strong leadership, problem solving, critical thinking, and team building skills are also in demand by employers.”
Gayle: “For years, the top majors have been biology, psychology, political science, health sciences and economics. We’ve also seen more young women who want to take minors in other areas. For example, we may have someone who might be a physics major but with a curatorial arts minor. We’re seeing more of that as young people want to learn more broadly, rather than just in one area.
We just launched the Center for Black Entrepreneurship. We’re doing a great deal in the area of innovation. We have this wonderful Innovation Lab where young people are able to create and build. This enables students to discover new ways of thinking. We have a young woman who’s creating her own rocket fuel with the goal of providing a sustainable fuel for flying rockets. We provide many opportunities in our Innovation Lab. e-Spelman also continues to grow.”
How do you recruit new students in this current climate?
Zak: “I think that innovation and being aware of what students are looking for is very important for recruitment. SUMMIT, our signature experience focused on global learning and leadership developed as a foundation for professional success, plays a large role in attracting students to Agnes Scott. The combination of liberal arts and experiential learning is very attractive to students. Agnes Scott’s student body reflects Atlanta’s diverse community. It’s why businesses are coming to Atlanta today: they see a well educated, diverse workforce, and we want to be sure that Agnes Scott is part of that. I think we are able to provide students from Atlanta, who have been educated in a diverse environment already, something very special, and something that employers are looking for. We want to ensure that our students are global citizens, that they have the ability not only to lead locally but also globally, which I think really meshes with the Atlanta of today and the future.”
How does Spelman College continue to push the envelope on education for Black women?
Gayle: “We provide a very hands-on teaching experience. We not only teach but also mentor young women. We also provide courses that help young women of African descent appreciate their culture and learn about the contribution of Black women in this country and around the world. Our course, African Diaspora and the world is a required course. It helps students to understand the global contributions of the African Diaspora. We’re also the first HBCU to have a documentary film-making program. We truly believe that a liberal arts education should span the humanities, arts and sciences. These are just some of the ways that we are helping to prepare lifelong learners.”
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