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University of Iowa News Release


May 18, 2009

UI institute cultivates new generation of women leaders May 31-June 5

The state of Iowa is one of two states in the nation that has never elected a female governor or sent a woman to the U.S. House or Senate. Leaders involved with a University of Iowa initiative are striving to change that.

The UI Women's Resource and Action Center will host the second annual Iowa National Education for Women's (N.E.W.) Leadership Institute Sunday, May 31 through Friday, June 5 in Iowa City. Almost 30 undergraduates from the UI and 10 other institutions across the state will come together to develop public leadership skills, learn about civic involvement and network with women in public leadership from across Iowa.

"Clearly, in the state of Iowa, we have a lot of women doing good work, but there is a dearth of women in leadership roles. So, the question we are asking is "Why aren't they running for public office? Why aren't they serving on boards when they clearly have the passion and skill to do so?" said Kelly Thornburg, coordinator of Iowa N.E.W. Leadership.

Thornburg said one of the goals of the institute is to help women identify and tap into that leadership talent early.

"We look at the women in our community and say to them, 'we see this in you, and we want you to see it in you, too,'" Thornburg said.

Another goal this year, Thornburg said, was to include more diversity, especially women of color and nontraditional students. And even though political science majors are often drawn to the institute, majors range from engineering to theatre, speech pathology, nursing and pre-medicine and dentistry.

Last year, the cohort was primarily made up of 18- to 22-year-olds. This year, there are more women in the 31- to 40-year-old age bracket who bring a different level of experience and who can often more clearly articulate the issues about which they are passionate.

"During the Institute, we ask the participants to begin to consider where their skills and passions might be most useful" Thornburg said. "Last year, we had participants who were interested in everything from running for governor to women who were interested in running for school boards and county supervisor positions."

While registration for the institute is full, two related events are free and open to the public:

--At 7 p.m. Tuesday, June 2, there will be a screening of the film "What's Your Point, Honey?" with director Amy Sewell. The documentary film puts a new face on political leadership by introducing seven young women who want to run for president. For more information on the film, see

--At 6 p.m. Thursday, June 4, former Iowa Attorney General Bonnie Campbell will deliver the institute's keynote address in the Senate Chamber of the Old Capitol Museum at 24 Old Capitol in downtown Iowa City. A reception on the main level of the Old Capitol Museum will precede the address beginning at 5:30 p.m.

Thornburg said she hopes university faculty and staff will help identify future participants, especially those whose style of leadership is quieter and more subtle.

"We have such a stereotypical picture of what it is to be a politician or to be a public leaders, and it's not an effective and true vision," Thornburg said.

The institute also helps participants develop their own vision of leadership as they practice everything from networking to policy advocacy to fund-raising.

One way the program helps participants do this is to offer a wide spectrum of examples of women's public leadership.

"We are lucky to have the support of female leaders at local, state and national levels," Thornburg said. "They understand from their own experiences as candidates how vital our mission is, and they give their time, energy and money very generously."

During the week, the participants will get to know elected officials, community activists and policy advocates who offer their skills and stories to strengthen the program's content, Thornburg said. Each year, three faculty-in-residence also work with the participants.

This year's faculty-in-residence are Amalia Deloney, a senior fellow with the Main Street Project; state Rep. Renee Schulte (left) of Cedar Rapids; and state Rep. and Assistant Majority Leader Elesha Gayman (right) of the Quad Cities.

For more information, visit or contact Thornburg at 319-335-1488 or

EDITOR'S NOTE: To view a related release that has information on each of the University of Iowa students chosen to participate in this institute, visit (

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500

MEDIA CONTACTS: Kelly Thornburg, WRAC, 319-335-1488,; Lois J. Gray, University News Services, 319-384-0077,