KSU, Moroccan university partnering in women’s leadership initiative

KENNESAW, Ga. | Jan 27, 2021

Grace Stafford
Rachel Westmoreland conducts a virtual interview with Mary Frances Bowley.

Looking toward focusing her career on global issues and social causes, Kennesaw State University senior Grace Stafford became one of the first students to participate in a new cultural exchange program to promote and develop women’s leadership through research, analysis and digital storytelling.

As a member of Kennesaw State’s Model United Nations team for three years, Stafford conducted policy research about several countries including Indonesia, Palestinian Territories, Russia, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates. She brought that experience, and built on it, during KSU’s women’s leadership virtual exchange with Hassan II University Casablanca in Morocco.

“I think that many people view Middle Eastern countries as being polar opposites to the United States in their policies and beliefs, but we’re a lot more similar than we are different,” said Stafford, an international affairs major. “I find the Middle East fascinating for that reason.”

Open to undergraduate and graduate students, the interdisciplinary women’s leadership virtual exchange involves approximately 100 students each from Kennesaw State and Hassan II University Casablanca over four semesters. The program is supported by a $102,550 grant from the Stevens Initiative, which is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State with funding provided by the U.S. government, and is administered by the Aspen Institute. It is also supported by the Bezos Family Foundation and the governments of Morocco and the United Arab Emirates.

The virtual exchange is embedded into different classes, such as a KSU course on Politics of the Middle East, with different students participating each semester. The program continues a cultural exchange between Kennesaw State and Hassan II University Casablanca that began in 2005.

“The role of women in society is changing rapidly around the world as societies more fully recognize the critical importance of women’s participation in all aspects of life,” said Dan Paracka, professor of interdisciplinary studies and the project leader at KSU. “One of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals is to ensure women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life. Our project aims to recognize, learn from and multiply the stories of successful women leaders.”

Through the program, students engage in lessons and discussions about women and leadership, both within their own class and with students from the other university. In addition, the participants select female community leaders to interview and feature in essays compiled on a website dedicated to the initiative.

For her project, KSU graduate student Rachel Westmoreland interviewed and wrote about Mary Frances Bowley, the founder and president of Wellspring Living, an organization that fights childhood sexual abuse and exploitation. Westmoreland called that “a cause that’s very near and dear” to her, as she has been trained in how to spot human trafficking while working as a flight attendant for Delta. Westmoreland aspires to work in government affairs in the airline industry after she completes her master’s degree in international policy management.

“I’d never thought about the cultural differences related to women’s leadership until I heard it from someone else’s perspective, but a lot of the qualities that we both think women leaders should possess are the same,” Westmoreland said. “I think that some connections I’ve made will stay even after the project, and the lessons that I’ve learned from the different students in the class and from the women leaders we’ve interviewed definitely will continue on for me.”

– Paul Floeckher

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A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its more than 43,000 students. Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia with 11 academic colleges. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 7 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit kennesaw.edu.