Women’s History Month is dedicated to celebrating the contributions women have made to society. Throughout March, the University of Central Arkansas is taking part in honoring just that through highlighting endeavors and leaders that have enriched the UCA community.
This week, we’re spotlighting the influence of the Women’s Leadership Network, which connects women in and around Conway to mentors and mentees. Shaneil Ealy, associate vice president of the Division of Outreach and Community Engagement, is a founding member of the network and is in her second year of mentoring senior Jaelyn Cooper, a health services administration major. Ealy and Cooper shared their take on the importance of mentorship and the impact women have on campus. They also gave their top picks of songs written or performed by women, which you can hear on this playlist.
How have women helped shape the UCA community?
Cooper: All of them have such a great spirit. They have creativity, which they incorporate into their talents and their skills to create organizations and trailblazing establishments, and they help the university have longevity. Also, they set high standards for themselves, which makes people like me follow those standards and also uphold those standards for myself. They’re just natural leaders who are good at collaborating. Not to mention, they’re naturally good caretakers and nurturing. For some people, such as Ms. Ealy herself, they’re like a mom away from home.
Ealy: The majority of the students on a national level in higher ed are women. So it’s not just those of us who are in leadership roles, but the students themselves shape the university. When I look at UCA specifically, though, from the highest level—as Amy Whitehead is chief of staff now and Dr. [Patricia] Poulter is the first female provost that we’ve had—those are great examples of leadership and strong leaders in some very important roles on campus. For the university to take that leap into hiring women in those roles says a lot about administration.
For Outreach itself, for me, I’ve had a lot of great women leaders, role models in my position before me. Kim Bradford, when I started 16 years ago, was that for me and provided such mentoring roles. Kim Bradford and Dr. Elaine McNiece, who we reported to at the time, were the ones that challenged me and helped me to see what leadership could look like from a woman. They were examples of women leaders in roles that I could aspire to.
How should others on campus take part in honoring Women’s History Month?
Cooper: First, I think that they should thank just any woman who’s inspired them or who’s helped push them to be better for themselves, whether it’s just a nice gesture or just the act of service. Complimenting other women on their hard work and empowering them; learning about other women who’ve done phenomenal things, just to educate themselves and try to model
after those women; taking opportunities that are self-developing; and to treat yourself every here and there because sometimes as women we forget to take care of ourselves because we’re naturally just givers.
A lot of times, we can’t pour from an empty cup, so you have to make sure that you also give back to yourself. If you’re an undergrad here, just to get involved in certain organizations that will help you just embrace your creativity and let it shine. For instance, I’ve participated in some, such as Real Beauty and Women of Excellence. I’ve seen Ebony Models do great things, just anything that’ll help give you a confidence boost. Because when you’re confident, you can do anything.
Ealy: Don’t just be observers or go to a program, but find ways to get engaged and participate. Serve as a mentor for other women. We all have something to give. No matter the position that you hold as a woman, you have something to share and contribute to other women. I would challenge folks to get involved. Donate to a group that you want to support. Volunteer for a group. Come to Women’s Leadership Network events in March and advocate for women’s rights.
What inspires you?
Cooper: I’m inspired by a lot of things. I’m inspired by compelling stories, personal stories, just from people who I know and whatever I see in the media. I’m also inspired by great causes, anything that gives back to the community or just the world in general; being around people who are passionate and determined to pursue their goals and dreams while also giving a hand to others to bring them up as well; seeing other people do things, that pushes me to advance myself and to try to be a better person; my personal circle such as my friends, my family, my mentor and, most of all, my mom. My mom, she is an amazing woman. She’s always been very passionate about everything, and she’s supported me through whatever I wanted to do. One thing I admire about her is she pushes through adversity, and she makes things happen and always gets something done.
Ealy: I’m inspired by my mom as well. My mom raised three of us in a single-family household. I saw her model what work ethic looks like and what faith looks like. She instilled that in me, and so I think she’s my greatest inspiration from early on. Now, I’m so inspired by women like Jaelyn, young leaders who have dreams that when I was their age, I was not thinking as big and as visionary. They just have everything accessible to them that we didn’t have. They just dream so much bigger than we ever could at their age. I’m inspired by them.
And then, I’m inspired by women in our network. I’ve seen folks who are taking risks like, “I’ve had a career for 20 years, and you know what? I’m not really happy in that, and I’m going to go and do something that’s meaningful to me and purposeful.” Those women inspire me. With the Women’s Leadership Network, our mission is to elevate, empower and embrace women. We do that from all levels, and that really keeps me going. I’m also the director of our youth leadership program. We mentor and develop leadership skills in 11th- and 12th-graders. Here at UCA, I have college students like Jaelyn, but I also get an opportunity to support high school students. Those kids are doing amazing things. They inspire me.Whatever I can do to empower them to get where they want to be is just really fulfilling for me.
Why is mentorship key to the experiences of women?
Cooper: I think mentorship is needed in order to have consistent growth and learning, to make life easier by learning from people who are just more experienced and willing to help you understand and to learn. When you grow, then you can make other people around you grow, and then you can make the community grow. Also, it’s a continuous cycle. So when you pass something down, it gets passed down. It’s also impossible to do everything yourself. You have to collaborate with others. That’s why everybody is different. We all have creative aspects that are different, and that’s what makes individuals special. Never be afraid to ask for help. Why make it harder for yourself?
Ealy: Mentorship was really key for me to get to where I am right now. I feel a responsibility, especially as a black woman, responsible to carry that legacy on and help and mentor and support others however I can. For me, I was challenged. My mentors challenged me, and I hope that that’s something Jaelyn can say. I challenged you to think bigger and broader. I am also blessed with strong women mentors such as Dr. Angela Webster and Dr. Brenda Yelvington who I can always rely on to show me the truth about myself and my situation. The ones who were in my role before me, Kim Bradford, Dean McNiece, Shelley Mehl, who was my predecessor, challenged me: “You need to get that terminal degree because, yeah, you just got your master’s, but you’re going to need it down the road,” and, “When are you going to get that terminal degree?” They’re pushing you and challenging you and giving you opportunities to develop professionally. “You should go here. You should learn this.” These were folks who saw more for me than I could see for myself as a young professional, and so I just feel a great responsibility to use my influence now to do that for others.
What have you learned from having a mentor or mentee?
Cooper: Specifically from Shaneil, I’ve gained so much knowledge. She’s helped me through life issues. One thing that I was lacking the most was just professionalism. She has been a model for me. She’s just awesome, and also, she’s amazing. It’s really hard to put it into words how she personally gets to know you and then tries to help you based off your personal need. So that’s something that I want to take away and then give to other people, too. She’s very attentive and thoughtful.
She has such a big heart made of diamonds. She’s super hardworking, and I love that she does so many different things that bring her enjoyment. I feel like that’s something that we both have in common. A lot of times we’re busybodies, but it’s just because we just enjoy so many different things. We can’t just do one thing because we get bored easily. She’s obviously highly educated and well-spoken, and that’s something that I aspire to be and I’m still constantly working on. She’s done so much to support me and given me guidance on life issues and professional development. She’s also extremely loving and has a calm ambiance about her, which is something that I like. Anytime when I’m around her, I feel very mellow, and I like that about her. On top of everything, she’s a great cook. She inspires me to keep going and is a great example who I look up to in order to motivate myself.
Ealy: Women, no matter our role, we all are human, and we all have the same fears, no matter what title you have. I’ve learned that, just working with women the last few years, we all are human. We all have those same fears. We all face impostor syndrome—thinking we aren’t good enough or smart enough. My passion is to help us move through those and navigate those fears to get to where we want to go. It’s just a great passion. I’m just so blessed, seriously, that I get to do this as part of my job. I’m more blessed in that aspect.
I hear a lot of women say, “I don’t have anything to give.” It’s not about what you have to give, but what does your network have to give? So don’t just think about you. She’s in health administration. None of that is in my wheelhouse. But I have friends. I have professionals, and so I invited them all to my house to meet with them. I don’t have those skills, but I know folks who do. I just encourage folks to think about mentoring broader than just what they have to give themselves or what they’ve experienced, but what does your network or your circle have that you could lend to someone else?
What are your top song picks written or performed by a woman?
Cooper: “How It Feels to Fly” by Alicia Keys
“Diva” by Beyoncé
“Scars to Your Beautiful” by Alessia Cara
“God Loves Ugly” by Jordin Sparks
Ealy: “Don’t Judge Me (feat. Missy Elliott)” by Kierra Sheard
“God in Me” by Mary Mary
“Girl on Fire” by Alicia Keys
“The Breakup Song” by Francesca Battistelli
Listen to the Spotify playlist.