May 7, 2012 — The Young Women Leaders Program– a collaboration between the University of Virginia's Curry School of Education and the U.Va. Women's Center to help mentor local middle-school girls – will officially mark its 15th anniversary Tuesday with a noon luncheon at Alumni Hall. Media are invited to attend.
The event will include a keynote address by retired NASA astronaut Kathryn Thornton, a professor in U.Va.'s School of Engineering and Applied Science and a mother of three. Thornton, the second American woman to walk in space, served as an astronaut until 1996 and has been inducted into the Astronaut Hall of Fame at the Kennedy Space Center.
The program, established in 1997, pairs seventh- and eighth-grade girls from the Charlottesville and Albemarle areas with female mentors who are U.Va. students. More than 1,000 girls and 1,000 college women have taken part, said the program's director, Edith "Winx" Lawrence, a Curry School professor.
U.Va. and middle-school students from the program will attend the lunch.
"It is important for all women to hear from a woman leader like Kathy Thornton," said Margaret Ann Bollmeier, director of the Curry School Foundation and organizer of the event.
"Middle school years are tough," Lawrence said. "We developed this program specifically for this age group in an effort to improve these girls' sense of self-worth and develop their leadership capacity."
The combination of one-on-one mentoring and targeted group activities for one full year makes a significant difference in the lives of the middle-schoolers. Research conducted on the program shows that girls who have completed the Young Women Leaders Program intervene in bullying more, listen more to others, improve their problem-solving skills, become more supportive of friends and think more positively about their futures.
Bollmeier said she hopes that Tuesday's luncheon will get the word out about the program and its impact on the community.
"We are looking forward to sharing about how much the Young Women Leaders Program benefits our community," she said. "It ought not be our best-kept secret."
Reporters and photographers wishing to attend should show up at Alumni Hall on Tuesday. Lawrence will be available for interviews, and the Curry School's Audrey Breen can coordinate interviews with mentors and middle-schoolers.