“Leadership” is defined in so many different ways. It is often associated with verbs such as “guide,” “inspire,” and “influence,” and with nouns like “change,” “transformation” and “solution.” The critical aspect to any definition of leadership is simple: it starts with choice. Above anything else, leadership must be about a single, solitary individual looking at the world around her and choosing to commit herself to making it better. The result could be large or small, partial or complete, change that will affect one person or a generation. Whatever the nature of that change, what makes it significant is that it comes from passion and a commitment.
That is the guiding philosophy at Brescia University College. While this focus on the development of leadership skills is enough to set Brescia apart, what makes it all the more unique is that Brescia is Canada’s only women’s university. Founded in 1919 and associated with Western University, over four years women learn the skills to be agents for change in a community. As Dr. Colleen Hanycz explains, “We form them for leadership intellectually, socially and spiritually.”
At the end of their four years, she says, “I always take the opportunity to ask the most important questions: And what are your plans for tomorrow? How will the world be a better place because of what you have learned and experienced these past four years? How will you share your gifts, your lessons and your passion with the global community?”
Last October, the United Nations celebrated the inaugural International Day of the Girl and communities around the world paid tribute to the critical role that girls and women play in creating healthy families and communities. Educating a girl has a significant ‘ripple factor’ in the world around her, combating the realities of poverty, disease and illiteracy. Conversely, girls and women who are not able to access education often perpetuate entrenched cycles of poverty and ignorance from within their families. Hanycz reminds graduates of their responsibility, “When I look out at those shiny, bright faces of women who are celebrating the completion of the first major step in their educational journeys, I cannot help but remind them of the unceasing need for able leadership in our world.”
Many of the young women who study at Brescia will go on to professional leadership roles in the areas for which they have developed a skill- set and, often, a passion. And still others have become engaged with a particular cause or need for change. For example, a student that travels to Haiti or Dominican Republic as part of Brescia’s Alternate Spring Break program, working at a local orphanage there, finds herself drawn to the pursuit of a graduate degree in Social Work, committed to making a difference in children’s lives.
Another way Brescia sets itself apart is its work with younger students Hanycz explains. “We recognize the importance of nurturing leadership from an early age and, with that in mind, have developed leadership- centric programming for girls in our community as young as age eight. We run summer leadership day camps in London and in Barbados. We also host teenage girls from as far away as Hong Kong at our two- week residential leadership camps in London.”
Furthermore, for each of the last five years, Brescia has hosted a public speaking contest for young women in Grades 11 and 12. Students come from across Canada to compete for a full year of tuition at Brescia and to gain experience speaking in front of a crowd of their peers and families. Participants are required to speak about inspirational female leadership.
As Canada’s only remaining women’s university, Brescia takes its role in forming leadership very seriously. This messaging is repeated from an early age and increases in sophistication, to the teens and young women involved in Brescia programs. Finally, those young women who choose to study leadership at Brescia, or to study any of its other programs, are truly immersed in this message. From very early in their time at Brescia, they slowly begin to view themselves as leaders and to plan for making the world better. The results of this immersion are nothing short of spectacular as graduates scatter to the corners of the globe, rolling up their sleeves, asking the tough questions, insisting on good answers and taking charge.
And that is the leadership that will change the world, one small piece at a time.
TOP PHOTO: Dr. Colleen Hanycz, Principal, Brescia University College