Over the past five years, the School of Business has seen an encouraging and steady incline of female enrollment. While numbers are on the rise at the dynamic school, a glance around most boardrooms will tell you that women are still a small minority in the business world. George Mason University is looking to change that reality, boasting an already impressive list of involved alumnae and friends of the school. While the pandemic is challenging everyone on different levels, the impact on college students is especially profound. The Women in Business Initiative has been there as mentors and as a lifeline for these young women. They continue to be there, most recently contributing $10,000 to the School of Business Student Emergency Fund.
The Women in Business Initiative (WIBI) was originally founded as the Women in Business Consortium in 2014. Then-Dean Sarah Nutter invited inaugural members to the effort in supporting female business students with the first chairs of the group as Kristina Bouweiri and Guy Saint Juste. Now, Monika Jansen serves as chair of the board, until this summer when the torch will be passed on to Tonia Chagnon. Jansen isn’t an alumna of the school, but she has become a vital friend and staunch supporter. “It was really important for me to serve young women as they enter the workforce,” she says. “It wasn’t something that existed when I was in school, but I sure wish it had.” As is typical of Mason students, many of these young women work multiple jobs and are the first in their families to attend college. They are more than capable academically, but their Mason family wants to help ease the financial strain.
Traditionally, WIBI hosts speaker events and fundraisers throughout the year, the most prominent being their annual wine reception. With events being put on hold, WIBI felt the need to give directly to these students in need. Every year, they award two need and merit-based $1,000 scholarships to female business students. Jansen would like to see the size of the scholarship fund increase until it can cover a full academic year. It’s an ambitious goal but WIBI is looking at all the ways they can be there for their students and mentees. “We focus on connecting and empowering female leaders with School of Business students to navigate the business world while making a difference in their community,” says Dawn Cassidy, WIBI liaison and administrative manager of advancement and alumni relations “By being exposed to confidence and accomplishment by business leaders, it can go a long way toward our young people envisioning those qualities in themselves.”
While the full efforts of most of WIBI board members have been focused on keeping their businesses afloat during COVID-19, they look forward to the day when they can meet face to face with students. And these young women can be assured they have top-notch role models to look up to. The Women in Business Initiative members hope that this gift eases some of the financial hardship and stress, but they also want it to send the message: “We believe in them, and we have their backs.”
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