Young women find ‘confidence, empowerment’ in TU leadership program

Outstanding Young Women Leaders program graduates first cohort, awards scholarships

By Rebecca Kirkman on February 4, 2021

After completing the yearlong Outstanding Young Women Leaders program, a partnership between Towson University and Baltimore County Public Schools (BCPS), high school senior Nasreen Naqvi has a new perspective on life.

“One of the biggest lessons I've taken has been that sometimes what you perceive as an obstacle can be the key to success,” says the senior at the Carver Center for Arts and Technology. “This program has taught me to look at things more positively and accept obstacles coming your way as an opportunity instead of dismissing them as something negative.”

Naqvi was one of 25 students—one from each Baltimore County high school—who participated in the inaugural cohort of the Outstanding Young Women Leaders program, part of the Women’s Leadership Collective at TU.

Spearheaded by TU alumna and Presidential Scholar Nancy Grasmick, the program extends the Women’s Leadership Collective’s skill-building and mentorship opportunities to women in high school.

“We felt that leadership can begin at any age, not just for students on campus or women who've already gone out into the [professional] world,” Grasmick says. “We were rigorous in our desire to select young women who'd already demonstrated leadership within their high schools.”

The first year of the Outstanding Young Women Leaders program, which kicked off with an event at Towson University last January, culminated with a Zoom recognition ceremony on Jan. 28. 

During the virtual event, the first Nancy S. Grasmick Leadership Scholarships were awarded to six students: Chahat Kumari, Kara Varricchio, Georgia Hammond, Carmelli Leal, Rameen Aamir and Naqvi.

The program and scholarships were supported by funding from First Financial Federal Credit Union, whose representatives also taught the young women about financial literacy, including paying for college and saving for their future.

During the virtual ceremony, BCPS Superintendent Darryl Williams addressed the graduating cohort: 

“Not only have you completed this rigorous program, you have shaped this program for the young women who come after you,” Williams said. “As you know, leaders—and that includes you, now—face challenges and create their own playbook, especially during times of uncertainty. What you have experienced might place you on a new path or reinforce what you choose to do. Thanks to this program, during this time you have had the amazing gift of guidance, support and mentorship that will provide benefits into the future.”

To be eligible for the program, the young women had to meet academic, leadership and community service requirements and be nominated by their principal. Members of the TU Women’s Leadership Collective selected a finalist from each high school after reviewing applications and school transcripts and conducting interviews.

Participants traveled to Annapolis to visit the Maryland State House and meet leaders of the general assembly. They heard from guest speakers including Congressman John Sarbanes and were paired with a corporate mentor in their area of interest. They were also supported through the college application process by TU admissions counselors.

As they complete the program, participants say they feel more confident, empowered and ready to take on their futures.

“This program has opened my eyes to the amazing female leadership out there, especially from our own creators and mentors we were paired up with,” says Kumari, a senior at Dundalk High School. “This program has taught me that if you seek help, it will always be out there, and it has inspired me to become more confident and outspoken in my own abilities.”

Leal, a senior at Eastern Technical High School, describes the experience in a single word: empowerment.

“Being surrounded by other young women leaders, attending a leadership conversation every month and having a mentor to look up to has reminded me, and all of us young women, of our potential and our ability to hone our potential,” Leal says. “This program has given me another team that I know has my back. And that means more to all of us than you can imagine, especially with the year we've had.”

This month, the Outstanding Young Women Leaders program launches its second cohort with 25 juniors from Baltimore County high schools.

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Women’s Leadership Collective

The Women’s Leadership Collective at TU provides leadership skills and experience allowing women to advance their academic and professional careers while creating a collective of women supporting women.

This story is one of several related to President Kim Schatzel’s priorities for Towson University: TU Matters to Maryland and BTU-Partnerships at Work for Greater Baltimore.