Since 2014, Clemson has been home to a first-in-the-nation program offering a Bachelor of Arts degree in women’s leadership. While many top universities offer a major in women’s and gender studies or a certificate program in leadership, Clemson’s program is the only one to combine these in a dynamic interdisciplinary degree program designed to close the leadership gap for women. Through coursework and project-based learning, students study women’s experiences from diverse perspectives, develop both theoretical and practical understandings of leadership, and complete a career-focused required internship and a capstone seminar.
The women’s leadership program recently received a huge boost through a $500,000 gift with intentions of making additional contributions to achieve a $1,000,000 investment over the coming decade. The initial funds will be used to establish an endowed professorship and an unrestricted endowment for excellence. Best of all, the endowments will bear the name of the donor, Georgia A. Callahan ’73, M ’77, whose trailblazing career in government and business began right here in Clemson. The students who benefit from these endowments will not have to look very far to see an exemplary role model of women’s leadership and accomplishment.
When Callahan came to Clemson as a freshman from Millville, New Jersey, little could she have imagined how far her Clemson Experience would take her. A liberal arts degree in English provided the foundation, but it was in the city and regional planning graduate program where Callahan began to thrive. One of her favorite memories of Clemson is the collaborative relationships and friendships she developed with the 13 other students in that program, two of them women. The classroom was open concept, where they each had their own desk and workspace within a large area set up for interaction and collaboration. It instilled the importance of getting along with colleagues, learning from and supporting each other’s work, and the value of relationships. Callahan recalls, “We had full participation in the learning process, and we got to know one another very well. What a great experience!”
Award-winning success in the graduate program led to her first professional job in 1976, only a few blocks away, where she was named the City of Clemson’s first community development director. Two years later, she was accepted into Jimmy Carter’s Presidential Management Intern Program and served as an assistant to the deputy administrator for mobile source enforcement in the recently formed U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. That internship turned into a 12-year career in Washington, D.C., where she progressed through numerous assignments of increasing responsibility at the EPA.
It was an incredible opportunity to work in an organization that had real and significant impact on improving air quality across the nation.Georgia Callahan, who served as an assistant to the deputy administrator for mobile source enforcement in the then-recently formed U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Being part of a newly formed government agency early in her career and working with other young professionals was a stimulating and rewarding experience. It allowed Callahan to again appreciate the value of positive, creative collaborative relationships. She says, “The department was in the early days of implementing requirements under the Clean Air Act of 1970. It was an incredible opportunity to work in an organization that had real and significant impact on improving air quality across the nation.”
In 1990, Callahan joined Texaco as the environmental adviser in corporate planning and economics at their corporate headquarters in White Plains, New York. For the next 10 years, she continued to prove herself through the ranks of legislative and regulatory affairs, eventually becoming general manager of global policy and strategy. In 2000, she was appointed vice president of environment and health at Texaco. Upon Texaco’s merger with Chevron in 2001, Callahan moved to San Ramon, California, to become general manager for environment and climate change of the newly formed company. At the time of the merger, Chevron became the world’s fourth-largest producer of oil and natural gas. Callahan retired from Chevron in 2014.
Throughout her storied career, Callahan earned the respect and recognition of her peers within the oil industry. And in each of her various leadership roles, Callahan made sure that she encouraged other women whenever she could. To this day, numerous women recruited and hired by Callahan are serving in high-level positions at Chevron.
It was only fitting that a trailblazer like Callahan become involved with the transformative women’s leadership program at her alma mater. At the five-year anniversary celebration in 2019, Callahan was among the female executives who shared their experiences with alumna, current students and friends of the program. She encouraged students to be their authentic selves above all else. In her address, Callahan advised, “You have to be who you are.”
And after only eight years of serving students, the women’s leadership program has produced a group of graduates who are proving to be nothing less than authentically spectacular. Their list of accomplishments and fast-track success paths are remarkable, pursuing law degrees at Stanford and Northwestern, a Ph.D. in economics at the University of Virginia, and master’s degrees in public health (Emory University) and higher education (the University of Michigan). Their career journeys include a government consultant at Deloitte, event coordinator at Aetna, account executive at Soliant Health, marketing specialist at Blue Ridge Energy and an account manager for Milwaukee Tool. Students graduating from the program have served in the military, given back through Teach for America and Americorp, and been recognized through major fellowships and academic awards. The program boasts two Truman Scholarship finalists and a Rhodes Scholar finalist.
Program director and professor of philosophy Diane Perpich delights in the success of her students but even more in their passion for changing the world around them for the better. She says, “Working with these extraordinary students and watching them grow intellectually and as leaders is truly inspiring. They learn to approach challenges as opportunities, and their creativity, hard work and appreciation for one another set a powerful example.”
Having Georgia Callahan as a benefactor and mentor has been invaluable for the women’s leadership program. In fact, lessons from Callahan’s experience with program management were important in the development of the program. Perpich uses the analogy of a layer cake. The bottom layer is what you have. The top layer is your ultimate goal. Building the layers in between are the steps it takes to get there. She says, “On her first visit back to Clemson, Georgia encouraged us to dream big but to be practical in outlining the steps it would take to reach our goals. We put her wisdom into practice every time we engage in strategic planning.”
Callahan’s life and career have been full of firsts. She was named the first community development director for the City of Clemson. In the first class of Jimmy Carter’s Presidential Management Intern Program. The first woman to chair the International Petroleum Industry Environmental Conservation Association. She has been one of a few women to sit in many executive meetings in her storied career in the male-dominated oil business. She has paved the way for today’s young women leaders. The lucky students who are part of the first and only women’s leadership degree program in America are following in those esteemed footsteps, with the best personal tour guide imaginable.
A word of advice — don’t get in their way!
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