Five years ago, Clemson University launched the nation’s only undergraduate major in Women’s Leadership.
The program marked its milestone with guest speakers and gatherings during October.
Barbara Humpton, the CEO of Siemens USA, addressed a full auditorium during a public talk on Oct. 11 at the Watt Family Innovation Center.
On Oct. 25, Georgia Callahan, a retired senior vice president at Chevron, spoke at the Madren Center during a special outdoor luncheon for students, alumnae, faculty and friends of the program.
Both speakers gave their audiences advice and wisdom gleaned from successful careers that spanned decades.
Humpton urged young women to follow their sense of purpose, to find their own paths, and to “speak up and be brave.”
Callahan emphasized that “you have to be who you are.” If you are one kind of person and have to be someone else at work, she said, “You’ll be one stressed-out person.”
The Women’s Leadership degree program began with one student in 2014, and in just five years has grown to 50 students completing majors, in addition to other Clemson students taking minors.
“The students are the lifeblood of this program. Its achievements are their achievements,” said Diane Perpich, the director of the Women’s Leadership program in the College of Architecture, Arts and Humanities.
“We are so proud of all that our alumnae and current students are doing to lead change in their communities and at Clemson,” she said.
While many top universities offer majors in Women and Gender Studies, Clemson designed its degree to be distinctive. The interdisciplinary B.A. program is focused on the study of women’s lives and achievements. Students develop both theoretical and practical understandings of leadership through their coursework, which includes a senior seminar, and also a required internship.
Women’s Leadership also emphasizes global engagement and addressing grand social challenges. During spring break in 2019, a study abroad trip to India put these Clemson students to work with the Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), an organization of poor women who earn their living through their own labor or business.
The Women’s Leadership program not only develops potential in its students, it also attracts exceptional young women to Clemson.
“This amazing Women’s Leadership major is what drew me to Clemson,” Katy Bortz told the anniversary luncheon crowd.
The first-year student from Richmond, Virginia, is one of the University’s 2019 National Scholars. The 10 scholars were selected from a field of 1600 applicants. They not only receive full scholarships to attend Clemson, but also are given extra academic and mentorship opportunities and a fully funded study abroad experience.
Over the short history of the Women’s Leadership program, its students have served as student senators, the undergraduate student body president and in leadership roles in campus organizations, including Sister 2 Sister, It’s On Us, the CU Chapter of the Southern Poverty Law Center and Paw Pantry.
They have won major awards in the College of Architecture, Arts and Humanities, including the Blue Key Award and the Chase Huntley Award for Diversity and Inclusion. At the University level, they have won the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award, Thea McCrary Award and Duckenfield Scholar Award. And on a national scale, honors have included two Truman Scholar finalists, a Truman Scholar and a Rhodes Scholar finalist.
Women’s Leadership students have completed internships with corporations, nonprofits, the South Carolina Supreme Court, a U.S. congressman, a U.S. senator and the United Nations.
More than a third of the program’s alumnae returned to campus for fifth anniversary festivities in October, including an informal lunch where they spent time with current students and shared tips about life beyond college and finding a first job. “They came from as far away as California, Massachusetts, and New Jersey to attend the event and reconnect with professors and classmates,” Perpich said.
A new face in leadership
When Barbara Humpton spoke at Clemson, Perpich introduced her as “a truly remarkable woman and CEO.”
Humpton is a charismatic leader who radiates warmth, enthusiasm and experience, frequently punctuating her sentences with a broad smile.
She has served as CEO of Siemens USA since June of 2018, where she leads more than 50,000 employees and operations that produce more than $23 billion in annual revenue. At various points during her rise, Humpton was told she smiled too much, she was too nice and that the highest corporate roles were not meant for someone like her.
Yet Humpton never would have become a CEO if she allowed others to impose their limits on her aspirations and achievements.
“The worst day of your career doesn’t have to be the worst day of your life,” she said. “It’s amazing what can happen with those twists and turns in the road.”
Humpton graduated from Wake Forest University with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics. She went to work for IBM, where she was involved in pioneering projects such as GPS and rapid DNA analysis.
She is married and has two children.
Before joining Siemens in 2011, Humpton served as a vice president at Lockheed Martin and at Booz Allen Hamilton.
Humpton still loves her work at “the intersection of technology and purpose.”
English, environment and advice
Georgia Callahan attended the anniversary luncheon as a speaker, but also as a Clemson alumna. In the 1970s, she earned a B.A. in English and later a Master of City and Regional Planning.
“I’m very grateful for the education that I got here, because it allowed me to have a really terrific 38-year career,” she said.
Callahan has been a longtime supporter of Women’s Leadership at Clemson, even before it was a degree-granting program. She offered professional guidance and inspiration that helped faculty and students establish and develop the program.
Callahan first worked for the City of Clemson and later for the Environmental Protection Agency, Texaco and then Chevron before retiring five years ago. Her executive roles at the energy corporations focused on the environment and climate change.
Some of her advice followed classic themes: Be prepared, learn from your mistakes, do what you say you will and treat people how you would want to be treated.
Callahan also shared a bit of modern advice: “If you get an email that just sets your hair on fire, look at that email, read it, shut it down, go to bed, and get up the next morning and read that email. I will promise you it does not look as terrible as it did the first time you read it.”
Leadership, Callahan said, “is all those things that you learn. But it’s really up to you; it’s up to you as an individual to determine how you want to be a leader and what are the things that are important to you.”
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