Take a group of women with varying degrees of PSU connection, have them share an invigorating outdoor adventure or two, and encourage bonding and networking around a worthwhile cause. That’s been the winning formula behind the Women’s Leadership Summit’s (WLS) growth and popularity since its founding in 2015.
The WLS empowers women by challenging them to test their physical, mental, and social comfort zones while embracing the natural landscape, and the group gives back to both Plymouth State and the greater Plymouth community while fostering friendships and connections built on trust, strength, and support. It welcomes all comers to join its activities, which have ranged from summer rock climbing and mountain biking to winter snowshoeing and Nordic skiing. Less physically demanding pursuits, such as scavenger hunts, encourage participants of all athletic abilities to join in the fun.
“We have three goals for these events,” says Assistant Director of Athletics Lauren Lavigne ’94, ’96G, who has been intimately involved with the group since its inception. “We want women to be able to network, and for those who are alumni to have an opportunity to come back to campus. Overall, we’re creating an atmosphere where we’re talking about philanthropy and specifically helping another woman in pursuit of her degree.
“What makes the WLS group unique are the friendships that we forge,” says Lavigne. “It’s that common bond that you share when you’re in the outdoors. We have graduates from 2019 making friends with graduates from 1982.” Non-alumni are also welcome, including family, friends, and members of the community.
From March 13 to 15, the group gathered at the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Joe Dodge Lodge. The rustic and historic structure is in the heart of Pinkham Notch, surrounded by the spectacular peaks and valleys of the White Mountain National Forest. After Friday’s dinner and orientation, the adventure began in earnest with Saturday’s snowshoe clinic and hike, including lunch on the trail. Sunday’s schedule included a Nordic ski tour or another snowshoe hike, and the outdoor activities were bracketed by plenty of indoor opportunities to meet, eat, make new friends, and learn about helping others.
Other upcoming WLS events include the group’s signature event, a summer summit weekend of activities and presentations planned for July 25–26.
The events raise funds for the Women’s Circle of Giving, which advances and mentors Plymouth State University women. The group initiated the Women’s Circle of Giving Annual Scholarship Fund in 2018, providing $1,000 annually to a nontraditional female student (22 years of age or older) in good academic standing with financial needs.
“The scholarship made financial worries smaller and made room for a more enjoyable year as a result,” says Sarah Paltrineri ’21, this year’s recipient. Paltrineri is majoring in elementary education with a minor in biology, and wants to be a middle school science teacher. She says, “The Women’s Circle of Giving scholarship warmly welcomed me to the community, for which I am grateful.”
The camaraderie engendered by the various events has spurred commitment to helping other women. A generous outpouring of support enabled the WLS to raise over $15,000 toward scholarships last year, and the current goal is an ambitious target of $25,000.
The fifth anniversary summer summit is planned to take place at Loon Mountain this year, where the WLS hopes to announce the topping of a major financial peak—the endowment of the Women’s Leadership Summit Scholarship. Other highlights will include gondola rides, hiking and biking, and a keynote presentation by Jen Maceda, CEO of She’s Local conferences.
“Our objective is to bring together alumnae, students, and members of the public who strive to make a difference in their communities,” says Lavigne. “We’re building that greater Plymouth State community, lifting up young women in pursuit of their degrees and, in the process, making new friendships and great memories.”