The WLE Program began ten years ago as a response to a challenge. Yale Law School Professor Judith Resnik challenged UM Carey Law Professor Paula Monopoli and other academics to begin programs at American law schools that fostered student understanding of the barriers facing women in the legal profession.
Professor Monopoli took up that challenge, as this video shows. She found a supporter in UM Carey Law alumna Sandy Gohn '79, a partner at DLA Piper and a trustee of the Marjorie Cook Foundation. The Foundation made a $250,000 grant to UM Carey Law to endow the newly created WLE Program, a two-part curricular sequence that fosters both a theoretical understanding of the societal barriers that hinder progress in the profession and that gives students practical skills to overcome individual barriers to success.
Students who are chosen for the program are designated as Rose Zetzer Fellows in honor of the pioneering woman who fought for decades to become the first member of the Maryland State Bar Association. In addition to the Gender and Leadership Seminar in which they are exposed to an interdisciplinary mix of political science, law, social psychology, literature and leadership studies, they are eligible to enroll in the WLE Workshop, an applied class that gives them the skills necessary to overcome individual and systemic barriers to leadership in the profession. UM Carey Law Alumni Board member Maura DeMouy '96 and Board of Visitors member Laura Black '88 are among the alumnae who come back to teach students in the WLE Workshop important skills such as business development.
The students’ grounding in theory and practical skills is supplemented by experiential learning through the optional WLE Practicum in which students may enroll with either a woman leader in the profession, such as Board of Visitors member Joanne Pollak '76, Senior Vice President, General Counsel and Chief of Staff of Johns Hopkins Medicine, or an organization dedicated to women’s policy issues, such as the National Women’s Law Center in Washington, D.C.
The WLE Program will celebrate its 10th anniversary in spring 2013. More than 70 graduates of UM Carey Law have been given the intellectual understanding and practical skills training in communication, personal negotiation, networking, business development, overcoming fear and other leadership skills necessary for them to stay long enough in their workplaces to ascend to leadership positions. Women will not stay where they are not valued. And these skills give our students the ability to communicate what they need to survive, thrive and add value to their organizations.
The experience of Maya Uppaluru, a Rose Zetzer Fellow in spring 2011, illustrates the program’s strengths. Maya noticed that women publish far fewer op-ed pieces in major newspapers than men do. The WLE Program supported her attendance at a workshop designed to correct that imbalance by giving her and the other participants the skills needed to write persuasive op-eds and get them published. During fall 2011, Maya and the other Rose Zetzer fellows attended the annual Network 2000 luncheon, which celebrates Baltimore women in law, business and the professions. Maya met the keynote speaker, Arianna Huffington, contacted her later, and succeeded in having an op-ed on childhood obesity published in The Huffington Post.
Maya Uppaluru is an excellent example of a Rose Zetzer Fellow who used the resources provided to her by the WLE Program to become a change-agent. It is just this kind of leadership development that the program aims to foster for UM Carey Law students. After 10 years, the WLE Program remains the only one of its kind at an American law school and it promises to continue developing future leaders for the next ten years and beyond.