Natasha Begin was born and raised in a small town in Maine, where she saw the value that women bring to a community. At Saint Anselm College in New Hampshire, a small private Catholic liberal arts school where she earned her bachelor’s degree in Sociology, she found strong female mentors who helped her define her values and vocation. And at Lewis and Clark Graduate School in Portland, Ore., where she received a master’s in Education for School Counseling, she began working with young women who were passionate and driven. She brought all of those experiences with her to Bellarmine in August 2016 when she joined the Student Affairs team as Director of Service & Leadership, where one of her responsibilities is the annual Women in Leadership Conference in March. But she also helps to develop meaningful community engagement and leadership opportunities for all students. “At Bellarmine, each of our students should graduate having the skills and confidence to step into their communities and lead positive change,” she says. “It’s my role to help prepare them for that.” She and her partner just bought a house in Louisville and enjoy spending time with their two dogs in their free time. She took a few extra minutes to answer our questions.
Why is it important for students to participate in community service?
Intentional community engagement can allow us to see the complexities of issues, to fully appreciate the interconnected nature of our world and to offer us unique perspectives outside of our own. As students coming out of a liberal arts experience, our students have the ability to view situations and issues through multiple disciplines and hopefully the ability to communicate effectively with a diverse range of stakeholders to work together toward a common goal. By engaging in community, our students are offered the opportunity to begin trying on these skills. An example of this is our Compassion to Action initiative in partnership with the residence halls that provides the hall community the ability to connect with a local nonprofit, learn about their work and contribute to their work through volunteering.
What is the goal of the Women in Leadership Conference?
The goal is to allow the participants time to explore the conference theme, to help develop networking skills with young alumnae and to provide opportunities for participants to grow in their leadership skills. This year’s conference theme was “Navigating the Space Between.” Often, we hold up leaders in high esteem once they have completed a great feat—but our students are not provided the full story of the path those leaders took to get to their moment of success. For instance, most people know Rosa Parks as the woman who refused to give up her seat on the bus and became a heroine of the civil-rights era. Few know that prior to that moment, Ms. Parks was an active member of multiple organizations, that she studied social issues and that she worked within her community for years trying to promote positive change. Without the full story, our students aren’t able to understand how leaders develop their skills, what roadblocks they encounter or what resources are available to them.
What are some of the roadblocks facing women who seek leadership roles?
What we hear our young women say most often is that they lack the roadmap to leadership. Our goal with the conference and through additional opportunities is to increase their skill sets, develop their confidence and provide the resources for them to chart their path.
How can young women overcome these challenges?
I believe we must be resilient in the pursuit of our own hopes and goals and that we must find champions who are willing to support and challenge us when we need it. Furthermore, we must be willing to be champions for one another. A group of five conference participants are now assisting me in developing a women’s retreat in the fall that is focused on solidarity and goal setting. This is a direct result of conversations that began at the conference. We encourage our young women to connect with mentors and those who have gone before them so that they can learn from the wisdom that exists.
Is that why the Bellarmine Women’s Council got involved with the conference this year?
We were excited to invite Bellarmine’s Women’s Council to join us. Several students noted that they appreciated having the Women’s Council and Young Alumnae participate—their wisdom and support meant a great deal. One Women’s Council member brought cookies to a young woman she connected with and invited her to remain in contact. This support means everything to women who are beginning to embark on their own leadership journeys.
What’s something about you that would surprise people?
I served in the Army as a truck driver for six years! It somehow doesn’t quite match my personality.
By Carla Carlton | firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo by Jessica Ebelhar