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This article originally appeared in the Bentley Magazine.
Thanks to a generous $1.125 million gift to Bentley, undergraduate women will be able to prepare for some of the toughest issues facing them in the workplace. Parent donors Pam and Jack Cumming have earmarked their support for pioneering programs to develop leadership skills in young women.
“The gift was driven by our passion to give young women the tools to compete on a level playing field with men,” explains Mr. Cumming, whose daughter is a sophomore and son enters Bentley in fall 2010. “We want to give women the chance to break the glass ceiling. It’s about surviving and prospering in the old boys’ club, without having to surrender one’s moral compass or professionalism.”
Taking the Initiative
Much of the funding is allocated to create innovative solutions and leadership programs for female undergraduates. The effort spans topics such as developing the confidence to take risks and champion ideas; balancing all aspects of personal and professional life; and increasing women’s presence as executive officers and corporate directors. Programs targeted toward male students are intended to promote deeper understanding and support for the development of women as peers and leaders.
“We want to help students confront these issues with self-confidence,” notes Gloria Cordes Larson, herself a trailblazer as the first female president of Bentley. “The preparation will enable students to be leaders in addressing the vexing problems that face society and business.”
A steering committee that includes Gloria Larson and Pam Cumming will harvest ideas from the Bentley community. Initiatives are expected to unfold in service–learning, residence life and other co-curricular areas, as well as through activities with student organizations and intercollegiate athletics.
Academic Affairs will help identify compelling curricular components in women’s leadership education -- philanthropy and service, for example – as well as strategies to attract promising female applicants to the undergraduate program. The gift from the Cumming family also will fund incentives such as scholarships.
“As this gift shows, philanthropy is a tremendous tool for addressing social problems, changing the world, and making a difference,” says John Mosser, vice president for university advancement. “We want our students to learn about the impact their philanthropy can have on issues that matter to them.”
The initiative takes aim at a void in higher education and in corporate America. “Our expectation is that this experience will be transformative and position Bentley to offer guidance to businesses and other universities,” notes John Sims, leadership gifts officer.
Propelling a Vision
A number of people at Bentley collaborated with Jack and Pam Cumming to propel their vision. For example, Gibbons Professor of Finance Roy (Chip) Wiggins worked with the family last year in helping to fund the establishment of a microfinance organization whose clients include underserved women.
Over the years, the couple has supported many initiatives to empower young women. These include launching a Distinguished Women in International Affairs series at George Washington University, where their eldest daughter is a senior.
“In a world that is still very much male-dominated, women need to use everything they have to succeed,” says Pam Cumming. “We need to provide tools that will work for them in the professional world, and we need to start early.”
That same passion infuses the couple’s professional life. Both are executives at Hologic Inc., a leading company focused on women’s health care needs. He serves as chairman; she, as vice president for marketing.
“The philanthropic support that Mr. and Mrs. Cumming are providing to Bentley is a natural extension of the difference they’re committed to making in the world,” observes Mosser. “Their example is truly inspiring.”
Bentley University’s Co-Provost and Dean of Arts and Sciences Daniel Everett talked with us recently about a wide range of topics, including being featured in a new book by Tom Wolfe, two of his own upcoming books, the importance of studying the origins of language, and the value of a fusion approach to business education.