Southern Women

Initiative to Empower Future Alumnae

Southern Women Leadership Institute Team: (Back row L-R) Kathy Jenkins (’88), Laney Claxton (’87), Kate Channell (’01, ’03), Tina Ralston (’93)
(Front Row L-R) Andrea Turner (’93), Kelley Chester (’93, ’07, ’10), Ruth Whitworth (’11), Samantha Grovenstein-Deal (’05)

The Southern Women Alumni initiative was started in 2006 and now provides a forum for women of Georgia Southern and Armstrong to connect with one another for personal and professional growth. The group’s objective is to encourage interest and participation by all alumnae in the programs of the University and the Georgia Southern Alumni Association.

After nine years of successful Southern Women social and community outreach events in multiple cities, the Southern Women Advisory Board still wanted to do more. They decided to mentor, support and encourage young women.

Kelley Chester (’93, ’07, ’10), who earned her undergraduate, master’s and doctoral degrees in public health at Georgia Southern remembers how the idea for the Southern Women Leadership Institute was born.

“I was president of the Alumni Association Board of Directors at the time and we wanted to give back to the students more than just through our Southern Women scholarship initiatives which we started in 2014,” she explains. “We knew that the best way to accomplish this was to help women and empower them to be leaders in their fields. Not to just work in their fields, but to become the leaders. And the best way to do that is to bring in successful alumni to talk to them and to teach them these things.”

Chester adds, “Growing up I only had men as mentors and there should have been women there helping me to move along my path. We needed to change that. We are all strong women, doing well in our fields. You can be a teacher, a nurse, a stay at home mom… you just have to step out there and lead. Lead by example.”

As a result, the group established the Southern Women Leadership Institute (SWLI) in 2015. SWLI is open to all junior and senior female students. A series of leadership workshops are held on all three campuses and they bring undergraduate women together for an opportunity to hear from other women, as well as have their résumés reviewed, participate in mock employment interviews and receive a professional headshot to use for employment purposes.

Interview session during the Southern Women Leadership Institute on the Statesboro Campus April 6.
Interview session during the Southern Women Leadership Institute.

Southern Women member Samantha Grovenstein-Deal (’05) says, “My goal is to help these women understand why it’s important to give back. I believe that unless you start cultivating a culture of giving when people are younger and you teach them to make it a priority when they are younger, then it becomes harder the older people get. We need to demonstrate to them what giving is,   and not just to give money, but their time. If we want young women to give back to other young women then we need to be giving back to them.”

Laney Claxton (’87), an original member of Southern Women, says SWLI is evolving and growing as they continue to search for what appeals to these younger ladies and what to offer them during their time together.

The SWLI has been an emotional experience for some students. Grovenstein-Deal says, “We talk to them about how it’s okay to be a woman and that it’s okay to feel certain ways. We tell them to embrace being a woman.”

Jennifer Banks graduated in 2007 and is a quality compliance audit manager at Delta Air Lines. During a leadership conference she delivered a presentation on “Knowing Your Value”. Chester says that after that SWLI speaking session she overheard a student who was leaving say that she was more valuable than she thought. “We are showing these girls that they are valuable,” Chester added.

SWLI volunteers are making connections and nurturing their friendships with one another because of their service. They look forward to each new SWLI and to interacting with the new younger Southern Women they will establish relationships with and make an impact. Chester sums up her Southern Women experience by saying, “Georgia Southern has given me more than I can ever give back. I met my whole life here. Before Georgia Southern, I don’t really remember very much.”

To find out how you can GET INVOLVED in Southern Women/ SWLI or to make a gift to support the Southern Women Scholarships, visit or call 912-478-2000.