By Joyce Gannon
Jessie Ramey has taught, researched and written about gender issues for decades. But her new job as director of the Women’s Institute at Chatham University may provide her with the most focused opportunity yet to bring the message of female leadership and gender equality to audiences outside of academia.
“We want strong outreach with the community,” Ms. Ramey, 46, said of the institute, which will launch Saturday with a half-day symposium on the Chatham campus in Shadyside.
More than 30 experts on women’s issues — including equal pay, balancing work and family, health and aging, science and engineering careers for girls, and intimate partner violence — will present snapshots of their work and research, and set the stage for what the institute hopes will be an ongoing conversation about gender.
Chatham last year announced it would establish the institute when it decided to open enrollment in its undergraduate programs to men.
The institute includes two programs that already existed at Chatham — the Center for Women’s Entrepreneurship and the Pennsylvania Center for Women & Politics — along with a new women and health program and the school’s women and gender studies department.
It will offer a certificate in women’s leadership and other programs including mentoring, research sponsorships and an initiative for students pursuing the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and math.
The institute is funded with $8.5 million including endowments, current funds and $2 million in new commitments, Chatham said last year when it reorganized its academic units to include the new institute.
“It’s really a way to gather together under one umbrella the university’s work around gender, gender equity and women,” Ms. Ramey said. “We want to be very thoughtful about pulling together our education programs and research.”
She sees the mission of the institute as gathering research about women from academic and scholarly experts, and making it available to businesses, foundations, government officials, political leaders, students, alumni and donors.
“We want to think strategically about gender equity and how we as scholars can push forward to make change,” she said.
Chatham’s centers for Women’s Entrepreneurship and Women & Politics already do that outreach “by taking evidence and research … and turning it into best practices” that help advance women in the business and political sectors, she said.
Besides running the institute, Ms. Ramey, who started the job as the institute’s first director in June, is an associate professor of women’s and gender studies at Chatham.
“I’m going to be wearing a lot of hats. It’s very ambitious but I’m very excited about being at a place that wants to do this work and talk about it. Frankly, a lot of institutions don’t want to have these conversations.”
Of the experts scheduled to speak at the symposium, about one-third are members of Chatham faculty. The rest are from other schools including the University of Pittsburgh, Robert Morris University, Duquesne University, Carnegie Mellon University and Carlow University.
“What pulls us together is that everyone is a gender scholar,” Ms. Ramey said. “There are few opportunities for scholars to work across disciplines … and come together and learn about each other’s’ work.”