UConn’s Bold Program Turns Women Students into Leaders

'The confidence that these young women gain in two short years is remarkable'

Recent graduates from UConn's the BOLD Leadership Network posing for a photo

(Photo courtesy Roger Castonguay)

In just five years, the BOLD Leadership Network at UConn already has helped 46 women students develop into dynamic leaders and launch impactful careers.

The program uses a combination of mentoring, networking, scholarship funds, peer support, and the experience of running their own service project to give students the confidence and career skills to develop into leaders.

Recent graduate Brianna Chance ’22 (SFA), of New Haven, for example, produced a documentary series on homelessness and housing insecurity in college for her BOLD project. Chance, who was homeless herself in high school, interviewed five current UConn students and alumnae for the project.

Photo of Brianna Chance
(Photo courtesy of Jenna Nicole Liseo)

“This project really forced me to step up to the plate,” Chance says. “It tested my leadership skills because I was making all the shots. I was paying people and I was hiring people. I’ve never done that before. I didn’t know what it felt like to literally be someone’s boss.”

Students selected for the competitive two-year program start in their junior year. They attend monthly meetings, work with a mentor, and develop a project for “social good” that they lead during the summer between their junior and senior years.

“I got to meet so many different people with so many different projects that they were passionate about,” Chance says. “It was so cool to meet these really strong women in research. Everybody’s doing something and everybody’s project is making a difference and that inspired me.”

Sally Reis, Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor of Educational Psychology, who is faculty leader of BOLD at UConn, agrees.

“The confidence that these young women gain in two short years is remarkable,” she says. “Part of it is from the monthly meetings, the financial support to complete a self-selected leadership project, and, collectively, all these new experiences with leadership.”

Chance not only created the documentary series, but she also started a student organization at UConn called Creating Caring Communities. The group supports the emotional needs of students who have been through housing insecurity, homelessness, domestic violence, and food insecurity.

Chance says the BOLD experience also prompted her to rethink her career plans. She originally planned to become a music teacher. But her BOLD experience, including processing and sharing the trauma of being homeless, made her realize that she wants to become a school guidance counselor.

There are many similar stories of the transformative power of the BOLD program. One of UConn’s first BOLD scholars, Valeria Popolizio Torres ’20 (CLAS) of Manchester, conducted a needs analysis at Manchester High School for her service project. Her objective: determine how to increase the skills and support of Latinx students who apply to college so they can succeed once they get there.

She went on to complete a year-long, business and development fellowship with the Fuller Project for International Reporting in Washington, D.C., as part of the BOLD program. She now works for the DC Office of the Student Advocate creating school programs and resources for immigrant and Spanish-speaking families.

The BOLD Women’s Leadership Network is generously funded by the Helen Gurley Brown Foundation, which has given UConn a total of $4.2 million to date. The BOLD program honors legendary Cosmopolitan Magazine editor-in-chief, Helen Gurley Brown.

But it’s that focused, intense drive to succeed, do good work, and change the world in a good way that we hope to find.

“We look for students who are passionate about wanting to be leaders and wanting to act on ideas,” Reis explains. “Some are very outgoing, some are quiet. But it’s that focused, intense drive to succeed, do good work, and change the world in a good way that we hope to find.”

The financial support BOLD provides gives students the gift of time to spend pursuing their passion rather than having to, for example, work at a job to support themselves at college, says Liza Boritz, director of Student Affairs Planning, Assessment, and Evaluation and former BOLD program director.

“They get this tremendous opportunity to engage in work that they would not have had the opportunity to engage in otherwise with the support of the office of undergraduate research staff, the project mentors that work with them, and the BOLD advisory board that works with students,” Boritz says. “It’s providing these young women the resources they need so they can be leaders in their field, whatever that field is.”