Mendoza School of Business

Elevate, Develop, Empower.

Notre Dame business program helps women take the next step in their leadership development.

Published: February 14, 2023 / Author: Carol Elliott


i stand
on the sacrifices
of a million women before me
what can i do
to make this mountain taller
so the women after me
can see farther
~ Legacy by Rupi Kaur


It’s a simple poem with an evocative message about the sacrifices that women have made throughout time to improve the lives of the women who follow.

speaking at podium

Kristen Collett-Schmitt

For Kristen Collett-Schmitt, who keeps a framed copy of “Legacy” in her office, it’s also a personal reminder of the women who supported her in her academic career and in turn, of the responsibility to help the women around her.

Collett-Schmitt is the associate dean of diversity and innovation and a teaching professor of finance at the University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business. A longtime advocate of gender equity in the workplace and higher education, she recently oversaw the launch of ND Elevate: Women in Leadership, a pilot program directly aimed at empowering women to take the next step in their professional journey by developing knowledge and skills relating to resilience, negotiation, presence and authenticity, while also recognizing intersectionality.

“This program signals that Mendoza and Notre Dame recognize women as leaders and are willing to invest more to give them opportunities to express those leadership skills or to find their own voices,” said Collett-Schmitt. “It also reflects just how strong our community of women is because we’ve created an entire program to empower other women leveraging only Notre Dame talent.”

ND Elevate provides online learning modules and culminates with a full-day immersion with sessions led by Collett-Schmitt along with some of the University’s foremost women leaders and scholars, all of whom have longtime experience leading and working with diversity and gender equity initiatives: former women’s basketball coach Muffet McGraw, legendary basketball player Ruth Riley Hunter (EMBA ’16), former Mendoza dean Carolyn Woo, management professor and researcher Cindy Muir (Zapata), management teaching professor Jessica McManus Warnell, management teaching professor Angela Logan and Amanda McKendree, director of the Fanning Center for Business Communication and management teaching professor. Student intern Lauren Tarnoff, who is studying digital marketing and visual communication design, joined the initiative to assist in developing content, marketing materials and the ND Elevate logo.

participants at desksThe program launched in September 2022 in partnership with ND Learning, the University hub devoted to learning excellence and innovation. ND Learning houses the Office of Digital Learning (ODL), which is the core provider of custom-made online and digital learning experiences at Notre Dame.

“ND Learning shares a deep commitment to inclusivity with Professor Collett-Schmitt, said Salonee Seecharan, learning initiative program manager. “We were excited to develop this learning experience that helps to  empower women professionally and personally.”

Beacon Health System, a locally owned, not-for-profit health system, also partnered as a participant in the pilot. Beacon Health was a logical choice to participate in the pilot, said Collett-Schmitt, since the organization had been working on its own diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiative specifically for women.

The program was offered to women at all different levels of experience and jobs, ranging from doctors and nurses to office and operational staff. Some had been with Beacon Health for more than 20 years and others were just starting their careers. Sixteen women signed up.

The idea for ND Elevate originally grew out of a conversation about sports. Specifically, it was a conversation between Collett-Schmitt and Riley Hunter about the possibility of starting a degree program in sports management at Mendoza. Riley Hunter, who had a long and illustrious career as a college, professional and Olympic basketball player, came back with a different idea.

Pointing to the dearth of professional development opportunities for women when they retire from athletic careers, Riley Hunter suggested creating a program to provide business education to women to elevate and empower them to take on greater leadership roles. She soon brought McGraw — a longtime vocal advocate for the need to support and develop women as leaders — on board.

The program took shape when the University announced a new initiative in 2021 called Moment to See, Courage to Act — a grant program emanating from the COVID-19 pandemic that called on Notre Dame faculty to reflect on the unprecedented challenges of the disruption and to chart new and ambitious plans for the future as a result.


Angela Logan

Collett-Schmitt’s collaboration with Riley and McGraw expanded to include Logan, who has worked extensively with diversity initiatives in the College and the broader community, and Mendoza management professor and former ND athlete Chris Stevens. Their proposal, titled “For Women, By Women: Notre Dame’s Female Empowerment Program,” outlined a professional development program for women with a focus on topics that get women promoted into the C-suite, such as building strategic leadership skills, managing biases in the workplace and communicating assertively.

“For Women, By Women” ultimately launched in fall 2022 as the pilot program ND Elevate: Women in Leadership. The pilot featured four online modules focused on topics related to empowerment and one daylong immersion on campus. Each module began with an introductory video featuring Collett-Schmitt followed by a guest lecture or expert interview with one of the women leaders, who also presented during the daylong immersion.  Importantly, the program would rely on Notre Dame faculty,staff and alumni, and to the greatest extent possible, Notre Dame women.

The modules included:

  • Common Challenges in the Workplace covered areas that tend to hold women back from successfully reaching leadership roles, such as work/life balance, communication, the incentive system and what is commonly known as the “imposter syndrome”—a psychological phenomenon that leads women to doubt their skills, talents or accomplishments and constantly fear exposure as a fraud.
  • The Authentic Self delved more deeply into the imposter syndrome. The module presented ways to identify signs of the syndrome as well as strategies to mitigate its effects. The speakers also discussed how the individual can identity her value system and examine its impact on her professional life.
  • Navigating the Workplace explored the history and impact of the gender pay gap and other disparities in the workplace. The module identified strategies to effectively negotiate equity, to recognize the ways in which gender impacts workplace interactions, and to identify effective communication strategies to mitigate gender inequality.
  • Women in Leadership presented some common leadership styles and frameworks, and particularly helped the participants to develop a personalized vision for leadership by identifying admirable and effective traits.

participants speakingAfter each module, the participants completed an activity related to the topic such as writing a journal entry on their own experiences or creating a timeline of the history of women in the workplace. They were also encouraged to post work from these activities on LinkedIn, as an outward-facing expression of their skills, value system and leadership.

During the daylong immersion on November 7 in Mendoza’s Stayer Center, the Beacon Health participants were matched with a Notre Dame mentor for a workshop discussing the challenges encountered on the job and possible ways to negotiate them. The day also included conversations led by Woo, Logan and McGraw, as well as a negotiations workshop led by Muir and an executive presence workshop led by McKendree.

After the ND Elevates pilot wrapped up after the immersion, Collett-Schmitt surveyed the Beacon Health Systems participants about the experience. The results were resoundingly positive, including:

  • 100% of the participants said they would recommend the program to a colleague or friend.
  • 90% of participants responded favorably to questions regarding their confidence and capability in taking the next steps in their professional journey.
  • 90% of participants responded favorably to questions regarding their ability to develop a leadership style and vision.

participants talkingMendoza and Notre Dame are currently considering future offerings of the program, including making the individual modules available to women across Notre Dame.

“This program was a great opportunity for me as an early-careerist in a new leadership role. The women leading the program are very supportive of each other and highlighted each other’s successes throughout the immersion,” said Huda Syed, administrative fellow at Beacon Health.

“The whole experience with the online modules, mentor conversation and immersion on-campus was enlightening and educational,” Syed added. “The group exercises provided takeaways that I can use in my career as a leader. The exercises provided an opportunity for different stakeholders from across Beacon Health to come together and participate in various exercises.

Collett-Schmitt herself also came away with a legacy of the program. Coach McGraw, who has literally written a book on women in leadership called Expect More! Dare to Stand Up and Stand Out, attended the executive presence workshop during the immersion. Collett-Schmitt realized with some surprise that McGraw was taking notes.

“To see that from a woman with such a presence who so many people respect reminded me that we are never finished learning in this way,” she said. “Everyone can benefit from empowerment and support and growing their network.”