Have you ever thought about being a part of a community where you are safe in sharing and discussing your concerns and problems? Two senior LCC students from Ukraine have helped establish this type of community. Yana Ustymenko and Viktoriia Shvaher lead the Lean In Club - a group of female leaders who value having quality education and support others in their growth and potential. They are passionate about knowledge, speaking up, and discussing the external and internal issues a female might face on the way to becoming a leader.
Hello ladies! Let’s start by introducing yourself. How did your LCC story begin?
Yana: My name is Yana. I am a Contemporary Communication major. I found out about our university from Yulia Rusianovska who is now a graduate of LCC. She was previously a FLEX student, had a blog, and wrote down her educational experience here at LCC. I was reading it and I liked how she described the institution, and when I checked it out, I found there was a major that suited me ... and now I'm a senior here at LCC!
Viktoriia: Hi, I am Victoria and I am studying International Relations and Development here at LCC. After being in the US for the FLEX program and returning to Ukraine, I was looking for institutions somewhere in Europe, close to Ukraine, but with the North American educational system. One day, I just came across LCC on social media and gave it a try!
Apart from course studies, both of you are actively involved in the life of the LCC community. Could you share some ongoing projects or positions that you are holding?
Yana: Well, here at LCC this year, I am a student leader in the First Year Seminar (FYS) class. I'm working with Leila from Financial Services and with 15 amazing students from nine different countries! Leila is my FYS Instructor I am working with, so we are working together to help LCC’s freshmen get acquainted with university life here at LCC.
Viktoriia: Last year, I was an FYS leader as well. It was an unforgettable experience! Currently, I'm mainly involved with the Lean In Club, and Tedx LCC University as a speaker. I am a FLEX alumni representative, coordinating FLEX graduates who are studying at LCC and helping them be more engaged, not only in the LCC community but in the FLEX project too.
Let’s talk more about the Lean In Club. What is it and how has the idea brought you together?
Viktoriia: Lean In was founded two years ago by LCC graduates, Yulia Rusianovska, Arilda Lleshi, Gabrielė Siriūnaitė, Vita Klimaitė. The main ideas that are covered in the club are woman empowerment, female leadership, and possible obstacles for modern women. It started as a book club discussing the book, “Lean In.” This is where our club name comes from. It is our third year having this club at LCC International University and it has developed it into something bigger than a simple book discussion. We have added an educational aspect and even started a scholarship program! The idea is that we raise the funds to fully cover tuition fees for one female student each year. This is an official scholarship, signed by LCC President, Marlene Wall. Currently, we are in the process of finding donors along with other opportunities to make this scholarship available!
Yana: Viktorija mentioned that we are working on the educational part of our club. It is going to be divided into two focuses: international relations and global awareness, and on art and contemporary communication. We plan to have a total of six lectures this year, with talks covering topics such as abortions and women’s rights, sexism in commercials, and feminism in contemporary art. Additionally, we will have two special topics, which will be outside of those two focuses.
Sometimes it is hard to be in charge of clubs like this. What is your motivation to keep going? Do you have any mentors or people who inspire you?
Yana: Personally, this year I feel very lucky! I'm a senior, I'm writing my thesis and I have my studies, but besides that I have my internship and a few other projects I'm working on. I feel inspired and motivated because of the people I'm around. Specifically, a mentor for me is Hailey Altena, our LCC Student Success Center Coordinator. Hailey is helping me a lot. Also, it’s so helpful being around Leila, my FYS instructor, my thesis advisor, the supervisor of my internship, and of course, my friends! I think they all help me to keep balance in my responsibilities and to just keep going forward. I'm very grateful for all of them!
Viktoriia: All responsibilities that I have are on the top of my priority list, so I don't take on anything that I don't believe in or don't want to do. This is where my main motivation comes from. I know why I'm doing this and I know that this is important. I feel my actions can make a big impact. This keeps me working, no matter what.
What are the values of LCC Lean In Club? What idea united the female students here at LCC from different years and majors to come together?
Viktoriia: Our main idea was to create a safe space where girls can come with any problem or issue that they want to talk about and discuss and get the opinions of other people. We are creating a community where people are not afraid to share their different worldviews and
discuss some controversial topics. We believe that the truth can be found only in open discussions.
Yana: I think that the results of building this type of community are quite visible. For example, this year at our kick-off party, around 70% of the girls attending had been with us since the very beginning of the club. Of course, there were some new people that joined us for the event but the majority of girls have been involved in the club activities since its creation. I feel what differentiates us from many other clubs is our members are involved because they see the value of what we are doing and they want to help make change happen.
Congratulations on your first Lean In the event this academic year! How was it? What are your next steps?
Viktoriia: We just hosted our kickoff party last week. We held our event in town at Kulturos Fabrikas because we thought that it would be nice to take the girls off campus. We enjoyed this time so much with the 22 people who came. At this meeting, we looked over our club history, discussed projects that have already been done, and shared some ideas for this year’s activities. We made introductions and gave explanations so the new people would have an understanding of where this club is going. We also asked and discussed why they want to participate in this club and who inspires them.
Yana: At the event we announced that we were looking for additional people to join the team of organizers. We have now selected our candidates, and have four amazing girls joining us already!
Viktoriia: Yana and I are seniors, so we are considering who will continue this legacy after us. These girls will work with us this year and gain understanding how it works, so they will be experienced and take care of the club next year.
Can anyone become a part of Lean In Club? Do you have any selection process?
Yana: For the team of organizers, we have a selection process because it is hard work and a lot of responsibility, we want to have a team of people who come from different backgrounds and who are willing to contribute their time and energy to work on the project. It is not simply about organizing the club, but to get to know each other and to work together learning how to build the workflow effectively. However, for the general meetings there are no requirements. Everyone can join, and we welcome everyone as we want more people to be involved in the club activities and discussions.
Viktoriia: We are not exclusive!
Who do your meetings look like? What are the main topics or issues that are being discussed within LCC Lean In Club?
Viktoriia: We're changing the format a little bit. Last year it was mostly discussions, and this year we decided to bring in this educational aspect. Within the club meeting, we will offer useful background information on the topic of the day, to gain an understanding and then discuss it together.
Yana: Basically, it was discussion-based meetings last two years, occasionally we had guest lectures or panel discussions. We had one topic discussion on relationships and the role of men and women within the family. We had our LCC staff and faculty members as speakers for that discussion. It was amazing!
After your graduation, do you plan to continue to commit to the Lean In Club and the community?
Viktoriia: Well, we hope to be a part of it still somehow and if the club would need us for advice or help, we would be happy to lend a hand. We have put a lot of work and effort and even our souls into this, so it won’t be easy to just let it go. We want to make sure that it goes smoothly after us and it keeps blooming as more people continue to join the club.
Yana: I feel like it's the same way as with LCC and FLEX or any other organizations, though you physically leave, you know you are always still a part of it.
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