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Learning to FLI: Leadership Program Takes Professional Development to the Next Level

Image of FLI retreat
A group shot of 2017 FLI participants at the annual retreat
Image of FLI retreat
A group shot of 2017 FLI participants at the annual retreat

When women of color join the Fearless Leadership Institute (FLI), they quickly learn that it is unlike any other professional development program on campus. Surrounded by a close-knit community of African American professionals, alumni and students, they learn how to navigate their personal and professional lives with confidence and poise. Whether they’re networking at workshops, meeting with mentors or building leadership skills at weekend retreats, FLI students are learning how to face challenges head-on to maximize their full potential. We caught up with two students and one alumna to learn about their experiences in the institute and the life lessons they learned along the way.

Image of Kastina FishbackWhen Kastina Fishback joined FLI, she was excited to learn from inspiring, successful women of color and forge lifelong friendships with like-minded students of similar backgrounds.

“I decided to join FLI because of the amazing women who founded the organization, Thaïs Moore and Tiffany Tillis,” says Fishback, a corporate finance senior. “I was able to develop a relationship with these women early in my college career and I’m so glad I did. It was so comforting to see women of color on the UT campus who actually took an interest in me and my future.”

Fishback is especially grateful for her network of friends who can understand and appreciate her experiences at a university with a small—yet growing—percentage of African American students.

“I also love hearing testimonies from other young women and learning how they were able to rise above whatever obstacles they faced,” Fishback says. “It definitely makes you realize that you are not alone.”

Now Fishback is ready to wrap up her senior year and get started in her new career as a risk consultant for KPMG in Dallas, Texas. Looking back on her many experiences in FLI—and various other organizations—she is grateful for the many people who helped her prepare for a successful life after college.

Image of Anysha Fortenberry With support from both mentors and community leaders—all inspiring women of color—A’nysha Fortenberry has learned how to lead a successful, well-balanced life. Now she feels more prepared than ever to pursue a challenging career in advertising at a New York firm.

“FLI has provided me with a wide network of accomplished well rounded women of all ages from all backgrounds,” says Fortenberry, a junior in the Moody College of Communication who served as a FLI intern and executive board member. “I been paired with several professional mentors through FLI, and have received continuous guidance from other FLI members as well.”

Another benefit of the program, Fortenberry says, is learning how to be resourceful—a skill that will serve her well into the professional world.

“FLI has given me an extensive amount of resources for academic success through peer mentorship,” says Fortenberry, who is also a member of the University Leadership Network and the Subiendo Academy, Longhorn Chapter.

“By speaking to other FLI ladies I was able to discover the best professors to take, and the best study spots on campus.”

Image of Chelsea Jones While working alongside successful alums, community leaders and fellow students, Chelsea Jones realized the FLI program was preparing her for so much more than the professional world.

“As women, we’re taught to leave our personal self at home for the fear of being seen emotional or inferior to our male counterparts,” says Jones, who graduated from UT Austin in 2015 with a degree in social work. “But because of FLI, I learned a lot about bringing my whole self to work and school and embracing the femininity that
makes me powerful.”

Now a master’s student at Carnegie Mellon University, Jones is a Heinz Graduate Fellow at the National League of Cities in the Race, Equity and Leadership Initiative. Currently she is working with civic leaders to examine and resolve racial inequities in their cities. She attributes much of her success to the inspiring women who
guided her along her undergraduate journey and prepared her for life after college.

“Without these amazing women (and men, Dr. Moore and Dr. Kelly) pouring into my life, I wouldn’t be the person I am today. You were the special family that God gave me to guide me and mold me into who I was to become. Thank you!”