When Chelsea Jones discovered the Fearless Leadership Institute, she jumped at the opportunity to expand her professional network and learn from accomplished African American women. After joining the leadership program, she soon realized it was preparing her for so much more than the workforce.
“Many programs provide you with a mentor to help you progress and other programs provide you with a community to grow with,” says Jones, who graduated from UT Austin in 2015 with a degree in social work. “FLI, however, does both. It puts you with women who you can aspire to be like, who are open and honest about what it takes, and who are invested in you personally—as more than just a number.”
While working alongside successful alums, community leaders and fellow students, Jones learned valuable lessons about personal and professional growth.
“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,” Jones says. “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.”
One of her most memorable experiences happened at a retreat, where she and her close-knit community of FLI students spent a weekend building leadership skills and reflecting on their future aspirations.
“I remember listening to a session on goal setting,” Jones recalls. “Little did I know, the presenter faced similar reproductive health challenges as me,” she recalls. “When she spoke about using those challenges to fuel and guide her in her professional career, I almost fell to tears.”
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.
“I’d like to give a special thank you again to Tiffany, Thais, Dr. Bumphus and all of the DDCE family members who made my college career successful,” says Jones, who is finishing her master’s degree in the Public Policy and Management program. She found her path to graduate school with some help from her mentor in the Intellectual Entrepreneurship Pre-Graduate School Internship program. “Without you 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!”
Her best advice to undergraduates: take advantage of every free resource that can help them thrive. This wisdom was gleaned from a lecture by Dr. Leonard Moore, interim vice president of diversity and community engagement and George Littlefield Professor of American History,
“Dr. Moore once said, ‘college is the last place where people are paid to help you,’” Jones adds. “And post-graduation, I see that this is very true. Take advantage of everything that your tuition pays for. Ask every question, no matter how dumb it may feel, and study abroad!”
When Kastina Fishback discovered the Fearless Leadership Institute (FLI) she was excited to learn from inspiring, successful women of color and forge lifelong friendships with likeminded students of similar backgrounds.
“I decided to join FLI because of the amazing women who founded the organization, Thais 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.”
During her time in the program, Fishback honed her leadership skills while working alongside community leaders, professors, successful alums and her fellow students at various professional-development events. What makes the program unique, Fishback says, is that it focuses on the students’ total wellbeing.
“The topics range from friendships and relationships, self-care, becoming a ‘P31 Woman,’ next steps and more,” Fishback adds. “These topics aren’t typically discussed in other student-success groups, but are still very relevant in my life.”
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 obstacle they were faced with,” Fishback says. “It definitely makes you realize that you are not alone.”
Now Fishback is ready 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.
She encourages all students of color to make the most out of their undergraduate experience by reaching out and making connections.
“It is so easy to feel like you are alone at UT and just another number,” says Fishback, who is also president of the Black Business Student Association, a mentor in Women of Excellence and a member of the Longhorn Link Program. “However, it is also easy to feel like you have a sense of community and a strong support system here as well. You never know the opportunities and experiences you can gain just by simply having a conversation with someone.”
When A’nysha Fortenberry joined the Fearless Leadership Institute, she set out to make some new friends and expand her network. Yet she soon realized that the program offered so much more than professional development.
“By my first meeting I was hooked,” says Fortenberry, a junior in the Moody College of Communication. “I loved the welcoming feel of FLI. It just felt like a family.
With support from both mentors and community leaders—all inspiring women of color—she 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.
“Professionally, FLI has provided me with a wide network of accomplished well rounded women of all ages from all backgrounds,” says Fortenberry, 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.
She encourages all incoming Longhorns to find a supportive community on campus that feels like home.
“The best piece of advice I could give to a new student of color at UT is, to find a space that they thrive in and hustle there,” she adds.