Community Engagement

Cultivating Tomorrow's Female Business Leaders

The Women’s Leadership and Mentor Program prepares female SBA students for the next chapter of their lives

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icon of a calendarAugust 18

icon of a pencilBy Chris Lewis

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After serving the School of Business Administration (SBA) as academic advisor for roughly one year, Tiffany LeDonne-Smith, CAS ’13, attended an idea pitch competition at the school, which didn’t have any female judges, despite the fact that several females were competing.

Curious how they felt about this, LeDonne-Smith decided to survey every female business student at Oakland University to gauge their thoughts. Upon receiving an overwhelming number of responses to her survey, she also hosted some focus groups to acquire further opinions.

Without question, female students were seeking a space of their own, in which they could receive support as they prepared to enter fields that typically have far more males than females. As a result, various students created a Women in Business student organization, while LeDonne-Smith founded the Women in Business Mentor Program, now known as the Women's Leadership and Mentor Program (WLMP).

Beginning as a one-term (from January to April 2019) pilot program with eight students and eight mentors, the program was highly successful and well received, to the point in which it ran again for an entire academic year, starting in September 2019, a trend that has continued ever since.

“My goals were to build confidence in our students through mentorship and connect students to women in the field,” LeDonne-Smith said. “At first, I asked SBA alumni to serve as mentors, many of whom have returned year after year to mentor.”

Beginning each year with a kick-off event in early fall and ending with a celebration event during the spring, the program enables mentors and mentees to meet once a month, whether in person, on the phone or on a video call. Aside from these monthly meetings, mentees also attend four leadership/personal development activities as a group throughout the academic year.

“These leadership activities have allowed students to build connections and friendships amongst each other, while increasing their confidence as emerging leaders in the business world too,” LeDonne-Smith stressed.

Since January 2019, 66 students have been mentored, including Ashlyn Foreman ’23, a marketing major. Seeking community within the SBA, Foreman joined the WLMP in September 2022 and became fully involved with it, as she attended various leadership/personal development activities and became close to her fellow Oakland students.

Mentored by Kristin Plucker ’07, senior manager, Marketing Merger and Acquisitions, Salesforce, she also acquired advice, with regards to the workforce, and became more confident as she prepared for her future career.

“The program has influenced my career in so many ways,” Foreman said. “In particular, it allowed me to network with so many strong, like-minded women — ranging in all aspects of the business world — right here on campus. I intend to stay in touch with each of them, too.”
Plucker, who donated to the program (a donation that was matched by Salesforce, thereby fully funding its annual end-of-the-year celebration, held on May 1), became involved in September 2022 as well.

Understanding full well just how volatile today’s economic climate is, as she graduated in the midst of The Great Recession, Plucker offered Foreman guidance on how to begin her career, adapt to the professional business environment and evolve from one position to another.

“Female leaders and mentors have had the greatest impact on my career and professional development,” Plucker explained. “Learning from lived experiences, fully understanding the value of soft skills, and navigating twists and turns is invaluable. Students gain so much knowledge beyond textbooks.”

She added, “I’m excited to see the WLMP continue to offer this type of real-world education, while also reaching more students!”

Visit for more information about the Women’s Leadership and Mentor Program.

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