How a Women’s Studies Minor Changed My Life

On March 26, 2011, six UNE alumnae returned to campus for a panel discussion on "How a Women's Studies Minor Changed My Life."

The panel included: Alissa Ehmke '08, Jamie Gellock '08, Jessica Laughlin '05, Kristen McElheny '05, Brady Potter '06, and Camille Smalley '08.

Here are summaries of their remarks:

U N E alumna Brady Potter Brady Potter '06

At the time, an Admissions Counselor at the University of New England. Previously, worked as a Farm Manager at The Community School in South Tamworth, NH.

"Having a minor in Women's Studies and focusing on women in the environment helped me to foster my own relationship with the natural world. As a farmer, I was always thinking about how my relationship with the land differed from the one the farmers I learned from had. Each day I went about my work thinking of how to nurture and give back to the earth, as all of those women before me had as they connected with the natural world. I truly feel as though my minor helped open my eyes and my heart to the world, and to become a stewardess of the earth.

"My minor also helped me to take more risks. Through my research and personal experiences, I'm able to look at the world in a holistic way and to not put myself into any categories or boxes. Instead, I do what's different. I challenge myself. I live on a bus. I become a farmer."

Alissa Ehmke '08

U N E alumna Alissa Ehmke At the time, a graduate student at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, pursuing a master's degree in English literature.

"The WGST minor helped me professionally and personally develop a voice and have confidence in my voice. I'm able to more readily share my opinions in a constructive way and know that I'm justified in wanting my voice to be heard. 

"Academically, the WGST minor shaped my graduate career in guiding what courses I've taken, my paper topics, and how I look at and respond to teaching practices. At a personal level, the WGST minor made me critical of everyday practices that are seen as normal. I'm better able to analyze the world and the structures that organize it."

Camille Smalley 2008

U N E alumna Camille Smalley Currently serves the Dyer Library/Saco Museum as the Program and Education Manager.

"My job includes a variety of tasks, from creating programming, [leading] educational tours, to curating and designing exhibitions. One of my first major exhibitions, Making Her Way: The Factory Girls of Saco and Biddeford, stemmed from my research as a Women's Studies minor. Making Her Way depicts factory life for mill girls in the early 19th century, as Saco and Biddeford became textile industry boom towns. This exhibition explores how farm girls from rural New England moved to the city and became active consumers, eager readers, and independent women. 

"My Women's Studies minor really taught me the broader context and perspectives in studying both history and culture. The field opened up to me the viewpoints of women, minorities, and other social perspectives. I was really reluctant to even take a Women's Studies class. I had very antiquated views on the field—visions of burning bras, no shaving, and anti-Barbie. Once in a course, I realized that I really enjoyed the field of Women's Studies, and that while I disagreed with a few points, overall, the word "feminist" is all-encapsulating, from mill girls to the 1970s sexual revolution and extending to any woman in the 21st century."

Jamie Gellock '08

U N E alumna Jamie Gellock talks into a microphone At the time, a medical student at UNE's College of Osteopathic Medicine, and working toward a master's degree in public health. Planning  to become a family physician.

"Beginning my undergraduate degree in medical biology, I always knew I wanted to work in some part of the health care field. Working towards my WGST minor changed my original career path, as the courses were both empowering and inspiring, allowing me to see my full potential. 

"After my first WGST class, I made the decision to change my undergraduate courses and fulfill all the necessary prerequisites so that I could apply to medical school and continue my education to become a physician. The WGST minor has given me invaluable insights on many aspects of practicing medicine including domestic violence, abortion, life as a woman in the health care field, and gender and cultural competence. Going forward the WGST has helped shape the type of physician I am striving to become and the woman I am."

Kristen McElheny '05

U N E alumna Kirsten McElhenyAt the time, physical education instructor and athletic director at Kissimmee Middle School, Kissimmee, Florida, and pursuing a master's degree in athletic administration.

"The WGST classes at UNE were the highlight of my college experience! The minor shaped me personally because it taught me to look at everyday experiences through a different filter. The WGST minor also molded me professionally; I strive to have a student-centered classroom, just like my WGST professors did at UNE."

Jessica Laughlin '05

U N E alumna Jessica Laughlin At the time, a practicing attorney.

"My minor at UNE helped to make me more aware of gender issues. I approach things critically, I spot and identify gender stereotypes, and question who defines what is male vs. female (masculine vs. feminine). It has helped me bring this awareness to others in every part of my life.

"It challenged me to look at myself and the assumptions I and others bring to situations/tasks/subjects/views, etc. It challenged me to redefine woman/man/feminine/masculine in terms of the way I talk, write, and how I identify myself. I have made it my personal mission to challenge others to examine and question their own assumptions in a respectful and meaningful way (I love nothing more than defying gender roles).

"I understand and appreciate the role of language that is used to convey and perpetuate these assumptions and this comes into play a lot in my legal career, whether questioning the accuracy or neutrality of a written account, the assumptions that are behind a piece of legislation, or the way certain words or phrases are received.

"My minor has certainly helped me appreciate the gender stereotypes and assumptions that I, as a female in law, come up against on a daily basis. Finally, it made me want to educate others, especially women, about these issues. So much so, that I would love to teach women's studies someday.

"The learning I experienced at UNE, and cultivated through my Gender Studies minor, has given me the knowledge, the base, and the tools I need to do all of this, and to continue to do these things in my professional and personal life.  Gender studies is an amazing subject that you can continue to explore on your own once you have these tools and this framework. And it can be applied anywhere, anytime, by anyone. Most importantly, it prepared me for independent and interdisciplinary learning, which has been crucial for me, as that's exactly what law, and most other real world settings, are: interdisciplinary."