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UWA workshops planned to help female minority students with valuable lessons

UWA faculty who will lead workshop.

Dr. B.J. Kimbrough, Dr. Mary Hanks, and Dr. Chineda Hill are hosting several workshops in 2022 for female students of color at UWA.

Goal is to help young women of color develop 'soft skills' for life, workplace

Story: Phillip Tutor | Photos: Betsy Compton

Combining hefty doses of college advising and tough love, Dr. Mary Hanks and two of her University of West Alabama colleagues in January will embark on a mission to help female students of color not only adjust to life on campus, but also succeed.

The main reason?

“Because I can remember being an 18-year-old on a college campus and not having a clue,” she said.

Beginning Jan. 18, Hanks, chair of UWA’s Ira D. Pruitt Division of Nursing, and two others -- Dr. Chineda Hill, an associate professor of nursing, and Dr. B.J. Kimbrough, dean of the School of Graduate Studies and UWA’s chief diversity officer -- will host a series of workshops that will revolve around a central theme: the importance of developing soft skills for professional settings.

“I understand it’s not just minorities who lack soft skills,” Hanks said, “but it has been on my heart since I was in my twenties to work with young girls and teach them how to maneuver.”

The first event, “Get Your Mind Right: Empowering Women of Color to Build Professional Relationships and Nurture Seeds for Success,” will take place at 4 p.m. on Jan. 18 at Spieth Hall, Room 427. The workshops, which will continue throughout the year, are open to any female minority student at UWA, regardless of major or age.

Hanks bastes her definition of soft skills with two overriding ingredients -- self-awareness and professional identity. The goal, she said, isn’t merely to help female students of color succeed as students. It’s to arm them with professional-level life skills they can use throughout their careers.

“Just knowing what some of my students’ struggles are,” she said, “they don't know how to always handle themselves.”

As a longtime member of UWA’s nursing faculty, Hanks believes she has a “unique perspective” because of the professionalism in dress and behaviour required in nursing classrooms and hospital settings. Her explanation is part tough-love, part mother, part mentor.

Her examples also are blunt.

“Being aware of your tone or voice, even when you are speaking with someone,” she said. “Being aware of when it’s OK to be assertive. Being aware of when it’s OK to stand your ground, (because) sometimes it’s OK to remain silent and just listen. Being aware of your facial expressions and what’s going on with your body language. And being aware of your dress and how you are perceived by others, because you have a culture, and we have a culture that we celebrate, but how do others perceive that culture when we go in professional spaces?”

At the first event, Hanks, Hill and Kimbrough will introduce themselves and set the tone for the series. That afternoon, Hanks said she and her colleagues will urge attendees to acknowledge what’s at stake academically in the spring semester and adopt a professional tone with their coursework. 

Students will hear pointed questions: Are they focused on why they are at UWA? Are they doing enough to ensure the semester is a success? Do they have a planner to track their assignments? Have they read their syllabus? And, even, do they know the date of their first exam? Students also will be allowed to ask questions regarding anything at UWA.

“This goes beyond nursing, this is about knowing how to handle yourself,” said Hanks. “Yes, there's professionalism, but sometimes it goes beyond a professional space … This is about the things that my mother taught me.”

Flyer for the workshops.