Recognizing Women’s Achievements in the Classroom and Beyond

June 4, 2009
By Naisha Bradley

The Harvard Kennedy School celebrates its distinguished graduating students each year during its Class Day awards ceremony. This year the Women and Public Policy Program, directed by Professor Iris Bohnet, recognized three students for their leadership and scholarship. Wivina Belmonte, Erica Lewis and Shanza Khan were honored with the Barbara Jordan Award for Women’s Leadership, the Holly Taylor Sargent Prize for Women’s Advancement and the Jane Mansbridge Research Award, respectively.

The Barbara Jordan Leadership Award recognizes the outstanding student leadership of a graduating female student with an emphasis on commitment to building community at HKS, furthering issues of public importance outside of the HKS community, serving as a role model for women and displaying academic achievement. This year, Wivina Belmonte MC/MPA 2009 was awarded the Barbara Jordan Leadership award. Her nominators wrote, “Wivina is an exceptional leader among the women in the 2009 class of Mid-Career Masters in Public Administration. She has a special ability to enable dialogue between classmates of different cultures and backgrounds. Her open attitude to share her own extensive experience, benefits her colleagues. These qualities are complemented by her humble spirit to learn from and with others.”

In August 2008, Belmonte gathered women from the MC/MPA program to form “Unique Women,” a group established to promote a greater understanding of women’s roles in the workplace and address the struggles women face in their careers. Belmonte not only established this group, she also organized the monthly meetings and ensured fruitful discussions by encouraging topics such as professional development, navigating through professional environments dominated by men and affirming your professional and personal achievements.

WAPPP awarded the Holly Taylor Sargent Prize for Women’s Advancement to Erica Lewis MC/ MPA 2009 This award is presented annually to a member of the Kennedy School community (faculty, staff, or student) who has done the most to advance the opportunities, situation, and status of women within the Harvard Kennedy School. Lewis has been a true champion of women’s advancement within the HKS community. One of her nominators wrote, “Erica is unique because she focuses her energy on making a personal difference daily in the lives of the women around her.”

Lewis, along with a group of HKS students, organized “Stories, Strategies and Success,” a semester-long series of programs designed to bring together members of the HKS community to examine issues women face in their professional and personal lives. The idea for the seminar series arose out of conversations Lewis had been having with other women at HKS. Working with fellow students Kristen Joyce, Joni Angel and Liz Terry the group created an atmosphere in which participants felt comfortable sharing personal stories and strategies for success. The series brought together members of the HKS community at different stages of their lives and careers and fostered discussion about sexual harassment, launching your career, establishing oneself in an organization once you have taken time off and finding a mentor.

The final award presented on behalf of the Women and Public Policy Program was the Jane Mansbridge Research Award. This award encourages advisors to nominate outstanding "A" research papers whose analysis of an organization or topic is focused on gender and public policy. This year’s prize-winning research paper was Shanza Khan’s MPP 2008 Policy Analysis Exercise (PAE), "An Evaluation of the Capacity Building Component of the Punjab Safe Motherhood Initiative.” Her paper was nominated by Julie Wilson, Harry Kahn Senior Lecturer in Social Policy, who wrote, “Shanza’s PAE is an outstanding piece of work. In addition to using traditional research methods to evaluate the effectiveness of the centralized training, she spent time in rural Pakistan interviewing staff at small health centers to get a better understanding of what their jobs involve, what the motherhood issues they face are, what they learn from their training and how they use it.”

The committee that reviewed Khan’s PAE found it to be “truly exceptional.” Khan evaluated the capacity building component of the Punjab Safe Motherhood Initiative, a program run by her client, the Lady Willingdon Hospital in Pakistan. The Safe Motherhood Intiative was launched in 2004 in district Sheikhupura as a means to reduce maternal mortality. Khan utilized secondary data from a literature review, primary data from key informant interviews, and structured questionnaires administered to health care providers trained under the program to evaluate the effectiveness of the centralized training of various health care workers.

All of WAPPP’s Class Day award recipients have worked tirelessly to bring to the forefront issues facing women in our society and to create a world more balanced in gender equality. The Women and Public Policy Program would like to thank this year’s award recipients for their dedication to advancing women globally.

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Erica Lewis (right) leading a session with Professor Jane Mansbridge

Erica Lewis (right) leading a session with Professor Jane Mansbridge. Photo provided.