Around the country children of all ages are soaking up the last days of summer, looking, or perhaps not looking forward to the beginning of another school year. Before long over 55 million K-12 and 20 million postsecondary students around the country will begin another academic year, studying to better themselves, their families and communities. Many of these individuals will succeed but others will not reach their full potential.
When I recently moved to Kentucky to become the first provost at the University of Pikeville, I spent time reflecting on those who played an important role in me getting to this point. As the chief academic officer and a leader within our campus community, I have given a great deal of thought to UPIKE’s 126-year history and my professional experiences in higher education. I am thankful for the leaders who have come before me. I am indebted to the people who saw my potential and encouraged me to continue to improve my leadership skills. My path to becoming the person I am today has not always been easy. When I was in elementary school, my family immigrated to the United States from Romania with nothing but a few suitcases. I learned English, worked hard in school and in a local department store, and became the first in my family to attend college. It would have been easy for anyone to expect little out of a young girl dressed in second-hand clothes, gleaning fields for food, and struggling to learn a new language.
As I think back to those days, two people, my elementary principal and a caring pastor, believed in me and gave me the courage to set my sights higher than I had reason to do on my own. Now, it is my turn to return this gift to others and encourage those around me to dream big and be gritty enough to realize their dreams. As a parent of three girls, I realize that while they can look to me as an example of someone who was able to achieve her goals, they also need others in their lives that can encourage them to be strong women and strong leaders in everything they do.
As another school year peaks over the horizon for our Kentucky students, I hope every parent, teacher, family member and friend realizes they have an opportunity to shape the lives of those around them. There are young women who need support to become leaders in their families and careers, first generation students doing what no one in their family has before. They are the future presidents and scientists, poets and business owners who will be looking to you for support and guidance. Take time to invest in a young person this year by serving as a mentor. I can tell you from personal experience that your love and time is vitally important and appreciated beyond words. You may not be able to see it immediately, but the seeds you sow may grow forever and touch those you will never meet.
Each of us has an opportunity to empower a generation of girls and young women to be bold, authentic leaders in their lives, schools and communities. We have a distinct window of time to inspire a generation of leaders and trailblazers.
Are you ready today to invest in the life of a young person?
Dr. Lori Werth is provost at the University of Pikeville.