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A Utah Valley University-based women’s studies initiative and its founder have moved to USU, the school announced in a news release this week.

The Utah Women & Leadership Project is now housed in the Jon M. Huntsman School of Business and Susan Madsen, who started UW&LP, will serve as the first Karen Haight Huntsman Endowed Professor of Leadership, while fulfilling a role with USU Extension. Madsen joined faculty of the Huntsman School in its marketing and strategy department on July 1.

In an interview with The Herald Journal via video chat on Friday, Madsen said she’s excited for the appointment, as well as her move from Orem to Logan.

“I just feel very called to do the work that I do and that’s why I do it,” she said. “For me, even though I’ll partner with UVU and have had some great experiences through the years, I’m really interested in taking what we’ve done, building on it, having more resources, having more connections to really expand the work … to strengthen the impact of Utah girls and women.”

Scott Trotter, senior director of communications at UVU, said he’d leave it to Madsen to answer the question of why the Orem-based university was no longer a suitable venue for the UW&LP. But that didn’t stop him from offering a statement.

“Utah Valley University has always been grateful for Dr. Susan Madsen and her work with the Utah Women & Leadership Project. We enthusiastically hosted the program for the many years she was employed here,” Trotter wrote in an email. “While we were sad to see Dr. Madsen leave, we are thrilled for her opportunity to grow the project in the Utah State University system. UVU remains a strong partner and supporter of the Utah Women & Leadership Project and Dr. Madsen and we look forward to working with her in the future.”

The project spun out of Madsen’s research on women’s college graduation rates, commissioned by Utah’s former system of higher education in 2008 and 2009.

After that research — later utilized by the governor’s office — was completed, the then-Utah Board of Regents encouraged Madsen to do more research and house it at Utah Valley University, where she already had a professorial appointment.

Madsen explained during the interview that USU had approached her a few times and the latest arrangement officials proposed — with her in a professorship while carrying on the UW&LP through Extension — was appealing to her.

“It was just outside the box a little bit for UVU,” Madsen said. “If it’s my passion and where my heart is, I need to go to some place that can help me.”

UW&LP produces research related to women and girls, as well as training, resources and events that are all meant to further the goal of “moving mountains for Utah women,” according to the project’s new website.

Examples of resources include “toolkits” with resources on topics ranging from childcare to violence against women; articles on topics touching on entrepreneurship and interfaith leaders; numerous policy briefs; a list of women’s groups; as well as a calendar of events going on throughout the state.

Madsen said she gets asked often if the UW&LP was started solely to get more women to become CEOs, but she says she wants women to have an impact in whatever role they feel called to, be it a seat on the city council or a member of their church.

“I talk a lot about helping women find their voice and their confidence so they can influence in stronger ways,” Madsen said.

She also talked about some of the project’s initiatives, which includes fostering male allies of women to advance changes for them in society and in the workplace.

“We have resources for what I called ‘influencers.’ … Boys and men are influencers,” Madsen said. “Young men, in high school, influence young women a lot, and if they understand that things they say may help that young woman know she needs to go to college and graduate, that young man can be a strong influencer. We need to educate boys and men, right along with girls and women, on the importance of men and women working together. The research is clear that when we really work together, better things happen for the community.”

Madsen touched on some of the ways the UW&LP will change as a result of moving from UVU to USU.

While many aspects of the UW&LP will remain the same, she said, one that will change are events. UVU hosted some “huge” ones, and in the midst of a pandemic, future events will be online. But more than that, Madsen explained, she wants to see more research-based events: “that, to me, is the main switch.”

The UW&LP’s mission, school officials say, goes hand-in-hand with USU Extension, which provides USU’s research and professional expertise on a whole host of subjects in all of Utah’s 29 counties.

“Extension is really intriguing to me. UVU, that’s just not their mission. There’s more resources available now with USU … in terms of people on the campuses, on the sites around the state, to really take the project to the next level,” Madsen said.

Ken White, vice president of USU Extension and the dean of the university’s College of Agriculture and Applied Sciences, stated in a news release he is pleased Madsen is joining the team.

“This will provide a wonderful opportunity to develop important state-wide Extension programming that facilitates women’s leadership development,” he said. “Susan has a very impressive record of important contributions in this area, and partnering with our land-grant mission of directed community outreach creates an extraordinary opportunity for Utah communities.”

The UW&LP’s transition comes at a time when USU is highlighting women in its own 132-year-old history with “Year of the Woman,” but also as the school is reforming the way it responds to and prevents sexual violence.

That started in 2016, after numerous women — some of them students — came forward in 2016 with stories of being harassed or assaulted, stating the university didn’t do enough to help them. In response, USU formed a Sexual Violence Taskforce, chaired by USU President Noelle Cockett, which has enacted sweeping reforms to its reporting and prevention policies. In 2017, the U.S. Department of Justice initiated a probe on the university, which culminated in a settlement signed in February that the school must follow through the 2022-23 academic year.

“Pretty much all campuses really struggle with sexual assault and Title IX. I don’t think any campus, these days, is immune to those things. So you have the compliance-based safety things that are so important,” Madsen said. “Even if I highlight, ‘Yeah, we’re not doing so good in Utah,’ it always comes with, ‘here’s some tools,’ so it’s not just complaining.”

Madsen continued, “I think it’s a really exciting thing to be able to really be able to come at a time when there’s some good energy around. Let’s shake things up, let’s actually really value women and show that we do by bringing this project to USU and giving it some real oomph behind that.”

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