Women of Mizzou: Jayme Gardner guides future leaders

“Leadership” is a key word when talking about Jayme Gardner.

MU can continue to be home for a lot of its students well after graduation. That’s the case for Jayme Gardner, coordinator of leadership programs. After graduating from MU, Gardner decided to spend her career on campus as a leader and female role model for her students.

Gardner currently plays multiple roles on campus. She teaches the Chancellor’s Leadership Class and is one of the advisors for MU’s Women’s Leadership Conference, besides her position coordinating leadership programs. However, her involvement in the community actually started years ago.

In 2013, Gardner graduated from MU with a journalism degree in strategic communications. During her time as an undergraduate, Gardner was heavily involved on campus with programs, such as Mizzou Alternative Breaks. She was also a Summer Welcome leader and a part of the Tour Team.

Gardner proceeded to stay on campus after graduation, going straight to graduate school in a program called Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis.

“I’ve had the big Mizzou experience,” Gardner said.

However, she didn’t work with women’s empowerment until she started working as the coordinator of the Women in Engineering Center, where her job was to recruit and retain women in the College of Engineering. That was when she realized that mentoring other women is something she is passionate about, eventually leading her to mentor MU’s Women’s Leadership Conference.

“The Women’s Leadership Conference is probably one of my favorite programs to work with,” Gardner said. “I get to work with 11 really awesome young women and I get to see them grow. My role is to help them learn how to plan a conference and to try as hard as I can to not do much.”

The conference happens every year in March to celebrate Women’s History Month. It brings speakers from all over the country and creates a community of women to address female underrepresentation in different professional areas.

“What our participants say a lot is that they love having a whole day where they’re surrounded by really powerful women,” Gardner said. “I know that it’s important for the students that are on the executive board because not only are they learning the concrete skills of planning a conference, but they’re also surrounded by really motivated women all the time.”

Gardner never had the opportunity to be a part of women’s programs as an undergraduate, and she sees the Leadership Conference as a way to introduce the Women’s Center to students that want to get involved but might not know how to.

“It brings together a lot of women from a lot of different areas of campus,” Gardner said. “The Women’s Center is a space that I’m really passionate about but for some reason, I think there are a lot of women that don’t go there. Something about the professional setting, the networking and the way that we advertise the Women’s Leadership Conference gets a lot of different kinds of women involved.”

But Gardner’s mentoring goes beyond the Women’s Leadership Conference. She also teaches the Chancellor’s Leadership Class, a year-long credited course offered to a select group of freshmen every year. The class focuses on how to make a positive impact in your community by learning all sorts of skills, such as communication, leadership and teamwork.

Gardner has been teaching this class for three years now, and she’s working to keep current topics in the curriculum, such as diversity and women’s issues.

“While the CLC isn’t new, what we’re doing with it is,” Gardner said “We used to have something like a diversity day on our syllabus, and I think that there was a time when it was innovative, but now we’ve changed and we’re trying to include it in the conversation no matter what we’re talking about.”

Gardner values diversity. The Chancellor’s Leadership Class applications have their rubrics rewritten every year, with the TA’s choosing who is accepted. Gardner always strives for a group of freshmen with different cultural and social backgrounds.

“Diversity is really important to me; inclusion is really important to me,” Gardner said. “But I believe that people who are just getting started on that journey think ‘oh, what we need to do is look at the minority column, and we need ten students of this ethnicity, ten students of that,’ and so on. We really work with [the TA’s] to teach them what it means to truly build a diverse class.”

Sophomore Audrey Wind is one of Gardner’s teaching assistants who felt that she was able to grow through the Chancellor’s Leadership Class..

“In [Chancellor’s Leadership Classes], many people, especially Jayme, pushed us to find our strengths and work with others to do things more efficiently,” Wind said. “As a TA, I have had to learn how to be a mentor and a teacher to students, but how to also be a friend. Jayme has pushed me be a stronger person and not let others walk all over me.”

For Sofonyas Woldekidan, one of Gardner’s Chancellor’s Leadership Class students, the attention that she pays to diversity is noticeable and brings a variety of perspectives to class discussions.

“I think we have people from different walks of life, with different ideologies and beliefs, all sitting together in one class,” Woldekidan said. “We can see that in our group because we tend to interpret the same topics brought up in class very differently.”

CLC focuses not only on spotting problems in your community, but also on how to solve them. Gardner is teaching her students to take the first step toward solutions and—as the class name says—be leaders.

“We try to make the point that you are not a leader if you’re not being inclusive,” Gardner said. “You can’t actually say that you’re collaborative if your group all looks entirely the same. I am a white cisgender woman, so there are probably things that I’m missing. It’s one of the reasons why I try to work with people that pull in other perspectives.”

She understands that her job as a mentor involves a lot of communication. Her students learn how to deal with divergent points of view and how to express their own. Wind also explained how she took what she learned with Jayme to her life outside the classroom.

“I really love how Jayme went from being a mentor in a teacher way to more of a mentor in a friend way,” Wind said. “After going through the class and being coaxed out of my shell by Jayme and my TAs, I feel like I know my value as a leader more than ever. I am now on the executive board of my sorority and have taken initiative to be involved in so many other areas, and I owe the confidence in myself to Jayme.”

Gardner’s class combines the development of communication skills, leadership and diversity to create an environment where her students can grow by interacting not only with her but also with each other.

“I believe that, as an educator, I would be doing a disservice to my students if I wasn’t teaching them [diversity],” Gardner said. “There are certainly students that don’t understand or don’t agree with that, which is totally welcome, and it’s hard to teach the students that they’re allowed to disagree with me because they’re not usually allowed to disagree with a teacher. That’s why we have these really rich discussions.”

Woldekidan said Gardner is open to her students, and that the Chancellor’s Leadership Class has taught him how to convey his message to people in the most effective way possible.

“I wouldn’t have gotten the opportunity to learn good communication skills from any other classes if it was not for Gardner,” Woldekidan said “Gardner is one of the best teachers I have had so far. She is a very entertaining and caring teacher who genuinely cares about her students.”

When asked about what she feels most proud of within everything she has done in mentoring students, Gardner takes pride in teaching her students to be leaders and go beyond campus.

“I think that a lot of times we know how to identify a problem, but we don’t really know how to go further from there,” Gardner said. “I’m always encouraging [students] and I try really hard not to do things for them. I give them the space to do all these incredible things for themselves.”

Edited by Alexandra Sharp | asharp@themaneater.com

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