From Girls to Powerful Women: Interviewing the Alumni of GirlGov Alumni

My research in Theatre and Performance Studies explores cross-gender performance, public institutions, Early Modern drama, and gender and sexuality studies. At the intersection of these fields lies the possibility of the arts as agents of societal change. I’ve always had a passion for womxn-centered organizations and learned about the Women and Girls Foundation’s social advocacy group, GirlGov, through Humanities Engage. As I entered the dissertation stage of my doctoral program, I wanted to experience social justice work at the non-profit level in order to open up unexplored pathways. While graduate school has been richly rewarding in a multitude of ways, academia’s requirements leave little time for direct work with community leaders and on-the-ground action. The call for working as a Humanities Fellow with GirlGov immediately spoke to my work on female agency via broad conceptualizations of performance.

GirlGov’s mission centers on developing future leaders through programs fighting climate change, advocating for immigrants’ rights, and addressing police accountability in the United States. I am working with Dr. Beth Sondel, the Director of Education of WGF, to create an innovative and creative report on the long-term effects of the GirlGov Program on its students. (These students are referred to as GirlGovers). The program has grown and shifted dramatically over the past decade. As such, the alumni’s experiences and work embody a wide variety of social advocacy and civic engagement. In Spring 2020, WGF commissioned two Pitt master’s students in Public and International Affairs to produce an evaluation survey to assess the efficacy of GirlGov. One of the authors of that report, Sara Rosenblum, has continued to work with GirlGov this summer to help translate the quantitative research found from that survey to the impending creative evaluation project. Sara’s extensive knowledge of the initial survey’s details informs my current work as I interview a smaller number of these alumni.

I created an interview process centered around 5 broad questions that addressed GirlGovers’ current work, how their life experiences inform their civic engagement, their favored political and social issues, their conceptualizations of social justice, and how GirlGov has informed their current public life. Thus far, I have interviewed seven incredible women with diverse and compelling stories, all based in their desire to alter fundamentally “who has a seat at the table and who can navigate the space,” to quote one alumna. Finding one’s voice and one’s passion and learning the tools required to activate change ground many of the GirlGovers’ desires for continued community engagement post-graduation. The next steps of the project will be designing a digital magazine/yearbook hybrid that features the results of both the evaluation report and the personal interviews. I am in the process of making this digital report drawing from graphic design and marketing skills from past job experiences. In this report, I will highlight the history of WGF and GirlGov’s transformation over the years. I additionally will thematically structure each alumna’s section based on how their responses reflect core components of GirlGov’s mission. Working with Naomi Ritter, the Director of Communications, I aim to develop a report that will illuminate the success story of this vibrant womxn-centered non-profit and help ensure access to funding to continue WGF’s legacy for years to come.

Courtney E. Colligan
Theatre and Performance Studies
July 27, 2020

For my reflections post-immersive, please see The Importance of Social Justice and Societal Change.

Learn about all the Summer 2020 Immersive Fellows and their experiences with their host organizations.