N.J. - What are the qualities of an effective leader and how
does one develop leadership skills? Pam Prather, of Trenton,
and Shelly Djoufack, of Princeton, both students at Mercer
County Community College, were among 33 female college students
from across New Jersey who recently explored these questions
during NEW Leadership New Jersey, a residential program
hosted by the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP)
of the Eagleton Institute at Rutgers University June 10-15.
Prather, a 39-year-old mother of three who was born and raised
in Trenton, and Djoufack, a 19-year-old international student
from Cameroon who plans to become a doctor, came to the CAWP
program from distinctly different backgrounds. But both say
they developed a new appreciation of politicians and the political
process, as well as recognition of their own potential for
Among the group's activities were political discussions, public
speaking activities, group projects, a visit to the State
House, and meetings with a Who's Who list of powerful New
Jersey female politicians. Leaders who addressed the students
included NJ Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver, State Senate Majority
Leader Barbara Buono, Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno, Camden Mayor
Dana Redd, and former Corzine aide Michellene Davis, now the
senior vice president for policy development and government
affairs for St. Barnabas Health Care System.
to Prather, the message of these women was clear. "They
emphasized that we are equal to our male counterparts. Women
can be just as assertive and effective," she says.
Djoufack recognized the way these assertiveness skills can
be useful every day. "I have learned that politics has
an impact in everybody's life and that you do not have to
be a politician to be a leader. Everyone has leadership potential."
Both women acknowledge that the RU experience changed their
view of politicians. Prather says she gained a newfound appreciation
for these public servants after attending a legislative session
at the State House where issues such as cell phone use while
driving and background checks for employees who work with
children were discussed. "Some politicians really are
for the people. Every day there are issues being fought for
us," she observed.
The group's capstone project allowed them to practice leadership
through action. Taking on a variety of roles, each student
contributed to a mock legislative debate on renewable electricity
standards, part of a growing movement to develop a cleaner,
more sustainable national energy supply. Djoufack conducted
research on the issue that was utilized by students on both
sides of the discussion, while Prather assumed the role of
State Senator Lisa Murkowski, learning volumes about a topic
she had never before considered and weighing in with her colleagues
based on Murkowski's own voting record.
According to the Mercer women, the program was a real confidence
builder. Djoufack, who serves as secretary for MCCC's International
Student Organization, was particularly glad to practice her
public speaking skills, while Prather loved meeting the diverse
group of participants from two- and four- year schools, who
ranged in age from 19 to their mid-fifties. "I really
connected with some awesome women. I made friends for life,"
Prather also came to better understand her potential to contribute
as she moves forward. Having overcome many obstacles to return
to school as an adult, including an abusive home environment,
she has come to recognize her survival skills and her late
blossoming as a student.
"We learned more about who we are and how we can make
a difference - whether it's in politics, the community, or
even in our own families as role models for our children,"
she said. Prather hopes to one day give back to other women
who find themselves in situations of domestic violence that
mirror her own past.
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