In November of 2008, Utah Commissioner of Higher Education Bill Sederburg, Associate Commissioner Lucille Stoddard, and Dr. Susan R. Madsen met to discuss concerns about why more women are not enrolling and graduating from Utah colleges and universities. Shortly after this meeting, it was decided that Dr. Madsen would lead a comprehensive research project to explore these issues within the state during the following academic year. Hence, in May of 2009 the Utah Women and Education Project (UWEP) was created with the initial purpose of collecting data that would help postsecondary institutions attract more young women to attend college and then retain them until graduation. Due to interest in the project, and assistance from Utah Valley University personnel as well as other higher education institutions throughout the state, the mission expanded. In addition to the initial undertakings, UWEP team members wrote and published policy and research briefs, a research directory, IPEDS reports, and worked with Utah 2-1-1 and a host of interns and volunteers to create a comprehensive database of women’s resources in Utah. Drs. Cheryl Hanewicz and Susan Thackeray were particularly integral as members of the UWLP research team.
Over $200,000 was raised for the two-year project, with over $75,000 coming from UVU (President’s Office, Academic Affairs, Center for Engaged Learning grants, and donations from departments, schools, and colleges). Other core funding was provided from a federal leadership grant, a donation and grants through the Utah System of Higher Education, and other donors and sponsors. A UWEP team was created along with a state-wide advisory board (included representatives from all public higher education institutions), a UVU support team, and a host of interns and volunteers from United Way of Utah County and the community. A large community board was also established to help guide the Utah Women and Education Summit, which was held in November of 2010. By the end of the Project (June 2011), the effort had received substantial media attention and the UWEP team had created Research and Policy Briefs, Research Snapshots, Reports and Information, and Videos to help disseminate the findings.
After the UWEP completed its initial charge and presentations were being made around the state, there became a clear need for a more organized effort to assist Utah in figuring out how to move forward with a social change effort that would lead to more women attending and completing postsecondary degrees and certificates. The plan to form the Utah Women’s College Task Force (UWCTF) was discussed and recommended to the Governor by the Governor’s Education Excellence Commission in May of 2011. A planning team was then formed to work during June and July to draft the Task Force Charge, which included determining the course of action needed to produce the following four outcomes:
The planning team created a Task Force Information Sheet and also provided a list of potential Task Force members to the Governor. The Governor made final committee selections and approved the letter of invitation in August. In early September, invitation letters were mailed and acceptances tracked by the Governor’s staff. The Honorable Olene Walker (former Utah Governor) and Bonnie Jean Beesley (Vice-Chair of the Utah Board of Regents) were invited and accepted invitations to co-chair the Task Force.
The Task Force held four meetings: September 28, 2011; October 26, 2011; November 30, 2011; and January 4, 2012. The membership recommended that three working committees also be formed to move the charge forward in this limited timeframe:
The membership of these committees included Task Force members and other critical stakeholders in the community. The committee chairs presented preliminary recommendations at the November 30 meeting and gave their final recommendations at the meeting on January 4, 2012. The final Task Force Recommendation Report was released on February 21, 2012 after a presentation to the Governor and his Education Excellence Commission.
The Task Force spurred great excitement and momentum within education and the community.
Their most fundamental recommendation was that the Governor’s office create and sponsor
(initially through one-time legislative funding) the Utah Women and Education Initiative (UWEI) to be used as a “hub” for coordinating future work. In FY 2012-13, legislative
funding of $100,000 was appropriated to the State Board of Regents to assist in implementing
the recommendations of the Utah Women’s College Task Force and to continue the work
of the UWEP. The Commissioner’s Office, on behalf of the Board of Regents and all
of USHE, served as the agency accountable for the allocated funds, and is where the
UWEI was directed and coordinated for a few years. Mary Ann Halladay served as UWEI's
first Director, while Dr. Madsen remained involved as the Senior Advisor to UWEI.
The funding was a Governor’s priority for the 2012 legislative session. During the
2012-2013 year the UWEI worked very productively and effectively in making the changes
needed and following the Task Force recommendation. The organization partners for
UWEI included the Governor's Education Excellence Commission, the Utah System of Higher
Education, the Utah State Office of Education, Prosperity 2020, and the United Way
of Salt Lake. The initial UWEI sponsors included the Utah System of Higher Education,
Utah Valley University, Utah Higher Education Assistance Authority, Utah State University,
Wells Fargo, Love Communication, and Prosperity 2020. Even after substantial impact,
however, a new Commission came to Utah who did not support the efforts of the UWEI.
Hence, only half the funding was received the following year (50k) and the UWEI moved
to the Utah State Office of Education. Little was accomplished this year by USOE and
they did not ask for ongoing funding. Because the research and resources were so important,
Dr. Susan R. Madsen took the Initiative back under her oversight and found funding
(thanks to Utah Valley University, Wheeler Equipment Co, UESP, the University of Utah,
Rich & LeAnn Crandal) to hire a part-time coordinator, first Danielle Christensen
(2015) and now Holly Richardson (2016+). Drs. Michelle Taylor and Anne Wairepo were
particularly supportive and assisted with funds and other types of support. Now, with
additional funding from United Way of Salt Lake, the Beesley Family Foundation, and
the Campbell Family Foundation, the Initiative will continue its work promoting women
and education. Another critical partner for this work is the Utah Education Network.
In June of 2017 the UWEI become part of the Utah Women & Leadership Project of one
of three Initiatives under its umbrella.