Campus engagement shines for Voices of Leadership

In her opening remarks, nationally recognized mental health advocate Diana Chao said she'd never experienced a community more committed to understanding the focus of her mission.

Chao was the keynote speaker for the Nov. 2 Voices of Leadership, presented by Mount Mary’s Women’s Leadership Institute. She is the founder and executive director at Letters to Strangers, a global youth-run organization seeking to destigmatize mental illness and increase access to affordable, quality treatment.

Diana spoke about youth mental health and her own experience with bipolar disorder, often sharing her experiences through slam poetry. Over 200 people attended yesterday's event and gave Chao a standing ovation for her emotional and moving presentation.

In anticipation of Chao’s appearance, students from spring 2022 and fall 2022 courses participated in projects that align with course learning objectives and also incorporate the themes from her presentation. Their work was displayed during the event and shared on video.

  • Dietetics: Students honed their leadership skills by creating a business plan and implementing a pop-up smoothie bar using healthy ingredients focused upon reducing stress and fueling the mind-body connection.
  • English: Five classes embarked upon projects aligned self-expression and discovery with mental health and well-being. The culminating projects reflected the theme of the event through poetry, literature, research and a new media podcast. Taking a cue from Chao’s Letters to Strangers movement, one class created artistic representations of these letters.
  • Fashion Design: Fashion Design I students used color, silhouette, textile choice and design details to express a particular emotion in designing a garment or look. Concepts will be fully executed in spring and will be modeled in the 2023 CREO fashion show.
  • Interior Architecture and Design: Students drafted the plans for a behavioral health clinic that emphasized a healing and safe environment.

“Voices of Leadership is about more than bringing a leader to campus to learn from her experiences,” said Women’s Leadership Institute Executive Director Keri Schroeder. “It’s also an opportunity for our faculty to utilize the themes of the keynote to enhance the curriculum and explore these topics with students in a way that is relevant to their disciplines.”

Panel moderator Amy Herbst, vice president for behavioral and mental health at Children’s Wisconsin, was also impressed with the campus-wide involvement for the program, and said she was “thoroughly impressed with how you infused this subject all across the university,” she said. “I have never seen something this intentionally coordinated throughout a large system.”

Herbst moderated a panel that included five professionals representing local organizations doing critical work in our region in regards to mental and behavioral health. The panel included three alumnae.

Sponsors for the event also hold close ties to the university. Of the major corporate sponsors, three of these sponsorships were from businesses where our trustees work and the fourth sponsor, Charles E. Kubly Foundation is devoted to helping those who suffer from depression. This foundation was started in 2003 by alumna Billie Kubly as a reaction to her son dying by suicide.

Chao travels nationally as a speaker for Active Minds, an organization with chapters in schools across the country.

"The group is all about making mental health part of the conversation, reducing the stigma and encouraging everyone they need to seek help - and not to be ashamed of that," said Andrea Kurtz, advisor for the Mount Mary chapter.

View photos from the event.