When Sherie Roberts heard about a Hartford Seminary program called the Women’s Leadership Institute, she was immediately intrigued. It was different from the leadership and training programs she had taken as a corporate executive, and it sounded like something she needed. This was 2000: the year George Bush was elected president; the year before 9/11; the year U2’s “Beautiful Day” topped the charts.
Looking back, she said, “It taught me a different way of approaching things. The business world is handled in a linear fashion. In the Women’s Leadership Institute, we sat together in a circle encouraged to share all of who we were.”
Sherie attended the program when her daughter Carolyn Roberts was 11 or 12, and Carolyn doesn’t remember much about it except that her mother went off once a month and stayed overnight in Hartford. She also remembers hearing her mother talk about Professor Emerita Miriam Therese (MT) Winter, who founded the program in 1996 and still runs it.
“I heard a lot about MT and always wanted to meet her,” Carolyn said.
Fast forward to 2020, and Carolyn had just finished a Ph.D. in geology and was hunting for jobs in the middle of the pandemic. Sherie suggested that she consider applying to the Women’s Leadership Institute, which had reduced its hours and moved online.
“Everything was super-chaotic at that time,” Carolyn said. “But it was once a month and remote, so I thought I could still honor that commitment. … After the first class, I thought ‘This is something.'”
Though the 2020-2021 participants never met in person, everyone looked forward to the sessions and felt sad when they ended, Carolyn said. She received her WLI certificate this May.
Sherie’s experience with Hartford Seminary didn’t end when she graduated from WLI in 2001. She went on to start an MA in Transformative Leadership and Spirituality in 2014 after being diagnosed with a serious illness. After several starts and stops, she wondered if she would ever complete it.
“In the summer of 2018, Carolyn said, ‘You need to call MT and talk about going back,'” Sherie said, which is exactly what she did, graduating in 2019.
Carolyn’s experience had some interesting parallels. While looking for a job, she was feeling more comfortable with learning remotely because of her WLI experience and MT’s encouragement. In January 2021, she began teaching remote Sunday school lessons, then did some guest lectures with middle school classes. That eventually led to a job as a private school teacher in Massachusetts.
Sherie was not surprised. Her own experience with WLI also taught her “a different way of approaching things.” She also had cross-cultural immersion experiences that were “absolutely amazing.”
“MT, she’s magical,” Sherie said. “I learned how to use my voice.”
Carolyn had some of the same revelations, including “how to be a better listener.”
It means a lot, Sherie said, to know that her daughter had a similar experience to hers 20 years before.
It’s a beautiful, unique experience,” Sherie said. “It gives us a shared vocabulary, a lexicon of what that experience was like. … It’s very exciting to be able to share that with my daughter.”