A Passion for Developing Young Women Defines Traci Corey

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This article was originally published in the October 2018 ATHENA International Newsletter by Judy Prince, ATHENA International volunteer newsletter editor.

In March 2018, Traci Corey was honored with an ATHENA Leadership Award by ATHENA International for her dedication to developing women leaders. In April 2018, she was named to the ATHENA International Board of Directors. Traci’s passion for inspiring young women in palpable!

It is hard to know where to begin to tell Traci’s story. She worked in her family’s ranching business; she was an award-winning volleyball player and coach; and she was an accomplished fundraiser. Now, she is the director of the The University of Olivet Women’s Leadership Institute (WLI) and presidential spouse. All these experiences have shaped her vision for women’s leadership.

Growing up in central California on a 40-acre ranch, Traci has always been driven. She competed in 4-H and FFA for 17 years, showing registered Hampshire and Suffolk sheep and was always active in athletics, including track, softball, basketball, and volleyball. Traci attended California State University, Fresno on an athletic scholarship playing volleyball, which began her more than 20 years of volleyball playing and coaching at the collegiate level.

As a setter for Fresno State University, Traci was a two-time team MVP, three-time scholar athlete, member of the All-Big West Conference team, and FSU Female Scholar-Athlete of the Year. She was the founding head volleyball coach for Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, where she directed the team to a conference championship title and was named TCAC conference coach of the year. She developed a national travel volleyball club when her daughter played volleyball.

Prior to going to The University of Olivet, Traci was the North Central Regional Manager for the Arizona Community Foundation where she oversaw the daily operations of the Yavapai County Community Foundation and led the implementation of fundraising programs, including major and planned gifts to build local endowments that support nonprofits in Yavapai County. She was elected to the Northern Arizona Association of Fundraising Professional board and served as their secretary and vice president. She was also awarded the 2009 Northern Arizona New Fundraising Professional of the Year.

In 2010, Traci found herself at a small, liberal arts college in Olivet, Michigan, where her husband, Steven M. Corey, Ph.D., was named president. Founded in 1844, Traci was immediately drawn to The University of Olivet’s rich history, as it was the first college in Michigan to admit women and people of color on a co-equal basis as white men. The co-ed institution is proud that its first three graduates in 1863 were women, Mary N. Barber, Sara Benedict and Sophia A. Keyes. As presidential spouse, Traci established the Women’s Leadership Institute at The University of Olivet to provide meaningful leadership opportunities for current and future women students. She brought together a group of dynamic student leaders and an advisory council made up of some of Michigan’s most prominent women leaders, including many successful The University of Olivet alumnae.

Just two years later, the Women’s Leadership Institute serves as the umbrella for an impressive array of meaningful and impactful leadership programs for girls and young women who are current and prospective students of the college. Traci says, “At The University of Olivet, we are creating multiple tiers of mentorship and creating a culture of women supporting women.” Programs include the annual Cultivating Women Leaders (CWL) event, a leadership training and networking opportunity; The University of Olivet ATHENA International Women’s Leadership Program; and the The University of Olivet ATHENA International Middle and High School Girls’ Leadership Camps.

Cultivating Women Leaders (CWL) is a one-day event that teaches leadership skills and provides role models for current and future students at The University of Olivet. The event is designed to inspire and equip young women to embrace their inner strength and their potential as responsible leaders. In 2018, attendees were thrilled to welcome Martha Mertz, founder of ATHENA International, as the keynote speaker, in addition to some of Michigan’s most successful women business leaders, as well as The University of Olivet alumnae. Past topics of discussion have included: “Breaking Stereotypes,” “Effective Communication,” “I’ve Graduated, Now What?”

On March 22, 2019, Polo Reo Tate, author of “Deep Dark Blue, a Memoir of Survival,” will be the keynote speaker. Session topics include, “Be the Change,” “Dress for Success,” “Negotiation,” “Let’s Get Real.”

The University of Olivet ATHENA International Women’s Leadership Program is built upon the ATHENA International Leadership model. Students receive leadership training based on the ATHENA eight core principles that inspire women to reach their potential. The program prepares college women for leadership roles while in college and beyond.

Graduates of the yearlong program transition from mentees to mentors as co-facilitators of The University of Olivet ATHENA International Girls’ Middle & High School Leadership Camps. Exposure to positive messaging early and often about leadership is critical to the future success of young girls. Camp participants gain courage and confidence to find their voice and to recognize their unique strengths.

The first The University of Olivet Girls’ Leadership Camp in 2017 was an instant success, with girls attending from across the state, 83% of which came from low income and underserved communities in Michigan. Scholarships were awarded to girls who wanted to attend the camp, but were unable to pay. Of the 69 participants, 39 were from middle school and 30 were from high school. Many of the participants revealed that they struggled with depression, anxiety, and overcoming bullying. In addition, in a pre-camp assessment, 50% of the girls stated they struggled with self-confidence and finding their voice. In the post-camp assessment, 74% stated they gained self-confidence, and one middle school girl stated “She gained a greater sense of self” during the camp.

The Women’s Leadership Institute recently announced a new program, the Keyes-Barber-Benedict Scholars program, which is named for the first three women graduates. Young women selected as scholars will receive a The University of Olivet scholarship. The Keyes-Barber-Benedict Scholars program is designed to deeply connect the women

students of The University of Olivet with their academic, career, and civic passions. Through this comprehensive leadership development program, young women will be prepared to be exceptional citizens and employees or graduate/professional students upon graduation.

Reflecting on her own growth and journey as a woman in leadership, Traci says the best advice she received was from her father at the time of his death: Don’t live your life with regrets. At that point in her own life, she realized that she was living her life for others.

Other defining moments in Traci’s life have occurred recently. As she works with and mentors’ young women in the WLI, Traci says, “I am not just mentoring young women. Young women are mentoring me as well.” She added that Martha Mertz’s book, Becoming ATHENA, has been life changing. “Martha Mertz offers constant wisdom and positivity that challenges you to lift yourself up.”

Live Authentically is the ATHENA Leadership Principle that Traci lives by. As Martha Merz’ says, “Without living authentically, women have no foundation on which to build.”

Traci agrees. “If you don’t know yourself and you don’t know who you are, how can you be true to yourself and stand strongly in your own beliefs and passions?”

In all her work, Traci is looking for systemic sustainable change. She sees her work at The University of Olivet as creating a “potential up-stream fix.” She wants to help all women develop confidence and embrace their unique capabilities. “Young women need to know they are good enough, and to stand in their voice as they contribute to this world.”

On May 19, 2017, Traci was honored by The University of Olivet’s Board of Trustees for her commitment to the empowerment of young women with a Resolution of Gratitude and Commendation. The commendation sums up Traci’s work best:

“Traci Corey has a passion for developing young women as leaders that knows no bounds. She is driven with a deep commitment and relentless energy and enthusiasm for the young women who are already Olivet students – and the younger women we hope will become our students. Through Traci’s efforts, women leaders from across the state have come to The University of Olivet to share their skills and talents.”


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