Mount Vernon Seminary Alumnus and Husband Donate $ 1 Million to GW Women’s Leadership Program | GW today


By Ann McMaster

Frequently uprooted by career-related family moves, Barbara Jacobs Ficklin was a shy teenager who had attended eight schools in three states in 1961 and was in desperate need of a stable educational environment. Fortunately, she found a home for herself at a small, selective independent high school for young women called Mount Vernon Seminary, located on what is now the Mount Vernon campus of George Washington University.

Sixty years later, Ms. Ficklin views her time at Mount Vernon Seminary as a transformative element in shaping her future success and encourages others to help preserve this “amazing experience” for generations of women to come.

She and her husband, Bill, recently made a $ 1 million bequest donation to continue the legacy of Mount Vernon Seminary that continues today through GW’s Elizabeth J. Somers (WLP) Women’s Leadership Program. First-year students admitted to the WLP by competitive examination live and learn together at Somers Hall in small cohorts, each with a distinct purpose.

Ms. Somers founded the Mount Vernon Seminary in 1875 after requests for tutoring girls from prominent Washington families in her home exceeded physical space. In an era when there were no other DC education options for girls, she provided a rigorous curriculum, a sense of community, and opportunities for personal growth – an unwavering tradition that has continued. over the years.

“I was a very shy and lost person and didn’t consider myself a good student at all,” Ms. Ficklin said.

The seminary’s favorable environment unleashed her academic and leadership potential, and Ms. Ficklin graduated with distinction four years later. She thrived on the stimulating classes and range of activities, including stints on student council, as editor of the literary magazine and president of the honor society.

“We had so many opportunities at Mount Vernon Seminary, not only to learn in small classrooms, but also to participate in and lead a wide variety of extracurricular activities. It meant everyone was someone special, ”recalls Ms. Ficklin. “It was absolutely one of the most important opportunities of my life.”

WLP Director Mary Buckley was instrumental in showing the Ficklins how today’s program still honors the spirit of the seminary. “It was a privilege and a pleasure to show the Ficklins how the WLP applies a modern lens to the unique challenges of developing future women leaders,” said Ms. Buckley.

WLP cohorts today are similar or smaller in size, with each of the four disciplines (international arts and culture; globalization, economics and business; international politics and sciences; health and medicine) limited to 20 students. Everyone comes together for the weekly WLP Symposium, a series of leadership seminars featuring lectures from prominent alumni, workshops or outings as well as conferences and events in the DC area.

“The WLP is a hidden gem,” said Donna Arbide, vice president of development and alumni relations. “This program and community continues the precious tradition Ms. Somers began almost 150 years ago of opening minds and opportunities for women leaders. We are very grateful to the Ficklins for their generous investment in strengthening this legacy for future generations. “

Ms Ficklin left after graduating in 1965, not realizing that her class would be among the last to receive high school diplomas from the legendary institution that closed its doors a few years later. Mount Vernon Junior College remained and was accredited as Mount Vernon College in 1976.

The all-female independent college, a lush green oasis in the hills of northwestern DC, struggled financially and was on the verge of bankruptcy as a victim of declining enrollment and epoch changes that shut down from many schools for women. GW first affiliated, then acquired the magnificent college and campus in 1999, when it became George Washington University at Mount Vernon. All former graduates have been granted GW alumni status. To commemorate and preserve Elizabeth J. Somers’ vision for an inclusive, supportive and collaborative community of student leaders on campus, GW established the WLP that same year.

Many alumni of seminary and college felt adrift, even angry, over the GW acquisition, and Ms. Ficklin was no exception. She admits to having “more than a little resentment” and generally threw GW’s correspondence straight in the trash. “I thought the door had closed on the seminary legacy,” she said. “I just didn’t realize that there were so many parallels between my experience of so many years ago and how the WLP continues to support a community of women who learn and grow together to find their place. own voice. “

By chance, as the Ficklins were updating their estate plans, she received an email from GW announcing the new Women’s Leadership Program endowment fund created through a $ 250,000 donation from an anonymous alumnus of the seminar. The announcement came with an invitation from Ms. Buckley, the director of WLP, to call or visit. The Ficklins seized the opportunity eagerly.

Visiting campus for lunch and conversations with current WLP students and faculty at Post Hall (named after alumnus Marjorie Merriweather Post), the Ficklins were guided around campus by alumnus of WLP SJ Matthews, then a classical studies student and the new student association (SA) president. Ms Matthews, known for her “Vern” tours, shared not only her encyclopedic knowledge of campus anecdotes and traditions with Ms Ficklin, but also a common link to Ms Somers ‘legacy that includes Ms Matthews’ mother, Amy , who is an alumnus of Mount Vernon College

Ms. Matthews credits the WLP with the confidence that led her to run for and win the SA presidency as an “outsider” with no previous SA experience. Now a student at GW’s Graduate School of Political Management, her focus is on higher positions in the future.

“My mom felt the same way about GW before,” Ms. Matthews said. “But during her visit, she saw that the campus she loved still exists, but in a different way.” On the day the WLP students arrive, the first hour of orientation is a history presentation, she added. “You see you are new in a line of many,” she said, “and there is a great community of women from Mount Vernon who have gone before you and want to support you.”

The Women’s Leadership Program Endowment Fund addresses broad areas of need, including faculty support, speaker allowances, summer internships, and emergency funds for WLP students.

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