By Ali Nicole

Supporting women in business through learning events, endowments, and networking, Salisbury University’s Women’s Circle makes an impact on and off campus. An initiative created to foster relationships, connections, and support systems for women, students, staff, and educators on campus work alongside members of the community. For seven years the Women’s Circle has been bringing successful women together to create a brighter future for all involved.

The Women’s Circle was founded in 2014 by Salisbury University Foundation board members Michelle Thomas of The Bank of Delmarva and Ashley Stern of PKS & Company, P.A. Thomas and Stern wanted to connect the larger community of the Eastern Shore to the university. As successful businesswomen, they focused specifically on women in business and looked toward helping build connections and support systems for local women both within and outside of the university.

The development of this group created mutually beneficial relationships between the university and local women looking to grow within the community. Amy Luppens, director of Development/Advancement & External Affairs with Salisbury University, reflected on the impact the Women’s Circle has had on the women who are a part of it and the local business climate: “Bringing the women from the community on the campus and connecting them to our students has been a win-win for both groups. It’s been a wonderful opportunity for the women in our community to mentor a student, and the students benefit from having those connections in the community for internships and careers. When bringing these women onto campus they build new relationships, and relationships are the key to success in whatever business you’re in.”

Early beginnings of the Women’s Circle tried outings such as meals and movie nights to foster networking and connection, but eventually created an annual breakfast event on the SU campus. The event typically features keynote speakers from all backgrounds including accounting, law, education, non-profit groups, and retirees. While the event has been put on hold due to the unpredictability of the COVID-19 pandemic, when it is held, upwards of 100 participants are usually in attendance. Regular professional development forums are also a common part of their offerings.

The Women’s Circle has moved largely online, through Zoom-supported events, while health conditions discourage larger gatherings like the annual breakfast. That hasn’t stopped the group and its partners from hosting powerful online events featuring local figures such as Julia Glanz, who stepped up as acting mayor of Salisbury in 2020. Much of the online opportunities currently stem from a sub-group connected to the Women’s Circle called Peer-To-Peer (P2P). 

P2P focuses on professional development and networking, and is comprised of professional women from across the university’s campus and the broader surrounding community. They meet the first Friday of every month from 8 to 9 a.m. with presentations on a variety of topics ranging from navigating transitions to philanthropy. These meetings are free and open to the public, but require registration through their website. 

The next meeting is Friday, Sept. 10. The topic has not been announced yet.

Meetings are expected to continue throughout the fall semester. According to the P2P page on the university’s website, in-person opportunities are expected this fall.

The Women’s Circle doesn’t expect to hold their larger in-person events until at least the spring of 2022, but they are still continuing to give back where they can by supporting the educational needs of Salisbury University students. Part of the group’s early mission, which continues today, is the Women’s Circle Educational Enhancement Award. This has been supported by local businesses such as The Bank of Delmarva, a major sponsor, as well as philanthropy from the women connected to the Women’s Circle. Donations are accepted on the Women’s Circle webpage to build the endowment so the award can continue. 

Luppens remarked, “The women who received [the Women’s Circle Educational Enhancement Award] have benefited greatly and wouldn’t have been able to do the things they’ve done without it.” The $1,000 award is presented every year to a Salisbury University student in good standing who needs support to enhance their education beyond the university. Examples include study abroad trips, service projects and conferences. 

Most recently, Melanie Staszewski, a junior biology major, used the award to fund the use of a lab for her research on pathogenic mechanisms and treatment options in diabetic neuropathy in zebrafish which will ultimately be used to try to improve the MRI process. Due to the pandemic, the lab she’d planned to utilize would no longer be available to her and the Women’s Circle Educational Enhancement Award gave her access to a comparable lab and the tools she would need. “The award will help her cover lab expenses and materials to help get her back off the ground since COVID deterred her original plans,” says Luppens.

To support educational goals for students, make community connections, advance in business skills, or work towards launching a new business or career, Women’s Circle provides a way to access all of this and more, with the chance to give back to others in the process.