The fu­ture is fe­male


While The Women’s Col­lege at the Univer­sity of Syd­ney has long been a home to high-achiev­ing schol­ars, it’s defini­tively fu­ture-fac­ing with in­no­va­tive pro­grams for young women. Here, one of the col­lege’s alum­nae, now phi­lan­thropy co­or­di­na­tor, tells how the op­por­tu­ni­ties she was granted in­stilled in her a de­sire to give back.

Alisha King’s first ex­pe­ri­ence of The Women’s Col­lege came in Year 11, when she rep­re­sented her school at a pres­ti­gious lead­er­ship course. Fifty stu­dents from pub­lic schools around Aus­tralia spent a week at the all-fe­male res­i­den­tial col­lege, es­tab­lished in 1892, on The Univer­sity of Syd­ney cam­pus.

The in­ci­dent was trans­for­ma­tive for King, who lived al­most four hours’ drive from Syd­ney in Forster and was hop­ing to be the first woman in her fam­ily to at­tend univer­sity. “I’d never had that ex­po­sure to women who were re­ally sup­port­ing each other and want­ing to achieve,” she says. “Be­ing around strong fe­male role models, who were so con­fi­dent and pas­sion­ate – it made me feel that any­thing was pos­si­ble.”

When King ar­rived at The Women’s Col­lege in 2011 as a first-year science stu­dent on a schol­ar­ship, she dis­cov­ered the many other ben­e­fits of be­ing part of a caring, pos­i­tive com­mu­nity. A se­nior stu­dent, or aca­demic as­sis­tant, helped her nav­i­gate the chal­leng­ing tran­si­tion from school to univer­sity, in­clud­ing tips on timetabling, writ­ing es­says and tak­ing notes. Small tu­to­rial groups, lead by the col­lege’s aca­demic fel­lows, helped her ex­cel in her stud­ies. And an­other se­nior stu­dent was her res­i­dent as­sis­tant, act­ing like a big sis­ter who looked af­ter her emo­tional well­be­ing. “I just fell in love with it when I got there – it felt like home from very early on,” says King, who still has more than 20 close friends from col­lege. “It’s like you’re on a sleep­over for three or four years with these amaz­ing, di­verse women.”

Equally im­por­tant for King was the men­tor­ing and lead­er­ship pro­grams that gave her a ca­reer edge once she left univer­sity. At for­mal din­ners every Mon­day night, high-achiev­ing speak­ers, such as then West­pac CEO Gail Kelly, in­spired stu­dents to strive high. In her third year, she spoke monthly to Julie McKay, then ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of UN Women Aus­tralia, about work­ing in the not-for-profit sec­tor.

By the time King was elected leader of the 285-strong stu­dent body in 2013, she was de­ter­mined to give back and help oth­ers ex­pe­ri­ence the ad­van­tages of The Women’s Col­lege. She set up the stu­dent-run Pay-It-For­ward phil­an­thropic fund to en­cour­age schol­ar­ship hold­ers like her­self to do­nate what they could to re­pay their good for­tune. “To me, it was a bit of a no-brainer to sup­port the women of the fu­ture,” says King, who now con­trib­utes $50 a month to­wards her goal of $10,000. Over the past six years, many Women’s Col­lege alum­nae have par­tic­i­pated.

King cred­its her col­lege ex­pe­ri­ence with land­ing her first post-univer­sity job on the highly se­lec­tive Teach for Aus­tralia pro­gram, which com­bines a Master of Teach­ing with two years’ work as a sec­ondary school teacher in lower so­cioe­co­nomic com­mu­ni­ties. “I would never have got a look-in with­out my lead­er­ship ex­pe­ri­ences at col­lege,” says King. “Col­lege is a mas­sive leg-up, an in­vest­ment to ac­cel­er­ate your fu­ture ca­reer suc­cess.”

The ca­reer ben­e­fits don’t end with the first job; King says The Women’s Col­lege’s ex­ten­sive alum­nae net­work reaches into every sec­tor of the work­force and every cor­ner of the globe. “They open doors, they make in­tro­duc­tions, they in­vite you to stay with them,” says King. “They are women help­ing each other. They want to make all of us shine.”

Last year, King re­turned to live and work at The Women’s Col­lege, in charge of phi­lan­thropy and alum­nae re­la­tions.

A key fo­cus is the cam­paign to raise $5 mil­lion over five years for the col­lege’s stun­ning new Sibyl Cen­tre, opened by for­mer gov­er­nor-gen­eral and the col­lege’s past prin­ci­pal Dame Quentin Bryce in March.

The $25 mil­lion curved, three-level build­ing houses a sec­ond li­brary, tu­to­rial rooms, an au­di­to­rium, light-filled de­sign rooms and sound­proof mu­sic rooms, as well as a rooftop ter­race and court­yard. The cen­tre is named af­ter a char­ac­ter in a play com­mis­sioned for the col­lege in 1913. The Greek prophet­ess pre­dicted the fu­ture achieve­ments of women – as rel­e­vant to­day as it was then. “The cen­tre is de­signed for women and mainly funded by women,” says King. “It’s a bold state­ment of what we stand for.”

“Col­lege is a mas­sive leg-up – an in­vest­ment to ac­cel­er­ate your fu­ture ca­reer suc­cess.”

Pic­tured: Alisha King in front of the Sibyl Cen­tre

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