New Kendra Scott Center in Doty Fine Arts Building supports student collaborations and Kendra Scott Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership Institute programming
By Alicia Dietrich
Since its launch event in September 2019, the Kendra Scott Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership Institute (KS WEL Institute) is thriving through its student-centered programming and offerings.
The KS WEL Institute is a collaboration between entrepreneur and designer Kendra Scott and The University of Texas at Austin created to address the challenges women often face in business. By increasing engagement and support for female-identifying entrepreneurs on campus, the KS WEL Institute aims to boost the number of women-owned and women-led businesses.
Led by Director Lesley Robinson, the KS WEL Institute spearheaded a number of efforts to bring more students into the mix, creating a Student Advisory Board and hiring six student interns to support the marketing, creative and event-planning needs of the program.
“If you want something to be successful, it needs to be for students and by students,” said Robinson. “Because it’s a leadership institute, it makes a lot of sense for us to walk the walk and have students actually learning leadership by being leaders within the institute. So, we set the framework for it to be as student-run and student-driven as possible so that we could involve student voices in all aspects, from programming to curriculum to internships.”
While campus was mostly closed during the pandemic in 2020-2021, the first floor of the Doty Fine Arts Building underwent a complete redesign and renovation. Thanks to generous support from Kendra Scott herself, the newly renamed Kendra Scott Center offers a beautiful and flexible space that can host college programming and KS WEL Institute events, as well as new staff offices, huddle rooms and a new check-in desk for the Student Affairs and Fine Arts Career Services teams in the college.
“The new space is beautiful and innovative, a home for creativity and entrepreneurship,” said Jessica Sutherland, a recent B.F.A. in Design graduate who worked as an intern and a member of the Student Advisory Board for the KS WEL Institute. “I believe having this space will create a hub of collaboration across multiple disciplines and schools.”
Sutherland became interested in entrepreneurship after taking Professor of Practice Jan Ryan’s Women in Entrepreneurship class. Sutherland also participated in programming offered by the college’s Center for Creative Entrepreneurship, and when the KS WEL Institute launched in 2019, Ryan connected Sutherland with Robinson for a creative design internship opportunity. In her internship, Sutherland had the opportunity to help develop the creative brand assets for the KS WEL Institute brand in a way that expressed the core values of the program to empower, equip and build community.
“In my major, design thinking is the core of problem-solving and creating well-designed solutions,” Sutherland said. “I think the KS WEL Institute is where you can really roll up your sleeves and learn the next steps to make your ideas a reality in a space that supports creatives in being entrepreneurial. Being a part of the KS WEL Institute was 100 percent the highlight of my time at UT and gave me the confidence and tools to be a leader.”
Sutherland also had the opportunity to work on marketing material for two signature events hosted by the KS WEL Institute: the Women’s Summit and International Women’s Day. In November 2020, the institute hosted its first Women’s Summit, bringing together a diverse lineup of prominent business leaders to share their experiences on everything from fundraising to imposter syndrome to pitching strategies to mentorship—all through a woman-centered lens. While the summit was originally planned as an in-person event, the team pivoted to create an engaging virtual event that drew 1,500 participants. In March, the KS WEL Institute hosted a half day of virtual programming for International Women’s Day, drawing almost 400 participants.
All of the KS WEL Institute programming was created in collaboration with the Student Advisory Board, which included three students from the College of Fine Arts: Sutherland, Studio Art student Katelyn Roy and Arts and Entertainment Technologies student Isabella Droz. Sutherland served as a peer mentor to Roy, who spent almost all of her freshman year at UT in a completely online format. Roy, who heard about the Student Advisory Board opportunity via social media, spent most of her first year learning remotely off campus. The sense of community that the KS WEL Institute offered was critical to her first-year experience at the university.
“I can always reach out to Jessica and ask, ‘Hey, what do you think of this class?’” Roy said. “So, it’s not just women outreach in the community, but we women help each other in our own organization, which is really nice.”
Both Roy and Sutherland spoke about the importance of finding their community at UT through their involvement in the KS WEL Institute, but the program also offered tangible skill-building and hands-on learning opportunities. Roy and Sutherland worked on creative graphic materials and website content together throughout the year, and Sutherland offered advice and support.
“What I love is that it’s not just focused only on entrepreneurship. It’s about empowering women to lead in any career or industry,” Sutherland said. “Just being able to connect and hear from women leaders and entrepreneurs has been the most valuable part of my experience with the institute. I came in with a lot of imposter syndrome, but because I worked with such an amazing group of women, I quickly overcame my fears. The KS WEL Institute environment empowers you to lead, embraces who you are and supports your professional development in the areas you want to explore. It truly follows through on its goals of empowering women to lead and encouraging the world to follow. I’ve never been in an environment where there was so much collaboration and support.”