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Dashney Women’s Leadership Accelerator pays it forward to next generation of leaders

By Grace Griffin, student writer
Monday, June 3, 2024

Michigan State University alumni are some of the most important stakeholders in the institution’s legacy. They inspire future generations of Spartans who come after them and represent their alma mater with pride. This mindset is shared among the Broad College’s more than 85,000 alumni and enables our community to continue to succeed.

The Dashney Women’s Leadership Accelerator, launched in 2024, is a prime example of how alumni continue to give back. In 2001, Priya Balasubramaniam graduated from MSU with an MBA concentrating in supply chain management. Today, she is the vice president of operations at Apple and the incoming president of the Broad College’s Alumni Advisory Board for 2024–25. Her success at MSU and in the corporate world was enriched thanks to the advice and mentorship she received from Helen Dashney, fixed-term faculty in the Department of Finance.

Thanks to a game-changing gift from Balasubramaniam, she and Dashney teamed up to start the DWLA as a prestigious opportunity for all students who aspire to work in a business-related career.

“Our goal is to help scholars prepare for the transition from college to the workplace so that they can gain immediate traction in their early roles, helping to propel their journey to senior leadership positions,” Dashney said.

Leaders learn from leaders

As the DWLA director, Dashney has begun building a strong community of success by bringing in leaders of different areas of expertise to speak with the scholars. Highlighting her experience as a woman in leadership, Interim Dean Judith Whipple joined the cohort for brunch this semester.

“It was wonderful to meet the inaugural cohort of scholars and to hear about their impressive backgrounds and the leadership experiences they’ve already had as students,” she said.

The scholars asked Whipple about how she’s navigated her career, her decision to join academia and her advice for them as they prepare for the careers they’ll have when they eventually leave the banks of the Red Cedar. “The conversation with the scholars gave me a chance to reflect on my own leadership journey, recognizing the mentors as well as colleagues who have supported me and provided me with a strong network and community throughout my career,” Whipple said.

Whipple also acknowledged Dashney’s role in bringing together and mentoring this dedicated and passionate group of scholars: “Knowing how impactful she has been for so many students and alumni, I’m very appreciative and thankful for Helen’s leadership of the Accelerator as its founding director.”

Kymm Hadlock, fixed-term faculty in the Department of Finance, offered a four-part workshop about business communication and giving a strong presentation. Hadlock worked with the scholars individually as they practiced their own presentations, video recording and offering tailored feedback. She focused on making sure the speakers deliver their message with confidence and captivating the audience.

Scholar Abby Peck, a hospitality business junior and CFO of MSU’s Meeting and Events Club, said of her experience, “Being a scholar has greatly benefited me in my leadership skills. We have been participating in monthly workshops that are focused on public speaking taught by Professor Hadlock. Through these workshops, I have become more aware of my body language when public speaking and have been working on improving that body language. I’ve also become more comfortable with impromptu speaking.”

In addition, every Monday the DWLA scholars start their week learning more about a leadership skill and its meaning; this student-led activity is called Monday Morning Musings. Scholar Rijul Mahajan, a supply chain management senior and professional development chair for the Broad International Student Council, presented a three-week series on the three skills that Balasubramaniam lives by: passion, perseverance and patience.

An essential part of leadership is being aware of current events. Weekly, Dashney and the cohort join in group discussions based on recent articles and podcasts in business news. For example, following the busy holiday season, Simone Peinkofer, associate professor of supply chain management, spoke to DWLA scholars on Amazon’s return issue. Conversations like these allow the scholars to relate recent events to their classroom learnings.

Scholar Mariana Flores-Cantu, a supply chain management junior and co-founder of MSU’s Spartan Consulting Academy, said, “We engage in continuous discussions and activities that have allowed me to gain confidence in public speaking, become more assertive with my decisions and become more comfortable with talking to people I don’t know. All of these are valuable skills that I know I will continue to use throughout the rest of my career, regardless of the position, company or industry I am a part of.”

The multiplier effect

Outside of the classroom, the scholars engage in several fun activities to promote team bonding as well as growing relationships within the community: yoga classes, Sunday night dinners at Dashney’s home and occasional coffee chats at Panera with her.

“Through these events the students not only get to know each other better but are interested in knowing more about me than they observe in school,” Dashney said. “I now understand better the various ways they observe and learn. They get few opportunities to connect with a faculty member in this way.”

Dashney also spends much of her time working one-on-one with the scholars on developing individual skills that they have chosen for themselves, like practicing how to give proper feedback or how to make yourself assertive while not being disrespectful.

“I have been working with Helen Dashney on ambiguity. I am someone that struggles when given a task that is not clearly outlined. When I identified the issue with Helen, we came up with ways I could tackle ambiguity head on, which this semester has been in my research work and group projects. I am hoping to continue to work on becoming comfortable with ambiguity in my internship this summer,” Peck said.

Growing as an individual and as a group is a key aspect that Balasubramaniam and Dashney wanted to incorporate into the DWLA. They knew they wanted the cohort to be small enough for individual time with the students to help them develop both personally and professionally and spread the word of empowerment and community to others.

Uplifting one another

On March 8, the DWLA invited several clubs across MSU to join them in the celebration of International Women’s Day and to empower one another. They welcomed 40 guests, including local alumni, faculty and women’s organizations across the colleges of MSU, from Social Science to Engineering. Together they learned from Maria Duey, founder and CEO of Leonine Advisory, as she spoke about her experiences in the corporate world. Later they conversed in roundtable discussions and grew their network by connecting with other attendees. The event was successful for scholars to share their experiences with leaders in different clubs and grow the DWLA community.

The event also posed an opportunity for experiential learning. Peck put her hospitality business knowledge to the test, playing a major role in creating the event. She worked with Dashney to create an event timeline, meet with the facilities team at Broad and much more. Through her role as CFO and working as an intern for a wedding venue in Lexington, Kentucky, she developed the experience and the passion to run a successful celebration.

“Running a successful event has encouraged my passion for leadership because it is so rewarding to see the outcome of the event and the joy it can bring people. It is so easy to get imposter syndrome when planning an event, especially as a college student, because it’s scary to make big decisions. But when the event is happening, you get to see all of your hard work in the form of people connecting and coming together in celebration. That kind of happiness fuels me and inspires me to continue learning and growing so I can make my next event even better,” Peck said.

Dashney reminds leaders that “We all rise when one rises.” The goal with events like these is to empower a large community of leaders from all backgrounds. Dashney and Balasubramaniam have created opportunities for so many, and they continue to do so.

Spartans are stronger together

Beyond the International Women’s Day celebration, the semester has been filled with exciting opportunities to spread the word of the new program. On March 3, Dashney and scholars Peck and Khadija Kapuswala, supply chain management senior, were featured on the MSUToday Podcast discussing the program’s vision, what the initial cohort is experiencing thus far and what’s to come in the future.

In the final month of active duty for this year’s scholars, they had the opportunity to participate in several events. From April 4-7, four of the  DWLA scholars attended the McCombs School of Business’ The competition was hosted by Apple, and groups were asked to recommend new packaging for Apple to help the company reach its targets for the following year. It was a tough competition, but the group plans on returning next year. Afterward, the students met a few alumni who are currently employed at Apple to learn from them and spread the word about DWLA.

On April 11, the group attended the Broad College’s Advancing Women in Business event, where they met Balasubramanium in person. They were able to thank her and speak to her one-on-one about the program and leadership. Attending the program in Troy, MI and learning from Balasubramaniam was a great way to wrap up the school year.

The inaugural DWLA scholar cohort:

  • Abeeha Zaidi, supply chain management junior
  • Ella Laurens, marketing junior
  • Mariana Flores-Cantu, supply chain management junior
  • Dalia Housey, supply chain management junior
  • Symone King, human resource management senior
  • Khadija Kapuswala, supply chain management senior
  • Molly Longman, finance junior
  • Abby Peck, hospitality business junior
  • Kate Vanderspool, marketing junior
  • Rijul Mahajan, supply chain management senior
  • Addison Kiteley, supply chain management junior
  • Kennedi Bryant, human resource management junior
  • Hannah Bennett, finance junior
  • Alexis Cuellar, accounting junior


When asked if she had any advice for Spartans looking to pursue a career in the business field, Flores-Cantu said to take chances. “Whether you’re applying for an internship, reaching out to connect with someone or establishing relationships with peers and mentors in college, don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and take a chance. There are endless opportunities to grow professionally, and professional growth often comes with personal development, so taking a chance is always worth it.”

Breaking the mold

The DWLA is focused on relationships and finding what makes an individual stand out to be valuable to a team. Together Dashney and Balasubramaniam have formed a new community of accomplished leaders and future leaders to support one another in their growth. Women and all people who desire a career in the business field now have even more support and resources to be successful. The only requirement: pay it forward.

“It’s mandatory that we invest in the next generation of leaders to keep our communities, businesses and country overall strong,” Dashney said. “I ‘preach’ that with opportunity comes responsibility. These students understand that means they will invest in younger members just as people have invested in them.”

Current DWLA scholars have been helping select next year’s cohort by coming up with questions, interviewing students and making final decisions. Dashney said she could not be prouder of these leaders.

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