Network Joins Female Grad Students

Over lunch last October, five female friends from the Kennedy School of Government (KSG) decided it was time to unite the 10,000 women at Harvard’s graduate schools.

Last week they launched The Network, an initiative which is intended to bring together the female populations of Harvard’s graduate schools.

“Life after graduate school is multi-disciplinary,” said Meredith B. Fascett, co-founder and KSG liaison for The Network. “We created The Network to get to know the women at the other schools so that we can collaborate with them in the future.”

After only a few months of planning, the women launched The Network with a kick-off event on Feb. 10.

“The turnout was unbelievable,” said Maura Kennedy, Network liaison for Harvard Medical School (HMS). “I walked into the room and there were people packed side to side. You couldn’t get to the table to get a glass of water because there were so many people filling the room.”

The Network co-founder and KSG liaison Sara F. Shenkan said that every one of the 150 seats at last week’s launch was occupied. Even though there are only 200 current members, the organization wants to involve all 10,000 women enrolled in the University’s graduate schools.

“All the women [at the graduate schools] don’t have to become members,” said Fascett. “But we do want everyone to participate.”

To facilitate participation, each of Harvard’s graduate schools has a Network liaison.

“We had a hard time finding people at other schools who could be liaisons,” Fascett said. “That really emphasized the need for The Network.”

Membership to The Network is not open to female students from the College because the organization seeks to foster multi-disciplinary collaboration among graduate students rather than offer career advice to undergraduates, according to Fascett. Students from the College are, she said, welcome to attend Network events.

Members underscored the importance of The Network’s function for graduate students.

“I decided to get involved because I am a strong proponent of women forming professional and personal networks,” said Kennedy. “I am a graduate of Smith College and I have seen the power that can come from women working together.”

For last Tuesday’s launch, The Network hired Alison Levine, team leader of the first U.S. All-Woman’s Mt. Everest Expedition, to present as its keynote speaker.

Levine focused on career and leadership lessons she learned from her climb.

“Alison got a standing ovation. Someone came up to me after the [launch] event and said, ‘This is fabulous, I didn’t realize what The Network was and now I want to get involved,’” Shenkan said. “‘Alison Levine inspired me,’ added the woman, ‘and now I feel energized to go back and finish my problem set.’”

Each graduate school will be responsible for sponsoring a follow-up event. In addition to these events, The Network has created a list-serve so that all women can get involved online.

Next month, The Network organizers said they will host the group’s second gathering—possibly a wine and cheese party—for female graduate students to have a chance to meet one another.

“The Network is about dynamic women getting to know each other,” Shenkan said. “These women can accomplish great things together.”

—Staff writer Claire G. Friedman can be reached at cfriedm@fas.harvard.edu.