By Charleen Wilcox
Abigail Bowen, a third-year Ph.D. student and president of the Political Science Graduate Student Association at GSU, sees a powerful connection between sports participation and ambition in women. Having participated in organized sports throughout her life, Abigail realized how participation in sports helps women gain confidence as well as ambition.
“Some form of athleticism has always been a part of my life. I grew up in Spain, where soccer is very big and I’ve since become a big fan of U.S. women’s soccer,” she explains. “There’s a political impact to sports and women playing sports will have political ramifications. Research suggests that women are less politically ambitious because of an aversion to competition, but sports can correct that; playing sports forces you to be competitive and become confident.”
This connection between sports and ambition, in fact, has become the topic of her dissertation research and led her to work with Dr. Sarah Gershon on the design and implementation of the first survey measuring the impact of the WomenLead program on its students this fall.
Dr. Gershon, an associate professor of political science, taught two sections of WomenLead in Policy and Politics this year and knew that bringing Abigail into the fold would help realize the program’s goal of formally gauging its impact on students. As a signature experience program, WomenLead provides experiential, immersive learning opportunities and builds a feeling of community among its students, all of which are designed to encourage confidence and ambition.
Students across all sections of the WomenLead course this semester completed pre- and post-surveys that included questions about their expectations of their academic performance, feelings about their anticipated career trajectory, their perceived ability to learn new things, their perception of how they rank themselves in relation to peers who share their major, their level of civic engagement, and their experience holding leadership positions. Approved by the Institutional Review Board, or IRB, the pre- and post-surveys also ask students to more directly gauge their agreement with statements such as “I enjoy competition,” and “I am ambitious.”
“The goal of the WomenLead program is to help students develop professional skills and empower them to assume leadership positions, and the survey is meant to gauge the impact of the program,” Abigail says. “We’re hoping that through participation in WomenLead, students will gain a strong belief in their own abilities and be empowered to pursue opportunities. I’m really excited to see the results of our surveys and I hope we’re able capture the impact the program has on students.”
The pre- and post-surveys have been approved for the next five years, and will be repeated each semester during that period in order to build the sample size.
“We’re looking for diversity across a host of variables and bigger sample sizes give that; the more data you have, the better, and it’s easier to identify trends in bigger samples. Polling at least 1,000 students would be great,” Abigail shares. “In general, we expect to see an increase in students’ belief in abilities and expected success.”
In addition to overseeing the pre- and post-surveys for WomenLead, Abigail will be heading to Austin, Texas next month to present her research at the Southern Political Science Association’s annual conference. She will present a paper titled, “From running laps to running for office,” as part of a panel organized around gender and political psychology.