December 8, 2023

By Erika Haskins, PhD, ‘23, MA, ’10, BBA, ‘05

The University of the Incarnate Word is committed to cultivating the development of the whole person and fostering values of lifelong learning. This commitment is deeply intertwined with the mission and ministry of the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word. In keeping with this mission, UIW alumnae Erika Haskins, Jennifer Stuart and Linda Gjergji are mentoring and facilitating a high school global leadership program that focuses on women and young women's global issues known as UIWs Young Women's Global Leadership Program (YWGLP). They are joined in their efforts with this program by Dr. Joan Labay-Marquez, YWGLP program sponsor and YWGLP advisors Sister Martha Ann Kirk, ThD and Dr. Ricardo Gonzalez.

YWGLP: Nurturing Sustainable Global Leaders

The YWGLP is unique in that it is a girl-led global leadership program. Founded in 2012 under Women's Global Connection (a sponsored ministry of the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word), the Young Women's Global Leadership Program, formerly Girls Leadership San Antonio, focuses on learning opportunities emphasizing leadership development skills, social justice issues, global citizenship, and cross-cultural awareness. YWGLP is open to all 9 - 12 grade young women regardless of their academic capabilities, socio-economic level, or leadership potential. Over 80 high school students from Kenya, Turkey, Kosovo, Uganda and the USA participate in the YWGLP annually. YWGLP’s collaborative global partners include Chango Secondary School (Kenya), Holy Cross Lakeview Secondary School (Uganda) and other partners including church and local communities located in in Kaberamaido, Tororo, Jinja, Kampala (Uganda) and Kosovo.

While the eight-month mentorship program is ongoing throughout the academic year, the YWGLP members meet once a month on a Saturday morning at UIW. Under the guidance of their mentors and facilitators, the local young women gather in person and on Zoom. At each meeting, the young women present with their team about issues they are passionate about. This is also a time for young women to learn about each other’s culture, engage in meaningful discussions, and develop their leadership skills. During the program year, the young women learn about the importance of the United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals and gender equality. The young women present their research at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (UN CSW) in New York each year. This year's UN CSW68 theme focuses on the empowerment of women and eliminating poverty.

The YWGLP members are at the forefront of advocating for care for others and the environment. They raise awareness about the interconnectedness of social justice and environmental issues, emphasizing the importance of sustainable living and empathy towards others.

For example, two years ago, San Antonio YWGLP members focused their research on the digital divide, where young women in economically disadvantaged areas do not have access to technology. The YWGLP presented their research at the UN CSW66, took the initiative to apply for a grant from the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word, and purchased laptops for their YWGLP peers in Uganda and Kenya who did not have access to computers in their homes or schools. This year, the high school young women, now in 11th grade, offer instructional workshops in technology, specifically cybersecurity, to their peers in Kenya. These initiatives, driven by the young women's passion, reflect the program's commitment to fostering global citizenship and advocacy for sustainable development.

The young women in Kenya have been actively engaged in climate change projects. This summer under the direction of their mentor, Hildah Nyongesa, YWGLP members attending Chango Secondary School planted 66 seedlings at their school with a goal to plant 100 trees in the surrounding area. The lack of trees in the regions forces the young women to travel far when they are required to collect firewood, placing the young woman in danger and at risk of harm. Further, this problem may cause the young woman to miss school. The young women initiated the plan to establish small tree nurseries with both indigenous and exotic trees.

Through their collective efforts, these young women are fostering a culture of caring within their schools and inspiring positive change in their communities, paving the way for a more empathetic and environmentally conscious society.

Erika HaskinsErika Haskins, BBA ‘05, MA ’10, PhD ’23:

Championing Women’s Leadership, Past, Present, and Future

Erika Haskins has successfully defended her study on the experiences of young women in the Girls Leadership San Antonio program, which has earned her a doctorate in Organizational Leadership from the Dreeben School of Education. Her research focus is women's and girl's leadership and early Texas history.

Over the past four years, she has been a graduate research assistant to Dr. LuElla D'Amico, an English Professor and coordinator for the Women's and Gender Studies program. Haskins has been invited to teach undergraduate theology at UIW in Spring 2024, and she also holds leadership positions for various women's organizations. As a former Women’s Global Connection member, she has been a dedicated volunteer and mentor for YWGLP since 2020 and she is the YWGLP director. In 2022, Haskins was the first doctoral student to earn the CCVI Spirit Award. The CCVI Spirit Award is given to a faculty, administration, or staff member who has exemplified the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word spirit by serving the University and/or the wider community.

Haskins' journey in the Women’s Global Connection, under the mentorship of the late CCVI Sister Dorothy Ettling, has been transformative, inspiring her to continue to teach globally and instill the values of leadership, entrepreneurship, and service to others in young women. In 2010, Erika traveled to Mongu, Zambia where she designed and implemented workshops in business, leadership, technology, and theology for women in rural areas. Today, in keeping with the mission and spirit of the CCVI Sisters and the Women’s Global Connection, Haskins mentors high school young women and continuously engages in mentorship sessions with adult women in Uganda and Kenya. Haskins emphasized, "empower a woman or young woman with an education, support her aspirations, and nurture her desire to serve others, and you will witness the birth of a fearless leader who can change the world."

Jennifer StuartJennifer Stuart, BA ’05, MA ‘16:

Advocating for Single Mothers’ Education

Jennifer Stuart is a UIW doctoral candidate in the Dreeben School of Education, earning her doctorate in Adult Education, Social Innovation, and Entrepreneurship. Her research focuses on the psychological aspects of single mothers pursuing higher education. With an extensive background in education, Stuart brings a unique perspective to the YWGLP mentorship team. Stuart has been an active mentor in the YWGLP for two years. In addition to her exceptional skills and knowledge in her field, Stuart possesses a unique ability to empathize with others, understanding their struggles and challenges on a profound level. She listens and truly hears the voices of those she interacts with, offering solace, support, and encouragement where needed most.


Linda GjergiLinda Gjergji, MBA ‘17:

Empowering Women in Developing Countries

Linda Gjergji, another driven UIW alumna pursuing her Ph.D. in Adult Education, Social Innovation, and Entrepreneurship, exemplifies the spirit of global service. She is currently working as a program specialist for PTAC Center, part of the Institute for Economic Development at UTSA. She coordinates the procurement assistance for 37 counties in the San Antonio area. As a USAID fully funded scholar for the Transformational Leadership Program in Kosovo, Gjergji has established a non-profit organization focused on women's empowerment in her home country. Her research interests, spanning women entrepreneurs, entrepreneurship in developing countries, and women's issues in developing nations, align perfectly with the YWGLP's mission of addressing global women's issues and promoting education as a catalyst for change.

Gjergji has been a mentor in the YWGLP for two years. She was instrumental in advocating for young women in Kosovo to join the YWGLP. While attending her graduate studies courses at UIW, she mentored young women through technology. During her holiday breaks, she returned to her home country and continued her mentoring in person. Gjergji believes that increasing women’s education, leadership, and business involvement is the first step toward improving gender gaps in access to economic opportunities in developing countries.

Aligning with UIW's Mission: Cultivating the Whole Person

At UIW, the Mission is to cultivate the development of the whole person and promote values of lifelong learning, community service, and social justice. The YWGLP embodies these principles, nurturing academic excellence, compassion, empathy, and leadership. The mentors and facilitators, including our alumnae, exemplify these values, ensuring that the young women involved in the program are prepared to tackle the global challenges with confidence and resilience.

A Life for God and a Heart for Others:

A Shared Commitment

In the spirit of the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word, Haskins, Stuart and Gjergji epitomize the essence of "a life for God and a heart for others." Through their unwavering dedication to the Young Women's Global Leadership Program, they continue to inspire, mentor, and uplift the lives of countless young women, echoing the profound impact of the CCVI Sisters' living legacy. Their dedication is a testament to the enduring impact of education and mentorship, inspiring us all to contribute to a more equitable future for women and young women worldwide.

If you are interested in supporting or volunteering for the Young Women's Global Leadership Program, you may email Haskins at

To learn more about the program and past projects, visit the Young Women's Global Leadership Program website.