`It's an Empowering Experience'

WHEN Laurie Durnell first entered the Simmons Graduate School of Management this fall, she was surprised by the way her professors spoke in class.

"Professors use the feminine pronoun all the time," says Ms. Durnell. "They'll say, `When the CEO meets with the press, she always brings....' When I first heard that, it was like someone used `ain't.' The grammar of it was shocking."

The habitual use of the female pronoun epitomizes the uniqueness of the Simmons MBA program, students say.

"It's a really empowering experience," says Laureen McVay, who left a management position in California to enroll at Simmons. "When I was working, I had a hard time finding women mentors.... Here, there are people who have worked for 15 or 20 years in a particular industry.... That applied with the cases and my own experience brings it all together."

Simmons builds confidence in its students by exposing them to successful women at every opportunity. Nearly all the cases used in classes feature women. "As women, we don't see very many women who run businesses," Durnell says. "Here we get to see, in case after case, women in positions of power - vice presidents, presidents - and these are cases about real women."

Katie Schuller moved to Boston from Texas 18 years ago so that her husband could attend the Harvard Business School. Now she is enrolled in the part-time Simmons MBA program. Since she began taking classes, Ms. Schuller has inherited her father's investment company. "I had to use all my new skills immediately," she says.

Now that she has almost completed the program, Schuller says: "I feel much more secure in decisions I make. I do all my own analysis now. I don't need to ask anybody for validation."

Many women who come to Simmons find that their ambitions are raised by the experience. "Because typically women's opportunities have been so limited, there's a tendency to shoot below what you're really capable of," says student Susan Munter. "After seeing all the opportunities available through the women in class and through the cases, I'm encouraged to shoot higher."

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