From left: Cristina Quijano, Kathleen Keefe and Amanda Blair

It started in 2015 with a simple idea—to build connections between the women of the Jackson community.

After hosting a number of successful on-campus events, the student group received an offer they couldn’t refuse: to hold a 40-person gathering at the New York City apartment of Jackson Senior Fellow Blair Miller. Over appetizers and wine, Jackson Women took shape.

The group has since grown into a formal graduate student organization that offers wide-ranging programming, including social events, peer coaching, volunteer opportunities, and networking and career conversations with Jackson alumnae, World Fellows, Senior Fellows and faculty.

Like the gathering at Miller’s home—now an annual tradition—much of the group’s programming is geared toward creating opportunities for informal mentorship and career exploration.

For example, this year the group has hosted an outdoor pumpkin carving event with undergraduate mentees, a picnic in East Rock Park, a “fireside chat” where members talked about managing their careers, and a “speed networking” event, during which attendees delivered their elevator pitches & received direct, specific feedback from alumnae and peers.

“We wanted to create opportunities for students to get practice in a comfortable environment where the stakes were low,” explained Amanda Blair, a second-year MA student who organizes Jackson Women’s career-related events.

Group members are able to have open conversations around more difficult topics—such as salary negotiation—and those that go beyond the academic setting, such as finding the right partner and achieving work-life balance.

Blair says she has personally benefitted from being able to tap into the Jackson Women network for advice. “It’s refreshing to hear from women who are more advanced in their careers that it’s ok not to always know what your next step is, career-wise,” she said.

The group also provides a support network for women who are interested in career fields that have historically been male-dominated, such as national security.

“It’s a safe space, but also a brave space,” said Cristina Quijano, a second-year MA student who serves as program lead for Jackson Women’s alumnae engagement arm.

“Graduate school is a space where you grow academically as well as personally and professionally. We reflect on how we want to change the world. We learn from and inspire each other,” she said.

“Relationships are critical for building a meaningful career and life. The Jackson Women’s network helps women build deep friendships allowing them to take risks, see new perspectives, and support one another when times are tough,” said Miller, who has taught classes at Jackson since 2016. “This is the foundation for growth.”

“Being involved with Jackson Women has allowed me to support emerging women as well as engage in new ideas and pathways for change. I always walk away from our conversations filled with hope and gratitude,” added Miller.

When the pandemic hit, much of the group’s programming moved online, with an unexpected silver lining: alumnae living all over the globe‚ from Iceland to Washington, D.C., were now able to join in. The Zoom gatherings also provided solidarity and a sense of community amidst the many challenges presented by the public health crisis.

Engaging with Jackson’s women-identifying alumnae has been particularly rewarding, Quijano says, because “they have gone through the same journey as us and have gone on to do amazing things.”

Quijano hopes Jackson Women will continue to flourish long after she leaves Yale, and she plans to stay involved as an alum. “I hope to continue to have opportunities to connect with women who inspire me,” she said.

Blair credits classmate and Jackson Women president Kathleen Keefe with expanding its programming and instituting a more formal organizational structure.

“One of our main goals for the year was to formalize the organization’s leadership structure and add new program areas based on student interest, including alumnae engagement, professional development, and community volunteering,” said Keefe, who will graduate in May with a joint degree from Jackson and the School of Management.

“Creating space for female-identifying members at Jackson is important for building community and support structures both at Yale and beyond – where a strong network of Jackson Women grads can help combat gender discrimination in global affairs careers,” she said.

“I’m thankful for the efforts of past Jackson students who founded Jackson Women, and for the experience I had this year working with my classmates to design and build new program areas and expand the organization’s reach.”