Drawing from a localized background, I noticed the concerted efforts of Utah institutions to increase women's college retention and graduation rates as legitimate agency reforms. The status of higher education in Utah reveals "conditions and contexts" (Royster & Kirsch, 2012, p. 14) replete with female mentoring relationships based on networking, equitability, and reflection.
Recent studies show that more Utah women need to realize their unique potentials to positively influence their own family, community, and work environments and level the playing field. Unfortunately, significant gender difference at the bachelor and graduate levels was reported in the 2013 Utah Women and Education Initiative: Research & Policy Brief, suggesting that "much work [must] be done [for women] to change the trend in college completion rates" (Madsen & Sarin, 2013a, p. 2). The share of Utah's female population with bachelor's and graduate degrees (vs. Utah males) was below the national average, as seen in the latest 2018 progress report: "Utah women rank lower than Utah men, US women, and US men even though these differences are decreasing over time [...] Utah is near the bottom [emphasis added] of all states in fall female enrollment, and Utah women's postsecondary educational attainment is still gendered by program length and field of study -- both of which are linked to less favorable economic outcomes" (Jeppsen, 2018, p. 3, 5). Granted things had gradually improved for women since 2013, Figure 1 yet illustrates a dismal comparison between genders in the state and the country altogether (Jeppsen, 2018, p. 3).
To this end, it is necessary for Utah to implement "an integrated approach" in reversing gender bias and increasing college completion rates (Madsen & Sarin, 2013b). Madsen (2015) argued that "more should be done to help girls and women become more confident and become leaders" (p. 2), inasmuch as improved perceptions grant them the leverage to contribute to the state's local, social, and economic development. Such a strategy calls for women to spread positive reinforcements at the grassroots level, fostering encouragement and accountability in higher education through research and program initiatives that amplify the role of education in changing lives and attaining parity.
At present, some of these concerted efforts in Utah are either statewide (e.g., Utah Women in Higher Education Network, Utah Women and Leadership Project, Utah Women and Education Initiative) or local (e.g., American Association of University Women - St. George Branch, Women's Influence Center). For example, the Women's Resource Center of Dixie State University in southern Utah was established in 2012-2013 to provide resources that help female students meet their academic and professional goals. As its first director, I worked with both campus and community partners to bring access to scholarships, mentoring, professional development, advocacy/counseling services, and so on. This Center, and other like-minded groups in the state, attempt to disrupt gender inequity in higher education and place women in various capacities. Following Royster & Kirsch (2012), "we need to make more visible the social circles within which they [e.g., Utah women in higher education] have functioned and continue to function as rhetorical agents" (p. 24).
(Re)contextualizing Mentoring Digital Narratives
Utah's women organizations act as social networks that cultivate feminist rhetorical practices and linkages across sociopolitical and cultural contexts, settings, and communities. One activity that promotes growth, direction, and accountability among women participants is mentoring, where mentor-mentee relationships are engaged in circulating knowledge (Duff, 1999), interconnections (Blalock, 2014), and goal-settings (Temple, Sibley, & Orr, 2010). Mentoring sites happen all over the world, but for Utah women in higher education, archiving and sharing the success of these dynamic relationships will compound their effects and address the current numbers gap.
Notable mentoring experiences have rhetorical functions and capturing them in digital platforms for distribution/access has become ubiquitous, especially in storytelling (Alexander, 2011). Those who listen to these stories are immediately taken into the myriad of ways that mentoring has helped shape the student mentees' academic/professional lives and construct contextual realities for possible enrichment. As follows, the DSU Women's Resource Center collection of mentoring digital narratives fits this mold, inspiring others to duplicate the practice and (hopefully) prevail in "moving the needle" (American Council on Education [ACE], 2018).