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Leadership Profile: Jamie Edwards

Rho Lambda, a leadership and honor society for sorority women, features individuals in a Women’s Leadership Series based on their contributions to campus life and their achievements as role models in the Carnegie Mellon and greater Pittsburgh communities. Jamie Edwards is the organization’s second honoree for the series.

The soon-concluding academic year has been hectic for Edwards, a junior political science and history and policy double major with a minor in gender studies. In addition to her coursework, preparation for the February LSAT, research at the Infant Cognition Lab, and her work on the Student Advisory Council, she has taken on significant leadership positions on campus as the committee chair for MOSAIC, a sexual assault advisor, and a head orientation counselor. Somehow, however, Edwards has not only managed to juggle each responsibility; she has set lofty goals for each one of her extracurricular commitments.

“Honestly, being a student is probably the least commitment I have,” Edwards said. With her numerous responsibilities, she combined her coursework and research into 42 total units this spring, allowing time to prepare for MOSAIC, the LSAT, and next semester’s Orientation. “I try to keep myself organized, having to-do lists and visually checking them off. I try to be as effective as possible with my time,” she continued. “I’ve realized that at Carnegie Mellon you really have to find what your passion is and stick to that.”

From her work in MOSAIC to developing the sexual assault advisors program, Edwards has contributed tremendously to women’s and gender issues at Carnegie Mellon. In the fall of 2004 she went through sexual assault advisor training and grew enthusiastic about the cause. “I realized that I was a passionate feminist who has always cared about women’s issues. It was just something that was hidden,” Edwards said. “I didn’t realize what a prominent issue sexual assault was until I became an advisor.”

After six weeks of training, however, she noticed that the program was not making full use of its advisors. According to Edwards, “There was just so much passion and energy and great spark, but nowhere to funnel it into... We know what assault is; we know how to handle it; we know what the resources are. But what can we do aside from waiting around for people to contact us?”

Edwards teamed up with fellow advisor Laura Martin to change the organization’s focus towards more active outreach. Further collaboration with Jennifer Church brought about the idea of creating a hierarchy within the existing organization and established a Board of Directors.

Edwards has high hopes for the future of Sexual Assault Advisors. “My personal goal is to institute an educational program within the first month of school for all first-year living areas,” she said.

In addition, she hopes to encourage more men to take a proactive role in issues surrounding sexual assault. “Men themselves can be assaulted,” said Edwards. “They are also affected by assault on women, through their mothers, their daughters, their sisters.”

Beyond Sexual Assault Advisors, Edwards targeted her passion for gender issues towards her job as MOSAIC committee chair. Although the focus of the conference has been gradually shifting from exclusively women’s issues to gender issues, she was the first chair to make a concentrated effort to make this transition complete. She included several men on her committee as well as graduate students and alumni, and introduced a men’s subcommittee to the process.

“I tried to get as broad of a representation of Carnegie Mellon as possible,” Edwards explained and emphasized her overall contentment with MOSAIC’s outcome. “We were able to pull together well a cross-generational dialogue on campus. We really made it a very diverse sort of conference that addressed a lot of issues facing a lot of generations,” she said.

Edwards had planned to go into politics since her junior year of high school, but her experience at Carnegie Mellon has helped her narrow down her area of focus.

“I came here with very lofty and undefined goals; I wanted to do a more international focus and
was looking into the UN, but then I realized that I’m more interested in domestic issues, and I think that you have to take care of that first,” she recalled.

Edwards emphasizes that her unique opportunities at Carnegie Mellon have now brought her to her set path of law school and women’s issues. “I’ve loved every moment of my Carnegie Mellon career,” she said, noting she feels obligated to give back to the community that has given her “so many fantastic opportunities.”

Although Carnegie Mellon’s humanities majors often do not receive as much recognition as the technical or artistic majors, Edwards considers herself to be lucky for having chosen a less conventional field of study. “I don’t think I could have had [an internship at a U.S. Congressman’s office] if I went to a political science school.”

As a head Orientation counselor, the rest of Edwards’ semester is now focused on extending her comfort at Carnegie Mellon to future first-years. “We are trying to make [Orientation] as amazing a program as possible for both first-years and for Orientation counselors.”

She is working closely with housefellows to make sure that commuter students, temporary housing students, and students in nontraditional first-year areas like Oakland Apartments, West Wing, or Resnik have as positive a start to their college careers as possible.

Raised in the small town of Struthers, Ohio, Edwards feels that the diverse environment of Carnegie Mellon has made her more open minded. “Here I have met people literally from every walk of life.... People are constantly amazing me with what they do, with things I didn’t even know existed.”

Edwards described her college career to have made her both more optimistic and more cynical. “I’m more aware of problems in society that need to be addressed, but I also feel slightly more optimistic because I feel like I’m prepared to go out and tackle them.”