Empowering young women to change the world

Author: Josh Stowe

Marikris (Dalum) Coryell ’88 had enjoyed a business career that included running a family business, leading a startup, and turning a company around. But she was ready for a new challenge. 

As she considered what she might do next, she thought about her longtime volunteer work in education—from her involvement in a tutoring program as an ND undergraduate to her leadership roles at places like her old high school and her children’s school. 

And when a mentor alerted her to an opportunity to lead St. Joan Antida High School in Milwaukee, she quickly realized it was the right fit. The all-girl school, run by the Sisters of Charity, serves students from primarily low-income families, teaching a rigorous International Baccalaureate curriculum that promotes critical thinking and builds opportunity.

“One of the things I fell in love with about the school is the vision,” says Coryell, who became the school’s president before the start of the current academic year. “It’s to embrace young women and empower them to discover their God-given potential, give voice to their passion, and change the world. It had all the elements of what I believe in.”

Now, Coryell is working with the school’s faculty and her leadership team to enhance the school’s educational offerings while improving its extracurricular and service opportunities—all with the goal to form young women who will change the world.

“In some ways it’s like running a business, so I can use all my skills from all my other positions in the family business, the startup, the turnaround,” she says. “But at the end of the day, when these girls come in and they give me a hug and say ‘thanks, Ms. Coryell, we’re so excited about what you’re doing here and so excited for you to be here,’ I think, yes, that’s it! So it’s exhausting and exciting and energizing all at the same time.”

Enhancing academic offerings is a big part of the job. Several years ago, St. Joan Antida transitioned to an International Baccalaureate curriculum, which challenges students to take initiative, ask questions, and make connections across disciplines. The school’s juniors and seniors choose between two tracks: a career-oriented track that emphasizes STEM, and a classic liberal arts track.

“It’s independent learning and it’s teaching the women how to learn for themselves. The challenge that we have is that we draw from 52 different grade schools in in the Milwaukee area, so all of our kids coming in are at different levels,” Coryell says, adding that she is considering expanding a summer academy the school offers to help incoming students start strong. “So we are melding everyone together and putting them into this more rigorous curriculum. We need to provide some more supplemental learning and support to make sure the girls are successful.”

Coryell is also looking at ways the school can partner with local colleges and universities on dual enrollment programs that allow students to earn college credit—and get a better sense of what they might do after high school. She sees it as an important way to build opportunity for her students, since 98 percent of them come from families at or below the poverty line. Such a program might allow one young woman to discover a future as a doctor, she says, while it might help another see the option of working as a medical tech—a job that doesn’t require a four-year degree and the debt than can come with that.

“This allows us to augment what we offer to our students, so that they get this taste of college or university, which will then just transition them into their next educational experience, Coryell says. “It’s offering another pathway to education and the work environment.”

Coryell is also expanding the school’s extracurricular activities, a challenge because most of its students rely on bus transportation and don’t have the flexibility of having parents pick them up at various times after school. So on Fridays, students will have the opportunity to participate in clubs that interest them. She is also working to expand service opportunities so students can enjoy volunteering experiences.

As she continues planning for the future at St. Joan Antida, Coryell is grateful she can make a difference leading the school.

“I just feel blessed to have this opportunity,” she says. “I feel blessed to be able to have an impact on these women and to be able to use the talents of everyone else who has been working with them. I add in what I know, and then together we’re creating something awesome.”

Originally published by Josh Stowe at weare.nd.edu on January 21, 2019.