When the Gates sisters were young, their role models were front and center. “We learned by seeing the women in our own family pursue their goals, despite gender or age,” says Janice Gates '21.
“Our grandmother went back to night school to transition from being a telephone operator to being a nurse. And, our mother published her dissertation and earned her doctoral degree in her 50s. Throughout our childhood, she would put us all to bed and take out her books and study. We watched her excel while raising a family and pursuing her goals at a time when women were expected to manage a home.”
True to what may now be a family tradition, Janice and her older sister, Laura Gates '21, decided at the height of their careers to return to school and pursue master’s degrees. The twist this time is that the sisters are doing it together, and both are in the final months of the Master of Science in Organizational Leadership (MSOL) program at U of R’s Marin campus.
Founder of her own company, Janice is a mindfulness coach and team facilitator and has taught the integration of meditation, mindfulness, and embodied practice for more than 25 years. Laura founded Gates Group LLC, and is an executive coach and provides leadership development and team facilitation services for Silicon Valley tech giants and venture capital start-ups. They grew up with a middle sister, Nancy, in Syracuse, New York, and earned their undergraduate degrees at Syracuse University in the 1980s, where their father was a professor and chair of the English department. Their mother was a professor of nursing at the former Syracuse College of Nursing.
Janice and Laura are now both Marin County residents, and when they first visited the University’s San Anselmo campus, they were checking it out for Janice’s daughter. However, the sisters were so inspired that day by School of Business Dean Thomas Horan and Visiting Assistant Professor of Management/Leadership Christina Walker, says Laura, “that we decided to enroll in the program.”
Each sister now has a built-in academic support system: “When one of us is losing momentum, especially during this challenging year, the other will give a push,” says Laura.
The master’s program has illuminated additional avenues for Laura’s company: “I plan to expand my business in new ways,” she says. “In our current course, we are looking at organizational structure and strategy, and right now, my clients are working on mission vision strategy and organizational structures. The timing of my classes has beautifully paralleled the real-world needs of my clients.”
Janice was drawn to the purposeful leadership focus of the MSOL program, and she has also enhanced her business with a new understanding of the challenges leaders face. “What the world needs now is people who are deeply interested in living, working, and leading with purpose,” she says. “I was pleasantly surprised at how well my current work in mindfulness and communication intersects with this business program. My plans are clearer, and I feel more prepared to develop my business to include working with conscious leaders and organizations.”
Despite studying remotely due to COVID-19 safety protocols, they each also draw plenty of support from fellow students, a group they’ve dubbed the “Corona Cohort.” The virtual nature of their coursework is “sad because the campus here is so beautiful, and I had visions of studying in the library with our cohort on the weekends,” says Laura. “But, in some ways, it’s easier to learn virtually because you set your own timeframes for study.”
With degree completion imminent, Janice and Laura continue to take inspiration from their family members. “We grew up with parents who were educators,” says Janice. “Both were the first in their families to go to college, and they highly valued learning.”
“I am happy to carry on that legacy,” adds Laura, “and demonstrate for my niece that learning can occur at any stage in life.”