Getting Acquainted with the Women’s Leadership Institute

by Donna Streufert, Founder

What is the Women’s Leadership Institute?

The Women’s Leadership Institute (one of several Concordia University Wisconsin servant institutes designed to serve the laity of the church) educates, encourages and equips women to use their God-given gifts of servant leadership. WLI programs equip women and men to work as partners in service and leadership in the church, home and community. The institute seeks to build skills and attitudes that will serve the church well. The WLI does not advocate for women’s ordination. We do encourage mutual respect and partnership between men and women.

Where did the idea for a Women’s Leadership Institute originate?

The inspiration for the establishment of this institute was sparked several years ago by female students at Concordia University Wisconsin asking for role models of Christian women in leadership roles. I, too, have seen this need for role models, growth in skills and better understanding between servant leaders. In addition, women often lack confidence in their own gifts and leadership skills.

During my years teaching Human Relations for Teachers at CUW, I enjoyed getting to know several hundred students from varied backgrounds and cultures. These wonderful young people were learning and growing in their appreciation of the partnership women and men share in service to God’s people. I also realized we have a long way to go.


When I learned I would receive a modest bequest from my aunt, I asked myself, “What could I do with this blessing that would make a lasting impact on young people and the church at large? What if I could encourage a friend to partner with me, making the dream of such an educational program possible now?” When approached with the idea, the administration of Concordia University Wisconsin enthusiastically embraced the vision of an institute for Women’s Leadership. The first board meeting of WLI was held on January 8, 2003 on Concordia’s campus.


With the help of Concordia’s president, Dr. Patrick Ferry, Phil Meinzen, assistant to the president, and Dr. David Eggebrecht, VP of Academics at the time, WLI was underway. Dr. Carolyn Meitler was appointed the first director and an advisory board was appointed. The first board members included: Betty Duda, ex-officio, Mary Eberhardt, Eva Fronk, Dr. Ruth Gresley, Rev. David and Ruth Koch, Marlys Taege Moberg, Dr. Daniel Paavola (CUW theology faculty) Rev. Daniel and Donna Streufert, and Linda Zick. Dr. Mary Hilgendorf, CUW faculty, served as WLI director from 2005. From 2007 to 2012 Lois Giordano served as Associate Director and Bonnie Treloar as Operations Coordinator.

Recognition of Student Leaders

Shortly after its organization, Director Carolyn Meitler announced the Donna J. Streufert Women’s Leadership Award. This annual award recognizes an outstanding Concordia student for her leadership and service on the Concordia campus and in the community.


Since 2003…

WLI has sponsored about a dozen educational events on the CUW campus.

WLI has sponsored luncheon/speaker events in Florida, Colorado and Nebraska.

In May 2005 the first national conference, WOMEN: Making a Difference, drew about 100 people from 15 states to listen, share and grow together. The 2008 national conference, SHARING THE LOVE OF JESUS: How-to’s of Christian Leadership, was held April 4-6, in Milwaukee. The 2010 national conference, LISTENING, LINKING, LEADING: From Words to Action, was held April 16-18, in Milwaukee. The 2012 conference, WOMEN…Influencing Today’s World was held March 9-11 in St. Louis, MO.

Mary Hilgendorf, WLI Ambassador and former Director, has spoken at dozens of retreats, conferences and meetings across the Missouri Synod and the nation.

Eva Fronk and Mary Eberhardt have gathered women for informal luncheons in the Milwaukee area to listen to women’s ideas and needs.

Word about WLI continues to grow as “Challenge 5” groups multiply, meeting locally to share personal journeys, discuss congregational projects, Bible studies and book discussions.

Support for WLI

Following our initial grant, partners have signed on to continue financial support through voluntary contributions. Two endowments have been established to fund future growth.

Women’s History Project

Kristina Neumann and Anna Maas, CUW history students, have been working on independent studies in the CUW History Department to research the history of women in The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod. They hope to set up a center of study for women’s history at Concordia University Wisconsin and to publish a database of resources on the WLI website for interested individuals to locate information about women in the LCMS.

In the words of WLI Ambassador Mary Hilgendorf…

“The Women’s Leadership Institute strives to link women within the LCMS and build networks for conversation, cooperation, and outreach. Women are an awesome and sometimes unrecognized resource within our churches and communities. The WLI values opportunities to educate, encourage and equip women for Christian leadership.”