Guest Columnist

University women are strong advocates for education

A Prairie Middle School eighth grader dissects a pig heart as part of the Open Minds, Open Doors conference at Coe College. The conference encourages middle school girls to pursue career fields with foundations in science, technology, engineering and math. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
A Prairie Middle School eighth grader dissects a pig heart as part of the Open Minds, Open Doors conference at Coe College. The conference encourages middle school girls to pursue career fields with foundations in science, technology, engineering and math. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

For some of you, this will be an introduction to the national organization of the American Association of University Women (AAUW). For others, it will be a reminder of who we are and what we do.

According to its long-standing website, AAUW is the nation’s leading voice promoting equity and education for women and girls. It was founded in 1881, and its members have been a part of the fundamental issues of the day. Its mission is to advance gender equity for women and girls through research, education and advocacy.

The vision is equity for all. Its values are nonpartisan, fact-based, integrity, inclusion and intersectionality. There are 170,000 members and supporters, 1,000 branches and 800 college and university members. We are strong in number.

We are also one of the world’s largest sources of funding for graduate women. AAUW is providing $3.9 million in funding for fellowships and grants to 250 outstanding women and nonprofit organizations in the 2018-19 academic year. Fellowship and grant recipients perform research in a wide range of disciplines and work to improve their schools and communities. The awards also include research publications, grants in engineering, medicine, and science along with international fellowships and international project grants.

Having global connections is a strong part of who AAUW is. We have a rich legacy of international work. International outreach became a priority to AAUW members immediately following World War I, when AAUW member Virginia Gildersleeve and two British women, Caroline Spurgeon and Rose Sidgwick, established the International Federation of University Women to promote peace and understanding among women in different countries.

During the occupations of World War II, AAUW assisted European women scholars whose lives were at risk. AAUW members helped find academic positions in the United States and other countries for students and professors who were forced to flee their homes.

Following World War II, AAUW continued its commitment to cooperation through participation at the Bretton Woods Conference and the United Nations. AAUW continues its global commitment today by advocating for women and girls everywhere.

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One of the major areas that AAUW has opened doors for women and girls is through science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) programs nationally. Though many doors have been opened, and many women have walked through those doors, there are still many girls who are ambivalent about STEM-fields. There are still too many girls who do not think they belong in those fields. And when they do pursue STEM related careers, all too often these women enter a world where males still dominate and they are not readily accepted. That understanding is not lost on the Cedar Rapids AAUW branch.

In 1996 the Cedar Rapids AAUW branch, Coe College and Grant Wood Area Education Agency got together to start a local STEM one-day conference called Open Minds, Open Doors. It started with 80 girls and is now serving over 500 girls from eight different counties annually.

This conference allows middle school girls to have hands on application in experimentations in a variety of fields from learning how to create their own make up to learning how to code. In essence, these young girls are learning how to see themselves in a different way rather than taking usual routes toward their educational pursuits.

During our 90-year celebration earlier this year our branch honored one eighth grade girl from Wilson Middle School who had attended the conference and who also excelled in a number of academic achievements in the class year of 2017-18. We commended Angel Johnson for her hard work and presented her with a check to help in whatever way she needed it. And one of our sponsors, The Gazette provided her and her family with tickets to attend the celebration. This is community support in action.

From the national level to the local level, AAUW is part of the fabric of our country and communities.

We embrace our roles as advocates, engage in a number of activities and continue to encourage a sense of sisterhood to women and girls everywhere.

• Carletta Knox-Seymour is the Cedar Rapids area branch president for AAUW.

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We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

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