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Eleanor-gif_6New Orleans, the host city for our 2013 convention this June, is perhaps most widely known for one thing: Mardi Gras. Some may dismiss tonight’s events in the Big Easy as simply colorful beads, loud music, and revelry lasting into the early morning hours. Those who do are sorely mistaken. Beyond a night of letting loose, Mardi Gras represents a centuries-old festival with rich traditions celebrated the world over.

Mardi Gras has roots as far back as the Roman Empire, when the weeklong festival of Lupercalia in February honored the Roman fertility god Lupercus. Celebrants indulged in rich food, drink, and revelry and hoped for healthy families and a good harvest. It’s believed that early Christians in Rome adopted this celebration in an effort to make converting to their new faith a little easier. Given that the festival fell before the penitent Lenten period, it was reinterpreted as a time to feast before the long fast.

As Christianity spread across Europe and into the New World, so did the festival. Unique celebrations of Mardi Gras are still found today in much of Europe, including some particularly distinctive ones in Germany and Great Britain. In the Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking world it is celebrated under a different name — Carnival — with the world’s largest annual celebration in Rio de Janeiro.

The French became particularly enamored with the holiday, lending it its popular name: Mardi Gras translates to Fat Tuesday. The first U.S. Mardi Gras celebration was held in a French colony in 1703 in modern-day Mobile, Alabama. The celebration quickly became popular among the rest of the French colonies in North America, including Louisiana.

New Orleans, perhaps more than any other place on earth, adopted Mardi Gras as its own. Here, a rich blend of new and old traditions flourished. Today’s celebrations include the popular colorful parades with elaborate floats, sponsored by an elite group of krewes. Perhaps less well-known are the glamorous masquerade balls with fabulous costumes. For other people, Mardi Gras is a quiet celebration at home, as families gather with friends over a king cake. There are perhaps as many different ways to celebrate Mardi Gras as there are people who celebrate it.

New Orleans doesn’t stop having fun after the beads have been swept away, the ball gowns have all been packed up in storage, or the last slice of cake has been eaten. It’s a year-round attitude that permeates the very soul of the city: Laissez les bons temps rouler, as the locals say. This mix of diverse cultures, rich traditions, and a deep appreciation for life’s beauties is something you really have to see in person to fully appreciate.

Mardi Gras isn’t the only chance to see New Orleans at its best. AAUW will hold a celebration of our own in the Big Easy this June: the 2013 National Convention. In the spirit of tonight’s festivities, we all come from different backgrounds but share a common passion for women’s equity. We look forward to celebrating that passion with you and charting a path forward together. Join us as we gather to honor our accomplishments, reflect on new challenges, and discuss our next steps in the path toward equity for women and girls. While you’re there, reconnect with old friends or make new ones as you soak in the city’s unique zest and joie de vivre. Register for convention today to take advantage of our early-bird rate.

This post was written by AAUW Member Leadership Programs Associate Ryan Burwinkel.

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Laissez les bons temps rouler: Let the good times roll.

As we prepare to descend upon New Orleans for the AAUW National Convention in June, I hope we all take that Mardi Gras motto to heart. I know I certainly will. As the new associate director of field operations here at AAUW, I couldn’t be more excited about bringing the “public policy good times” to the Big Easy.

Yes, you read that right — public policy good times. From a panel on pay equity to workshops that explore advocacy techniques and insider intel on how Washington, D.C., really works, “good times” is definitely the best description for what the Public Policy and Government Relations Department will offer at the AAUW National Convention.

Throughout my first couple of weeks here, I have heard nothing but amazing things about you — our thousands of AAUW members and supporters. And I’m looking forward to the opportunity to meet you when we descend on New Orleans for this exciting convention. And besides the local cuisine, I’m looking forward even more to delivering to you some public policy good times.

Want to influence key decision makers in new and better ways? Interested in moving along fair pay legislation in your state legislature? Looking to increase the number of members taking action on issues you’re working on? That is exactly how the AAUW policy team plans on letting the good times roll.

Will you join us in New Orleans? Here’s hoping I get to share some good times with you!

This post was written by AAUW Associate Director of Field Operations Samantha Galing.

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I found that I could say things with colors and shapes that I couldn’t say any other way … things I had no words for.” — Georgia O’Keeffe

It’s that time of year again! The fifth annual AAUW Art Contest is upon us. During this time of year, I look forward to coming into work every morning and immediately looking at the Art Contest gallery page to see what new entries have come in. I’m always impressed by the level of artistic talent displayed by the AAUW members who enter, and I’m amazed at the variety of styles and mediums.

It’s inevitable when looking at this artwork, the majority of which is created by female artists, that I think about the lack of women’s representation in art history and museums. In fact, only 5 percent of the art currently on display in U.S. museums is made by women artists. This statistic was actually the catalyst for the art collection that eventually became the National Museum of Women in the Arts, founded in Washington, D.C., by Wilhelmina Cole Holladay and Wallace Holladay. NMWA is “the only major museum in the world solely dedicated to recognizing women’s creative contributions.”

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Thanks to the strong relationship between AAUW and NMWA we are happy to say that this year, Wilhelmina Holladay and NMWA Director Susan Fisher Sterling will select a distinction award winner from the six winners of this year’s contest! The six winning entries will be featured on a set of notecards sent to tens of thousands of AAUW members throughout the country this spring. The notecard featuring the museum’s selection will have a special recognition printed on the back. Additionally, a copy of Wilhelmina Holladay and Sterling’s selection will also be hung in the AAUW national headquarters to be admired by staff and visitors for years to come. So please show off your artistic abilities by entering the AAUW Art Contest today!

Entries will be accepted until February 4, 2013. Then, we invite all members to vote on their favorites between February 8 and March 8. For more information, to submit your artwork, and to see this year’s art gallery, please visit the AAUW Art Contest page.

I hope I see your work as I look through the new submissions every morning!

This post was written by AAUW Stewardship Associate Sarah Spencer.

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“If you can’t make your passion your vocation, make it your avocation.”

Photo by John McCauleyArlington magazine calls her the city’s “favorite redhead.” The Washington Post praises her “warmth of personality” and “earnest goodwill.” Reviews calls her work “theatrically arresting” and “terrifically fun” and praise her proclivity for finding “inspiration in some unlikely places.”

A self-described “ballerina with a rock habit,” Lucy Bowen McCauley is founder and artistic director of the Arlington, Virginia-based company Bowen McCauley Dance (BMD). Since founding BMD in 1996, Bowen McCauley has choreographed a plethora of performances ranging from lyrical ballets to modern rock pieces. She keeps the audience on its toes by infusing pieces with exciting innovations ranging from poetry to jazz, flute to drums, Beethoven to the Ramones.

Given her penchant for innovation, it’s no surprise that Bowen McCauley has garnered countless awards and honors for her work, including Nonprofit of the Year by the Arlington Chamber of Commerce, Outstanding Achievement in Dance Education by Dance Metro DC, the James B. Hunter III Community Hero Award (for her work with Dance for Parkinson’s Disease; read more below), and last but not least, the Elizabeth Campbell Award for the Advancement of the Arts by the AAUW Arlington (VA) Branch.

Bowen McCauley, who has been a proud AAUW member since 2010, talked with me about her passion for dance, her work with the Parkinson Foundation, and her tips for young women breaking into the arts.

Can you describe your relationship with dance? What attracts you to it? What does it offer you?

As a young child, I loved music and studied piano and cello. I was also a very athletic tomboy! I discovered that I had an aptitude for dance and that it was a perfect way to combine my passions for both music and movement. Choreography allows me to use bodies in space to express emotion and enhance music.

What has been your favorite piece that you’ve either danced in or choreographed? What about it did you love?

Last season’s Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rite of Spring) is a culmination of all that I have learned and accomplished in the past 25 years [the Washington Post called the piece Bowen McCauley’s “strongest work to date”]. I dug deep to come up with my own original take on this piece. I love the process of creation and then seeing a piece really come together in live performance.

Your website features a quote by you: “I believe that dance is for everyone, regardless of age or ability.” Was it this belief that led you to establish Dance for Parkinson’s Disease, a program that provides free weekly classes for people with Parkinson’s? How did this come about?
Being a person with a heart disability has definitely made me more sensitive to people battling health issues. Over the years Bowen McCauley Dance’s community engagement with individuals of all ages and abilities confirms that moving to music brings joy and benefit to those who participate. At the invitation of the Mark Morris Dance Group and Parkinson Foundation of the National Capital Area, I received training and certification in March 2008 to teach Dance for PD. When participating in the dance program, people with the disease report a decrease in physical symptoms and improved psychological and emotional benefits. Besides the health benefits, dance takes the mind and spirit away from the thoughts of disease, disability, and social isolation. One participant taking the class simply stated, “I lose my symptoms when I’m there.”

Your choreography is unique for mixing rock with ballet, incorporating music as varied as Radiohead, Elvis Costello, the Foo Fighters, and Joan Jett. What’s on your personal playlist these days?
Locally, I like Thievery Corporation and Mortimer’s Prime. Nationally, my latest picks are Jason and the Scorchers, Evening Rig, Delta Rae, and Soul Asylum.

What advice do you have for young women working to become established in the arts?
Make sure you get the very best training that you can, and surround yourself with mentors and other people who can help you get established. Persevere in the face of setbacks and criticism. The arts are not a lucrative business, so find a way to support your dreams. There is still a glass ceiling for women in the arts as well as in other fields. If you can’t make your passion your vocation, make it your avocation.

Perhaps the most important question is, What projects of yours can we look forward to in 2013?
I’ve brought together incredible artistic partners for our concerts at the Kennedy Center April 5–6 at 7:30 p.m. The concert will not only pay tribute to Stravinsky’s musical masterpiece Le Sacre du Printemps but [will] also offer two world-premiere works, including a duet in which I will be performing, [with all music] performed live by world-class musicians.

Renee Davidson was AAUW’s media relations intern. She now works for the League of Women Voters.

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Interested in an Opportunity for FREE AAUW Membership for Undergraduate Students?

AAUW is hosting two College/University Partnership Webinars on January 25, 2010: one at 1 p.m. EST for college/university representatives and one at 6 p.m. EST for AAUW member leaders. The webinars will provide an overview of AAUW’s college/university partner member program and will highlight the extensive benefits that AAUW offers to students. The webinar for AAUW member leaders will also cover specific strategies for recruiting and retaining c/u partner members.

Students who attend institutions that are AAUW college/university partner members get priority on a number of opportunities for leadership development, education, and project funding. Additionally, they gain access to cutting-edge gender equity research and policy initiatives and receive exclusive member discounts on numerous products, including books from Barnes and Noble, test-preparation materials from The Princeton Review, and so much more! Plus, all undergraduate students at AAUW college/university partner members are immediately eligible to be FREE AAUW e-student affiliates and to receive a FREE, full-year membership after they graduate!

As a graduate student in higher education administration, I understand the importance of resources and services that benefit the college students I interact with on a daily basis. As a future student affairs professional, I can assure you that involvement with AAUW and the college/university partner member program will be the best decision you can make for your institution or an institution in your community.

Throughout the webinar you will hear about student experiences with AAUW programs and learn about key benefits associated with college/university partner membership and, most importantly, you’ll be able to tell us what types of resources would benefit your institutions. You’ll also learn how AAUW is already helping colleges and universities.

Please share the information about this webinar with your colleagues and e-mail khorakiwalaz@aauw.org to RSVP for the webinar. After you RSVP, you will receive specific instructions on how to participate closer to the January 25, 2010, event.

Are there specific resources or benefits that your college/university or one in your community is seeking from AAUW? We would love to hear your feedback!

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Last weekend at the AAUW of Florida state convention in Gainesville, more than 30 AAUW women built green homes with nontraditional materials. Graham crackers with frosting mortar formed the main structure, green sprinkles stood in for native plants on a green roof, and a stack of small marshmallows on a toothpick represented a cistern to catch storm water. Others placed solar panels on the roof or built native plants in the yard with toothpicks and gum drops.

Anyone can do hands-on activities like these with girls to show them how much fun science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) can be. The aim is to expand girls’ minds about science and engage them in designing and creating an edible green home. The parts may be edible, but the concepts are sound: in the course of the fun activity, girls learn about the science and engineering that go into building a green home, as well as principles of water and energy conservation. In Gainesville, the ladies took it one step further and discussed hosting a green conference for girls to encourage them to care for our environment.

Activities like the workshop in Gainesville are essential for spreading the message to young girls that STEM is a viable career path. Out of the more than 3.25 million Americans employed in math and computer science, only 27 percent are women (U.S. Census Bureau, Statistical Abstract of the U.S., 2007). We need more women in STEM fields, and you can make a difference. The most important thing you can do is spread the message that STEM is fun and that it provides opportunities for ingenuity, invention, and innovation — exciting, coolstuff that can transform life as we know it. Start early by encouraging the girls in your life to do puzzles, play with Legos, or take things apart and put them back together again. Plan a trip to the science museum, talk about how things work, and encourage participation in science fairs. Parent and adult encouragement really works, and Earth Day is a great time to show girls how much fun science and math can be.

This post was written by Jennifer McDaniel, AAUW National Girls Collaborative Project South Atlantic regional liaison to the Florida Girls Collaborative Project.

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One of the best gifts I ever received was chicks that went to family in Cameroon to provide eggs that they needed for nutrients, as well as extras to share or sell; the chicks gave the family independence and sustainability.

After receiving that thoughtful gift, I have made a conscious decision to give gifts that contribute to the greater good. While trying to bring smiles to the face of loved ones, it makes me feel good when I can give on a larger level as well.

The Friday after Thanksgiving is known as black Friday — the day where retailers finally move their books from red to black. It is also the symbolic start of the holiday shopping season. As you are making your holiday buying decisions, consider some “green” giving options. There are many great ways to give.

If you want to support your community, look at fundraisers or events held by AAUW branches, churches, schools, or other civic organizations. They often sell cookbooks or calendars that make great gifts.

I often shop for “fair trade” items that are purchased from underemployed artisans from around the globe who get a fair wage for their crafts. When you buy from an artist co-op, the artist will get a majority of the proceeds, and the rest often goes to programs that promote arts in the local community.

AAUW has a partnership with Barnes and Noble online, which gives members a discount on books. With each purchase, AAUW receives a royalty that supports our programs and services, including community programs, leadership development, NCCWSL, and branch resources. If you are giving a book or music this season, wouldn’t it be great to know it’s going to help break through barriers for women and girls?

If you have any AAUW members on your list this year, remember that ShopAAUW has the perfect gift for them. If your loved ones are not AAUW members, or you know of someone who would be a great addition to the AAUW community, consider buying them the gift of membership.

It’s sometimes hard to find the perfect gift, but how can you go wrong when you know that the gift you give is also going to support a worthy cause?

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