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Posts Tagged ‘National Student Advisory Council’

After a class field trip to the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra last week to see the Nutcracker, my 6-year-old son was so excited to tell me all about it. Except what he ended up telling me had nothing to do with the ballet and everything to do with what he noticed before and after the show. He had counted not one but six homeless individuals and asked me what seemed like a hundred questions — the most important was, What could we do to help them?

Sally Ayers, a homeless resident in my community, who has told me about the rise in homelessness in Howard County, Maryland

In our simple conversation, my son reminded me what the holidays should be about: giving. This is perhaps the best time of year to catch up with friends, spend quality time with family, and invest ourselves in our communities. However, this is also the time of year when Americans spend hours in ridiculously long lines at the mall and camped outside of retail stores fighting for deals, further intensifying the holiday themes of consumption and materialism. Usually left with the feeling of exhaustion versus respite, many experience the need for a holiday do-over. While shopping shouldn’t be regarded as the enemy (after all, it does help boost the economy), it does serve as a distraction from what is really important at this time of year.

Below is just a short list of holiday ideas that can be done in a group or individually but still have an impact. Show that you care about the well-being of others in your community by giving the gift of time — it will cost you little or no money at all.

  • Volunteer for a shift at your local soup kitchen.
  • Check with your local shelter to see if it will take donated blankets, coats, or food.
  • Lead story time at your local library or on the children’s floor at your local hospital.
  • Make or buy a homeless person a meal.
  • Got talent? Sing, dance, play an instrument, make art, or read poetry at a local senior center.
  • Make a meal for the volunteers at your local animal shelter.

Although my son is too young to serve at the local soup kitchen, our family plans to make lasagna trays and cookies at home for a kitchen in our community, in addition to cleaning and preparing meals at a group home that cares for sick children. My son is eager to serve and helped our family remember that the holidays are about what you give, not what you get.

Let’s redefine the holidays by buying less stuff, giving more time, and creating change in our communities.

Photos by Maureen Evans Arthurs

This post was written by National Student Advisory Council member Maureen Evans Arthurs, who was sponsored by Eileen Menton.

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When I was a child, my parents always told me that, as a woman, I was supposed to be shy, feminine, and passive. These qualities aren’t necessarily bad, but they aren’t for me. I want to be independent, assertive, and powerful. I was never allowed to do the many things that my brother did. He could play video games, but I couldn’t. He could wear sweatpants in public, but I couldn’t. Additionally, I was told to like the colors red and pink. Going to college gave me a sense of freedom from the restrictive perspectives of my parents. I was finally able to make decisions that would affect my future on my own, which included majoring in computer science. Even if I’m the minority as a woman in the computer science field, learning about technical subjects like programming, data structures, and algorithms has been the greatest experience. I even get to create video games in one of my classes!

With this newfound freedom, I stumbled upon roller derby. I was drawn to it at first because I thought it was such a cool sport. It is the polar opposite of what my parents would consider conventional. I saw women of all ages roller skating, shoulder checking, and hip bumping other women out of their way while wearing skirts and bright leggings! They expressed womanhood and female strength in a new dimension and displayed an innovative sense of self-expression. People encouraged these awesome, modern women and cheered them on. I was in intrigued, so I decided to join them.

I now train with the Charlotte Roller Girls in North Carolina. It is a fun sport, but practice is tough. Many of the new members are skating for the first time in years. Stopping with skates has been my biggest challenge — I have fallen quite a few times during practice. But it’s all worth it in the end. When practice ends, I’m always shocked at how quickly the two hours have passed. Each practice strengthens our communication, and everyone is always supportive of those who need help. The roller derby women are not just a team. We are a family — a family that protects and looks out for our fellow teammates, and no one is ever left behind.

This post was written by National Student Advisory Council member Maybellin Burgos.

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There is no greater feeling than being on the verge of death and surviving the impossible. The moment I knew I wanted to change the world was when I became the recipient of a heart and kidney transplant at age 12.

As I began to recover from my procedures, I came to the realization that I received a second chance at life. The choice was mine to either seize this opportunity at a new beginning or to waste it. I chose life. Public service, activism, and advocacy give me life.

Ola Ojewumi in Guatemala

I am a survivor who has spent a large portion of my childhood fighting for my life. I am a fighter who chooses to also fight for the rights of others. I knew my public service work was making a difference when I received a call from the producers at Black Entertainment Television. BET hosts the annual Black Girls Rock Award Special, which honors celebrities and women of color by highlighting their accomplishments. For my work as a public servant, I was nominated for the BET Black Girls Rock Making a Difference Award — an honor that features a $2,500 grant from Crest, an appearance on the internationally televised BET Black Girls Rock special, and a trip to New York.

Coincidentally, I received this call as I was making plans to celebrate a major milestone. This year marks the 10th anniversary of my life-saving organ transplants. You can join me in my celebration of life by voting for my nonprofit to receive the BET Black Girls Rock Making a Difference Award. You can vote now through September 18.

As a result of my medical journey, I created my own nonprofit organization called Sacred Hearts Children’s Transplant Foundation. The foundation has distributed hundreds of teddy bears to sick children and has worked to raise awareness about organ donation registries. Our efforts did not stop there. We expanded our outreach through the formation of a second nonprofit organization, Project ASCEND. Project ASCEND has assisted in the creation of a teen mentorship camp, which reaches more than 100 low-income girls in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area. My nonprofit endeavors give me the opportunity to shape the world. You can help me continue this work and bring change to my community by voting now and voting often.

This post was written by former AAUW National Student Advisory Council member Ola Ojewumi.

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Recently, I helped organize a forum for young women graduate students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). The purpose of the forum was to have an intimate dialogue about pursuing advanced degrees, climbing the corporate ladder, and love and relationships. I was eager to learn how to be successful in all of these areas and to achieve work-life balance.

But I was disappointed by the panelists’ responses to several questions, including this one: Did you ever feel like there was added pressure for you to outperform your male counterparts to climb the corporate ladder?

One panelist said that she never aspired to be at the top of her field. The others agreed. I sat and thought, well, why not? So much has been laid on the line for you to be where you are now.

At one point in time, women in STEM could not get their research funded because we were regarded as inferior. However, women like Marie Curie did not falter — she received funds from AAUW and went on to make a groundbreaking discovery.

I realized that as I sought mentorship from these women, they too needed a mentor to guide and inspire them. Unfortunately, careers in STEM are still dominated by men.

How do women stay motivated and empowered?

We have to keep the story going regarding the struggles women have faced. We must understand that one woman’s success empowers others to follow. Ladies, we have come too far to accept mediocrity. Whatever you do, be the best you can be.

This post was written by National Student Advisory Council member Joy Agee.

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“How many states do you think have 100 percent equal pay between women and men?”

This is one of three questions I asked while I tabled for six hours at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Washington, for Equal Pay Day last week. Equipped with posters, pamphlets, and a variety of information on pay equity, I educated students — one chocolate coin at a time — about the pay gap.

I had a strategy to reel in students. I yelled, “Free chocolate!” and heads turned. Once students approached my table and started reaching for the shiny chocolate coins, I asked them, “Do you know what the pay gap is in Washington?”

They looked puzzled. Some asked for clarification, and everyone had a guess as to how much women make compared to men.

“Sixty cents?”

“Eighty-one cents?”

“Forty-seven cents?”

“Seventy-five cents?”

“Ninety cents?”

“It’s actually 77 cents!” I would reply. Some students were disappointed because their guesses were so close, and others were disappointed because they thought Washington women’s average wages would be higher. I gave them all chocolate.

“Do you want more chocolate?” I asked. Everyone did.

“How many states do not have a pay gap at all?” This stumped everyone. I heard answers anywhere between one and 10. Some replied with specific states: Oregon, Colorado, Idaho. When I told them that the answer was zero, they all looked shocked.

More chocolate.

“OK, final question: Why is Equal Pay Day today?” No one responded. Some thought for a little while, but no one could come up with an answer. “This is the date the average women would have to work until to make the same amount of money men made in 2011. So when men work for 12 months, women have to work 16 to make the same amount.” That was probably the most shocking to the passing students.

“Wow, that really sucks.”

“Are you serious?”

“No way!”

To improve their spirits, I gave them more chocolate.

This was my routine: question, answer, chocolate. I was surprised by the varying opinions. While some thought that women made less than half what men do, others felt that the pay gap was a thing of the past. My generation seems confused about equal pay for equal work, at least the people whom I informally surveyed with chocolate incentives.

Pay equity is an issue that I feel all college students should be concerned about. We are not far from a time when we will need to find jobs and be financially independent. We should be concerned that half of the population is still not making the same amount in wages as the other half.

On Equal Pay Day, April 17, we succeeded in making the issue of equal pay move from a national public policy issue to something personal to the students. Awareness is the first step toward change.

This post was written by National Student Advisory Council member Katie Donahoe.

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Daniel Schwen [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC-BY-SA-2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

Last summer, National Student Advisory Council member Odunola “Ola” Ojewumi was an intern at the White House, where she hosted a briefing on the importance of youth mentorship in low-income communities. Ojewumi, who is herself passionate about disability rights, recently spoke with White House Director of Priority Placement Rebecca Cokley about her work as an advocate for disabled youth.

As a woman living with a disability, what experiences sparked your interest in advancing the lives of disabled youth?

When I was in junior high school, a younger friend of mine at another school was thrown into a dumpster by some bullies at lunchtime and could not get out. No one in the school reported him missing from class, and it wasn’t until later that evening when he didn’t come home from Boy Scouts that his parents went to look for him. The next day, he carried an 18-inch baseball bat to school to defend himself and was expelled for harboring a weapon. When his parents reached out to a number of advocates — including my mom — to mediate with the school, the principal responded that “boys will be boys” and that my friend “should just get used” to the teasing.

The teachers and administrators at the junior high school I went to would never have tolerated that type of behavior, and it blew my mind that there were people in the world working with children who thought it was OK to treat young people with disabilities horribly.

I was lucky — until I got to high school and my guidance counselor told me, “Kids like you don’t go here.” I was enrolled in honors classes, was already taking steps toward becoming a nationally recognized [disability] advocate, and had been planning on ending up on the U.S. Supreme Court someday, and here was this man telling me that he didn’t think people like me should attend his school. Unlike most youth with disabilities, both of my parents had the same disability as me, and both were college-educated advocates in their own right. My mother quickly stepped in and appealed to the principal, who was embarrassed and apologetic for the behavior of his staff member. But I never got over the idea that an adult, a leader in the school, just by looking at me decided that I wasn’t eligible.

You are a mother, a wife, and a key member of the Obama administration. How do you juggle all of these roles?

When I had first joined the administration and wasn’t yet pregnant, U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice was hosting a conference call, and someone asked her about balancing work and family. And she responded that if you want a family, you have to make it a priority — you can’t wait until the time is right, because there’s never a time that’s right. In a lot of ways, this really spoke to me and in some ways gave me permission to start a family. I also have a completely amazing husband who is truly my best friend and champion. He makes me a better person in every respect, and from the moment I found out I was pregnant, he has worked to make his life more flexible. It also helps that I have a boss who has children of her own.

What are your responsibilities and goals as White House director of priority placement?

The president has asked us to create an administration that reflects the diversity of America. It matters who sits at the table. My role is reaching beyond the Beltway to communities that often don’t get a seat at the table and bringing those voices into the administration. The best part of my job is reaching out to a candidate who has submitted their information on whitehouse.gov and telling them that I’m calling from the White House and would like to talk to them about a potential role in the administration. Most of the time people think that I’m prank calling. But to reach out to someone who truly believes in the work that we’re doing and wants to improve the lives of all Americans and say “hey, we want your voice in this discussion” — it’s amazing.

As a youth development specialist for the National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability for Youth, you created new avenues for employment. What does equal employment opportunity mean for the thousands of young people who are living with disabilities?

Equal employment means — to me — going beyond a functional shift and resulting in a philosophical shift in the expectations of young people with disabilities so that in elementary school when students present what they want to be when they grow up, no one will say that a kid with a disability cannot be an astrophysicist, a lawyer, a chef, or whatever they may want to be. Equal employment opportunities mean that youth with disabilities do not have to limit themselves to working in the eight F’s of disability employment: food, filth, filing, flowers, fetching, folding, friendly, or festive. That’s not to diminish those important jobs, and it doesn’t mean that if that’s what you want to do that you shouldn’t pursue those paths. But you should not find your goals limited to just those things.

July 2010 was the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. How has the ADA impacted your life?

A few years before the ADA passed, my mom was on the tenure track at the college she worked at. She ended up being denied tenure, and one of the reasons she was denied was that she was only able to use the bottom six inches of the chalkboard. My mom had worked her whole life to improve the lives of students with disabilities, and here she was being directly discriminated against because of her own disability. Post-ADA, she received tenure.

How is the Obama administration working to increase the presence of people with disabilities in the American workforce?

The president believes that the government must serve as an example. In 2010, he signed Executive Order 13548, which was designed to make the federal government serve as a model employer for people with disabilities. Agencies are developing training programs for their [human resources] staff, and agencies are to develop model recruitment and hiring strategies. I think the president also understands how important it is for the public to see people with different types of disabilities in his administration.

What do you believe is the largest obstacle facing youth with disabilities?

False expectations — from our families, from society, and from ourselves.

What words of wisdom or advice can you give our readers, some of whom are among the thousands of disabled young women and girls the White House is advocating for?

My desire for you is that you be successful in whatever you want to do in your life. You don’t need to be officially working as an advocate at a disability organization or a center for independent living. We need people with disabilities succeeding everywhere in the public and private sectors. If you want to be a chef, then go for it, but I better see you being awarded Michelin stars. That’s how you lead — by serving as an example and being successful in something you love to do and not conforming to anyone’s expectations of what they think you should do. I’d also encourage you to look for mentors outside of your community. In joining the Obama administration, two of the best mentors I’ve had are leaders in the LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender] community. They’ve taught me so much about being an effective political appointee, working with diverse communities, and how to maneuver the challenges of leadership. I don’t doubt I am more effective in my job because of both of them.

As an Obama administration official, which of your accomplishments has been most meaningful?

I feel like we accomplish something extraordinary every time we appoint someone to a position in the administration who brings a new voice to the table or a new set of personal experiences that contribute to the carrying out of the president’s vision for America.

When did you decide to become involved in public policy?

I grew up with a passion for politics. I remember being a little kid and getting to stay up late on election night watching the returns come in. I came to Washington in 2004 in large part because I felt that I hadn’t done my part in the 2000 election and wanted to make a change.

When a family friend, Paul Miller, was appointed as the deputy director of the U.S. Office of Consumer Affairs and White House liaison to the disability community in the Clinton administration, it really struck home that someone like me could be asked to serve the president. And when I’d hear Miller talk about it, he’d sound so matter of fact about it when speaking to crowds but among friends was so excited about the chance to serve, the chance to show his colleagues on a daily basis that people with disabilities could and should fully contribute alongside their non-disabled peers.

This post was written by National Student Advisory Council member Ola Ojewumi.

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Now more than ever, it has become apparent to me that people, especially women, have  problems with asking for what they want.

For example, I’m currently studying abroad in Santiago, Chile, and have a few friends who are having issues with their host-family living situations. I have a friend whom I will call Lisa. She absolutely abhors the fact that her host mother barges into her room without knocking.I asked her why she did not simply ask her host mother to knock before entering. It was, after all, a reasonable request.

“I don’t know,” she sighed, “I don’t want to be rude.”

Why are people so reluctant to ask for what they want? Simply put,they cringe at the idea of offending anyone (the horror!). In American society, we ache to achieve political correctness in every situation. But is this really the right way to proceed through life?

This trait of resistance to inquisitive behavior is more common among my female friends. We are taught by society from a young age that girls should be sweet and docile. When a girl is vocal, she comes off as rude and self-interested. Being strong and demanding is considered more masculine, and thus women have difficulty breaking that stereotype and asking for what they want.

Sheryl Sandberg at TEDThis behavior extends into the workplace: Studies show that women are less likely to ask for pay raises. Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg cites this behavior as a reason why there are fewer women in powerful positions than there are men. She also cites a study that showed that 57 percent of male graduate students negotiated their starting salaries while only 7 percent of female graduate students did. This fear of asking translates to other fears as well — fears of voicing an opinion, fear of pitching an idea, and fear of standing up for oneself. There are incredible consequences to this inaction, ranging from diminished productivity and progress to sexual harassment in the workplace that goes unreported. The stereotype of the submissive woman manifests itself in today’s issues of inequality, negotiation, and the gender divide.

I’m calling you out, girls! We need to be direct and up front about what we want. Be reasonable, but always stretch your boundaries. You’ll be surprised with the results.

This post was written by National Student Advisory Council member Ellen Thuy Le.

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