In recent years, it’s been impossible to attend the Durango Branch of the American Association of University Women’s Fall Luncheon without learning something.
Fort Lewis College Modern Languages Chairwoman Ellen Hartsfield talked about the evolution of English and our misconceptions about grammar. Mona Wood Patterson and Charles Ford, founders of Merely Players, demonstrated how they use social media and how it can make us more productive.
And this year, Fort Lewis College associate professor of physics and engineering Laurie Williams shared her experiences as a woman and engineer in the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and math. For a bonus, she told the story of the FLC Chapter of Engineers without Borders – work that is near and dear to her heart.
The luncheon was held Oct. 25 at the Palace Restaurant.
More than 50 women of all ages, including Fort Lewis STEM students Riley Burchell (anthropology major, gender and women’s studies minor), Ashley Garcia (biology major, currently president of the FLC Engineers without Borders chapter), Delilah Dougi (environmental geology major), Gayle Owen (engineering major, minors in math and art) and Ashlee Robinson (chemistry).
Dean of Arts and Sciences Maureen Brandon came to support the effort. FLC is an AAUW member partner, so all female students can be members of AAUW online free, and members of the local branch for just $8.
A fair number of members who work or have worked in STEM fields also took a bow. President Katherine Burgess made the introductions, then freshly retired FLC Professor Emerita Marcy Jung enjoyed making the speaker introductions.
First up were the branch’s two scholarship recipients for the 2014 National Conference for College Women Student Leaders: geology major Sarah Holden and public health major Danielle Lucero. Burgess said the Durango branch was the only chapter in Colorado to send students to the 2½-day conference at the University of Maryland, College Park.
About 1,000 young women attended the conference that included a choice of more than 50 workshops, a chance to hear from influential and distinguished women leaders and a career and graduate school fair to look toward their futures.
For Lucero, it was her first trip to the East Coast and she came back all fired up.
“I was surrounded by young women ready to go out to change the world,” she said.
Why do the STEM fields matter for women? Because salaries for women are 33 percent higher than in the “traditional” female fields of teaching, social work and other human services fields. I did a story earlier this year on the efforts in our area to increase science and math knowledge, skills and passion for girls and young women in our area. I learned a lot. A number of things, including implicit bias – another story I wrote recently – as well as the culture in academia, research and industry can make the fields unaccommodating to the responsibilities most women still primarily bear in our families. That’s if they’re not downright hostile, as we’ve been seeing in the news about the technology industry recently.
Keynote speaker Williams shared her journey, and while no single woman’s experience describes the experience of every woman, her story reflected many others I’ve heard.
“I found myself uncomfortable when they asked me to talk about my experiences,” she said about the invitation to speak at the luncheon, “because I’ve spent an entire career working with men, and they’ve never asked me to talk about myself.”
One of only five women among 1,000 students in the School of Engineering at Colorado State University during her work on her bachelor’s, she was told by male classmates she was only getting job offers because she was a woman, and she can’t count how many times she’s been told that during her career. Interestingly, when she went back for graduate work, her professors didn’t remember her despite her rare status in the school.
At her first job, when asking to go out in the field as a pipeline engineer, which would increase her experience and ability to qualify for promotions, her boss told her he couldn’t guarantee her safety. So they allowed her take her dog. And everyone knows a golden retriever is a fierce protector!
It took several career changes before Williams ended up at FLC about 10 years ago, where she has found more meaning in her field and in her life. Between working with students and projects in desperately impoverished parts of the world, she’s finding her skills are making a difference every day.
Speaking of which, because Engineers without Borders projects use many more skills than just engineering – only about one-third of the students involved are engineering majors – they’re working to change the name to Village Aid Project. Other majors involved include chemistry and biology, public health, anthropology, sociology, geology and business students starting microloan projects and so on.
Over the last year, three communications majors prepared new promotional materials for the Village Aid Project and filmed its work for both a short promotional film and a documentary.
“I told them they’d have to figure out a way to recharge their equipment down there because the villages aren’t electrified,” Williams said with a grin. “I like to make them solve their own problems.”
Williams would like to get some agricultural science students to go with them, because increasing productivity for subsistence-level farmers could make all the difference in their prosperity.
In 10 years they’ve worked with 17 villages in Ecuador, Laos, Myanmar and Nicaragua.
They make a five-year commitment, starting the first year with an assessment of a village’s needs; implementation, usually of a water system giving a community clean potable water that villagers (generally children, and generally girls) have been carrying in manually every day for miles; then spending the next year doing supplementary projects such as building schools and latrines, working on hygiene and health; then monitoring the progress and completing any other projects needed.
I should stress here that this is not something they do for the villagers, this is something they do with them.
Three hundred and fifty students have participated, and for many, it was their first trip outside the U.S. One young woman, who had grown up on the Navajo Reservation, had never seen a city before landing in Quito, Ecuador. But arriving in the village, with no running water, felt comfortable, because that was how she grew up.
This year, the Village Aid Project will begin a collaboration with another Durango organization, the Shanta Foundation, in Myanmar. I sometimes feel a sense of despair that the conditions around the world are so dire, so desperate in so many Third World countries that nothing we can do here will make a difference. These students, Williams and her co-sponsor Don May, remind me there is something we can do that makes a significant difference in people’s lives.
I hope I’ve intrigued and inspired you to learn more. In a sweet coincidence, the Village Aid Project is holding its annual “come learn about us and help us raise the $60,000 to $80,000 needed every year to complete our projects” event at 6:45 p.m. Tuesday in the Ballroom in the Student Union at Fort Lewis College.
Visit www.fortlewis.edu/ewb/ to learn more about it and how to help.
Scorpios unite! Here’s wishing the best of birthdays to my brethren Matthew Chiarito, Sean Jackson, Jane Mercer, Marilee White, Gayle Brown, Karen Rose, Ted Wiedemann, Drew Dalenberg, Ian Osby, Holly Landgren, Taylor Moore, James Plotnik, Alisha Hjermstad, Kathleen Shock, Jenna Mulligan, Stella Welcher and Bonnie Flores.
Believe it or not, we are less than three weeks away from Thanksgiving – I know, where does the time go? – and that means organizers for the Community Thanksgiving Dinner are busily getting ready to feed hundreds upon hundreds of us.
Help is needed for setting up, cooking, decorating, serving, delivering meals and cleaning up. To volunteer, call Gordon Clouser at 259-4061.
Pie bakers are also needed – I’m guessing they actually want ones that are edible, so I’m off the hook – but if you’re a baker, it’s not that hard to make an extra one, I’ve heard. Drop pies off at the Exhibit Hall at the La Plata County Fairgrounds on Thanksgiving morning.
A full turkey dinner will be served from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Everyone is welcome, whether you don’t feel like cooking, are away from family or it’s the best way to make sure your family has a holiday meal. (The food is great, by the way.) Donations are always welcome.
I was sad to hear that Calvin and Pat Story’s granddaughter Kodi Grace McAlvain was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia three weeks after starting kindergarten. The 6-year-old daughter of Casey Story and Mikki Cruzen, she is facing a 2½-year treatment of chemotherapy and blood transfusions, with all the medical expenses that go along with that kind of treatment.
I’m happy to say that the community is coming together to help this family that has helped so many individuals and organizations here. From 5:30 to 9 p.m. Nov. 22, at Fort Lewis Mesa Elementary School, there will be a benefit dinner and auction to benefit the family. Right now, friends are collecting auction items and help to put on a stellar event.
Call Ted or Donna Stahl at 588-2256 or Kayla Story at 759-4016 to donate or learn more.
It’s a little bit of a drive, because the school is located at 11274 Colorado Highway 140 south of Hesperus. But if ever there were an event worth taking the trip, this is it.
I’m sure people get married during the first two weeks of November, but I don’t know any of those anniversaries, so here’s another anniversaryless Neighbors.
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