Romy Hübler (Language, Literacy & Culture), Doaa Rashed (Language, Literacy & Culture) and Maria Nandadevi Cortes Rodriguez (Biological Sciences) are UMBC doctoral students. All hold, or have held, leadership positions in UMBC’s Graduate Student Association.
Earlier this year UMBC joined the Public Sector University Consortium of the Women in Public Service Project, founded by the U.S. Department of State and the Seven Sisters Colleges and now housed at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. The Women in Public Service Project empowers, connects and mobilizes the next generation of women around the world to address critical public issues.
UMBC has taken an active role in the WPSP by showcasing and providing developmental opportunities for graduate students. At the WPSP conference on “Conflict Transformation Through Economic Development and Innovation” at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell this summer, Maria Nandadevi Cortes Rodriguez and Erika Nesvold (Physics) gave short TED-style research presentations as part of the “Sharing STEM“ session. Doaa Rashed and I served as facilitators for the session on “The Material Basis of Violence Against Women and Engaging Men in Promoting Change.” The conference included women leaders from the U.S., Afghanistan, Northern Ireland, Liberia, and Turkey.
Last month, WPSP presented “A Global Conversation: Why the UN Must Focus on Women’s Leadership” at Barnard College in New York City. Three of us (Doaa, Nandadevi and I) made the trip, sponsored by the UMBC Graduate School’s Graduate Student Development Unit. The panel featured Dr. Debora Spar, President of Barnard College; Jane Harman, Director of the Woodrow Wilson Center; Wafa Taher Bugaighis, Deputy Foreign Minister, Libya; Lakshmi Puri, Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations and Deputy Executive Director of UN Women; Daniela Bas, Director of the Division for Social Policy and Development, UN; Melanee Verveer, Executive Director, Georgetown Institute for Women; and Kimberly Marten, Professor of Political Science, Barnard College.
The panelists discussed diverse contexts in which global women leaders have assessed societal needs and provided long-term sustainable solutions to local problems. Their examples illustrated that women are not only capable of making important contributions, but that they have already been practicing leadership across the globe. The question that arose is: “what is next?” The panel addressed this question by calling all women leaders to promote and support emerging leaders as they find their paths into public service, which will create the space for empowerment. As President of UMBC’s Graduate Student Association (GSA) , I have a great opportunity to interact with graduate students and help address their concerns about leadership skills, a topic often overlooked in the curriculum. As a response to such need, the GSA started a new Graduate Student Leadership Committee (GSLC) where graduate student leaders work together to identify their leadership needs and develop training workshops and seminars to address those needs. Another goal of this committee is to put committee members in leadership positions as they support fellow graduate students. For me, working with the GSA Executive Board and the Office of Graduate Student Life (OGSL) has helped me see team leadership in action where leaders work together to build a strong graduate student community. Leadership is ours if we choose it and it is through self-efficacy and strong belief in our strength that we can reach this goal.
Listening to the panelists, I realized that women leaders have many good intentions to end some of our contemporary social challenges, such as poverty, illiteracy, hunger, discrimination, violence and a lack of access to resources including health, shelter, sanitation or water. Unfortunately, they often encounter difficulties when they attempt to change the mentalities of more traditional leaders. In order to achieve prosperity, it is essential that men and women work together and treat every human being with the same rights. Reaching powerful leadership roles has not been easy. I admire all those brave women before me who stood up for their ideals and who fought to vote, study, or even access health care. As a biologist, my research focuses on the genetics of birds and how these genetic changes are related to past and present climatic events; eventually, these results can be used in areas such as conservation and healthy wildlife populations. As a member of PROMISE AGEP, I have been involved in different workshops and panels that promote student success and leadership not only at UMBC, but recently in Puerto Rico, with the Writing for Publication workshop. Finally, as a teacher I have interacted with girls of different cultures and environments and I always like to emphasize that as women we are the foundation of society and that a society will evolve only if we have integrity and values to overcome difficulties.
Listening to the global women leaders at the WPSP UN panel was truly inspirational. Their stories illustrated the successful entry of women into powerful leadership positions on a global scale. At the same time, we can hardly speak of equal representation. In the United States, women occupy 98 of 535 seats in Congress, 20 of 100 in the Senate, and 78 of 435 in the House of Representatives. Considering Melanee Verveer’s remarks that “no country can get ahead with half of its people behind,” I wonder how the United States can continue to make valuable democratic contributions when not even twenty percent of its government consists of women? As an organizer, I know that change is a slow and at times painful process. To stay committed, we need to celebrate successes, reflect on challenges, and continuously remind ourselves that equal participation is necessary to understand, discuss, and work toward posing and solving societal and global issues from a variety of perspectives.