“I am inspired by women who get up every day and do what’s right for their families and communities.”
In celebration of Women’s History Month this past March, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation recently published a Q&A with UW Tacoma Chancellor Sheila Edwards Lange on issues facing women and girls in education.
Read her comments below, or visit the Gates Foundation website to read Lange’s thoughts as well as those of Dr. Lori Hunt, provost of Community Colleges of Spokane and Dr. Sue Kane, director of STEM initiatives and strategic partnerships at North Central (Wenatchee) Educational Service District.
What does Women’s History Month mean to you personally?
It’s a time to reflect on the unique contribution women have made to the history of the world. As a Black woman I am especially proud to reflect on the strengths and gifts of women of color. Sojourner Truth’s speech at the Ohio Women’s Convention of 1851 remains one of my favorites as it so eloquently points out the intersectionality of race and gender in the women’s movement. In my work advocating for the inclusion of girls in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education, I have to constantly reiterate that girls of color are to be included in this effort.
What do you think are the biggest issues facing women and girls in higher education?
While women have been equally represented in higher education enrollments since the 1980’s, they continue to be underrepresented in many STEM fields and in leadership positions. In our region, where STEM is such a large part of the economy, lack of access to STEM fields has real economic consequences. We need to do more in our communities and at the K-12 level to bring attention to this issue and broaden access. If girls are not exposed to STEM possibilities and prepared early during their education journey, most will not be interested in studying STEM when they get to college.
What advice would you give to young women and girls who want to work in education?
Follow your passion, and be relentless in seeking out experiences that will expose you to mentors and opportunities. Sometimes that means your peers may not be excited about your choices, and you may often be one of the few girls in the room. That’s perfectly fine if you are doing what gives you joy and purpose.
Is there a woman (or two!) who inspires you?
I am inspired by women who get up every day and do what’s right for their families and our communities. Doing the little things that add up to big things. Taking care of aging parents, ailing spouses/partners, raising their own or other people’s children. Women who speak out about injustice anywhere, and then those who fight to correct those injustices. The grandmother who advocates for better gun laws. The auntie who pushes for better outcomes for foster children. The sister who volunteers with Special Olympics to be a part of her sibling’s journey. Those are the women who inspire me.
Interview and quote illustrations courtesy Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
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