WINGS to Fly: Supporting Women’s Education
As a child, I was captivated by birds. To me, they symbolized freedom, hope, and independence. I wished I too could fly and dreamed about all of the places I would go if only I had wings.
I reflected upon this memory recently, when I heard about the Women Interested in Going to School (WINGS) conference. The conference began in 2001, when the AAUW Astoria and Seaside (OR) Branches were looking for a service project and wanted to promote women’s education. The idea morphed into a full-day conference to support women students and help ease the anxiety that surrounds entering college. The inaugural WINGS conference was held in spring 2002.
WINGS is now a huge success and a well-publicized event in Clatsop County, Oregon. Many of the speakers are former attendees who return to share their stories. In 2012, 75 women attended the conference. Of those, 37 have redeemed three-credit vouchers for Clatsop Community College classes, 38 have enrolled in the Lives in Transition program geared toward single-parent and low-income students, and five have completed a GED diploma. Since the program began, as their website says, “almost 500 women have attended a WINGS conference, and every one reported that she would recommend the conference to a friend. Last year, two past participants won major WINGS scholarships to continue their education.”
In March, I had the opportunity to be a part of the 11th annual WINGS conference. Rarely am I energized to wake up on a weekend at 4:30 a.m. (I’m sure that most students can relate) and drive two hours to Astoria, Oregon. However, as a National Student Advisory Council member who has benefitted from my local AAUW branch’s support, I felt an obligation to support these women students in their journey and be present as they took the first step. The energy in the room was contagious. I was inspired by how the community came together to support the participants, sending the message that education is a vital part of women’s advancement in leadership and one of the channels that will help us continue to break through barriers.
I also saw myself in those courageous women. Not long ago, I was a nervous teenager entering community college for the first time thanks to a scholarship for a two-year degree. At the time, I questioned whether I was good enough to finish college. I wondered if I would let down the people who invested in me. I also knew that if I was successful, I would become the first in my family to graduate from college.
Now, as a graduate student working for a U.S. senator, I have been able to touch the lives of others through service. I have risen higher than I ever envisioned and continue to set more goals. In so many ways, education has been my wings. It did not happen quite the way I pictured it as a child watching carefree birds fly across the sky, nor did I anticipate it being such a powerful tool. Education has opened doors and given me the chance to mentor other women along the way.
I applaud the AAUW Astoria and Seaside (OR) Branches, the WINGS Steering Committee, and Clatsop Community College, along with their more than 100 community partners, for making the day possible and allowing me to participate in this important program. I’m excited for all the women who will also find their wings through education. I hope they know that we are all counting on them to soar.
This post was written by 2012–13 National Student Advisory Council member Samaura Stone.