AAUW: Getting Together to Make a Difference
By Jody Morgan (April 2013) as appeared in AAUW -Danville Today – April 2013
Our local branch of the American Association of University Women (AAUW) has been known as a branch “where the action is” since its inception in 1969. Currently called the Danville/Alamo/Walnut Creek Branch (DAW), the group has 286 members dedicated to promoting the national organization’s mission of advancing equity for women and girls through advocacy, education, philanthropy and research. Smaller special interest groups within the branch as well as monthly programs give members a chance to socialize and share their personal passions for art, hiking, gourmet meals, literature, movies, mahjong, travel and many more activities.
In the art category, two local branch members have had the satisfaction of national recognition in the AAUW Annual Art Contest and a third is about to be officially announced for 2013. Already posted on the national website as award winners in 2010 and 2011 respectively are Caroline Sanchez’s “Little Italian Shop” and Jan Hersh’s “Good Morning Hibiscus.”
This year Hersh is chairing the second annual branch members’ Celebration of Creativity scheduled for April 24th. Quilting, poetry, music, crafts, literary compositions and a variety of visual art contributions will be included. The only challenge will be finding enough time and space to properly showcases all the talent within the group.
Serendipity brought Jan into the DAW fold. “The minute I purchased my home, the previous owner told me about AAUW and that I had to join. In 1984, I attended a brunch, and 27 years later I am grateful for all the extra benefits I have gained because of getting involved,” she wrote in 2011. As past president of DAW, Hersh likes staying connected “with people who enjoy making a difference both locally and globally.”
Following its founding in 1881, AAUW conducted its first research project in 1885 documenting the then startling discovery that higher education was not detrimental to women’s health. A 2010 AAUW study entitled Why SO Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics speaks to an issue DAW addresses by sending local middle school girls to Tech Trek, a weeklong summer science and math program held on college campuses. Tech Trek captures the attention of girls at a vulnerable age when many abandon science and math as “nerdy” pursuits. In 2012 DAW scholarships sent 13 local students (selected by a DAW review board from candidates recommended by educators) to Tech Trek.
DAW past president Teresa Cheung credits AAUW with raising her consciousness of women’s issues and giving her the confidence to make something happen within her own professional organization: the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE). Invited as president of the Northern California chapter to give the 1994 welcome address at the national convention, Cheung decided to make her words count. At the time there were 200 AIChE fellows of whom only 2 were women. Instead of the expected speech thanking everyone for their help with the table arrangements, Teresa challenged the group to take action. “ Whether it is within our AIChE Council, in academia or in the industry, when there are more role models for our girls, everyone will benefit.” Cheung’s role in establishing a permanent Women’s Institute Committee, is recognized on AIChE’s website as one of its 40 Mileposts of Professional and Institute Progress.
Marianne Gagen, another DAW past president, served on the SRVUSD Board for 12 years. She writes: “My experience with AAUW was very instrumental in giving me the skills and self confidence to run and become a school board member. The leadership skills that were modeled by other members were invaluable. I learned how to set goals, to run meetings, to work with people of differing ideas and perspectives, and to study issues in a comprehensive way.”
In addition to actively supporting local schools, DAW gives merit-based scholarships to local women entering their junior year in college or engaged in post-graduate programs. Last year 7 of the overwhelmingly qualified applicants were chosen as scholarship recipients. As Kathie Hixon, also a DAW past president, explains: “It’s not about the dollar amount but about recognizing the value/merit in each of our women recipients. This is empowering.” DAW’s Holiday Home Tour finances both Tech Trek and Local Scholarships. The community benefits twice over: viewing homes exquisitely appointed with seasonal décor and rewarding local women pursuing their educational dreams.
As part of the local branch’s achievements, DAW has raised nearly $400,000 since 1969 funding women locally, nationally and around the world. Donations from branch members as well as funds raised by the annual May Garden Tour placed DAW second in the nation for 2012 branch contributions to the AAUW National Funds. Save the dates for this year’s tour: May 10 & 11.
Members join AAUW for a variety of reasons. Asha Bajaj wanted “to be part of a community of like-minded people with some larger purpose fostering equity and providing meaningful conversation.” As a DAW past president, she enjoys being part of a group that is “local, but with a global reach.” The upcoming program on Women’s Issues in Africa on April 13th focuses on the global interests of local members. For information on attending as a guest contact Membership Chair Tena Gallagher: Tena@aol.com.
Tena Gallagher has served in many positions since joining DAW. She originally became involved while seeking a social group when her youngest child entered kindergarten. “As a past president, I have seen what a gathering of goal oriented women can accomplish when we are all working toward the same goal: Making the world a better place for women and girls whether it’s our grandmothers or our granddaughters, ourselves or our daughters.
Current DAW President Holly Sauer is a relative newcomer to the branch. “I joined AAUW because I was looking for something valuable to do, where I could meet people and become involved in our local communities. The branch offers many opportunities to become immediately involved as much or as little as a member would like. I appreciate the generosity and warmth of our members, and feel that every member is valued for however much they can contribute and participate.”
When Marcia Steinhardt moved to Danville she joined the local AAUW branch because she wanted “to meet like-minded women who promoted education.” She readily admits, “I had no idea how far-reaching the organization’s work was before joining.” Impressed enough to devote time to serve as local branch president, Steinhardt remarks on “the power of women to do things together and make changes. One or two can’t do it, but together we can make things happen.”
Men, by the way, are welcome to join. DAW already boasts one male member. You don’t have to reside in Danville, Alamo, or Walnut Creek to join, but you do have to have a college degree or equivalent professional certification. Getting involved is part of the package. As Gail Clark (yes, she too is a DAW past president) points out: “Our local AAUW branch is privileged to have had a number of members serve at the state and national level.” Gail was hooked when the mother of her daughter’s kindergarten classmate took her to a “kick-off brunch in a beautiful backyard.”
Intrigued by the aesthetics, the social interaction or the ability to make a difference? Visit the DAW website: www.aauw-daw.org/ Then the state site: www.aauw-ca.org/ and the national website: www.aauw.org/ To meet the local branch members at an event open to the public, or guests and prospective members, contact Tena Gallagher: Tena@aol.com