Huddled together at the New York Port Authority Bus Terminal at 5:20 am on June 2, 2016, were seven Guttman students as they prepared for the four-hour drive to the American Association of University Women (AAUW) NCCWSL conference at the University of Maryland, College Park. In these faces are the hopes and promises of a future generation of women leaders who chose to attend Guttman Community College because of its high-touch approach to student success. Supported by funding from the Guttman Foundation, GRIT first-year students Arielis Nunez, Laillanni Magarin, Dimbeder Fall, Rebecca O’Donoghue, Donnaley Gonez, Kateryn Mejia, and Manuela Ramirez prepared to be inspired at the annual conference of more than 900 women student leaders across the United States who gather to engage in workshops and plenary sessions focused on equity, leadership, empowerment, activism, advocacy, and civic engagement.
The opening Women of Distinction event honored women for their extraordinary accomplishments in their profession and communities and included: Nancy Grace Roman (Mother of Hubble), who was the first chief of astronomy at NASA; Anu Duggal, Founding Partner of Female Founders Fund (a NY-based venture capital firm that invests in women led start-ups); Sarah McBride, Campaigns and Communications Manager, LGBT Research and Communications project (known for her groundbreaking advocacy work in LGBT); Kimberly Bryant, Founder of Black Girls Code (an innovator in creating access for women of color in STEM fields); Marisa J. Demeo, Associate Judge Superior Court of the District of Columbia, and Kelly Tsai, Writer, Performer, Director, and Producer focused on social justice. Each honoree shared her difficult journey to success. Students listened on the edge of their seats as they heard how each woman had overcome tremendous personal and professional obstacles to become exemplars in their fields. During the conference students also attended plenaries led by Hilary Corna, Founder of the #DareYourself Campaign and TED Speaker, and Francesca Ramsey, host of MTV Decoded, vlogger, comedian, and writer for the Nightly Show.
Individual workshop schedules featured topics such as The Importance of a Global Mindset in Today’s Job Market; Resilience: Cultivating Greater Mindfulness; Taking Action to Make Public Places Safer; Solidarity in the Struggle: The Importance of Intersectionality in Activist Work; Where Does Your School Stand on Gender Equity?; and Solving the Equation: Empowering Women in STEM. The full schedule can be foundat: https://www.nccwsl.org/event-details/workshops/
Students enjoyed a night out in Washington, DC, where they visited the White House, the National Monument, and the Mall–a first for many of the students. The night culminated with a dinner where students reflected on the parts of the conference that most impacted them with their three chaperones: Associate Professor and Founder of the GRIT program, Tracy Daraviras; and two executive members, Assistant Professor Nicola Blake and Catherine Marrero, CUNYSTART Coordinator.
Dr. Daraviras selected this national conference because of the scope of the panels and the longstanding work of the AAUW. She also wanted the GRIT women to experience dorm life to help widen the students’ possibilities as they considered schools to complete their bachelor’s degrees. Having the students navigate dorm life in an expansive campus is a different environment from Guttman’s intimate setting where students commute each day into midtown Manhattan to the campus’ seven-floor building. The GRIT women bonded over their daily meals in Denton Hall and left the conference fired up as they visualized all the possibilities in their own lives regardless of the challenges they faced. More touching is the students’ own realizations that the essence of mentoring is paving the way for others; as the way becomes paved for them, they are also forging the path for their colleagues and community. Toni Morrison put it best when she said, “Your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else. This is not just a grab-bag candy game.” GRIT was founded on the principles of access, service, and community.