Elect Her facilitator Nancy Bocskor was on the “snow tour” as she visited University of Minnesota, Washington & Lee University and Northern Michigan University this past month. A little snow and cold certainly didn’t keep young women from attending workshops designed to sharpen their leadership skills and inspire them to run for student government positions.
Women’s Center graduate student Sara Pennebecker organized University of Minnesota’s first-ever Elect Her workshop with more than 35 attendees, including students from the very large Somalian and Hmong communities. These women, in particular, are from countries where women political role models are difficult to find, so leadership training is vital for their success.
The winner of the Elect Her mock election was graduate student, Kristel England. Her major takeaway from the day? “Through each activity I learned a little about myself, as well as other people. I learned that asking for help and support is not that difficult when you are passionate about the purpose. I also learned that other people, sometimes the most unlikely people, will stand beside you and partner with you to help achieve your shared goals. Learning both of these concepts made the process of running for an elected student office seems not only possible, but also plausible. By the end of the seminar I had learned how to create a stump speech and strategize for a political campaign. I left with an increased confidence in my own ability to compete in the political arena.”
Bocskor’s next stop on her “snow tour” was a drive down to Lexington, Virginia where Washington & Lee law professor Jill Fraley and her team successful brought together 25 law students and undergrads for the Elect Her workshop. An all male college until the mid-80s, women continue to lag behind their male counterparts in student government. Fraley recognizes the continuing challenge and hosts Elect Her to inspire and motivate more women to run.
The winner of the mock election was law student Alexis Aduba, who said the event truly had an impact on her.
“Each speaker brought a fresh and frank perspective to the larger discussion of female empowerment and women running for public office. To hear from women who have done exceedingly well in their respective careers discuss the challenges that they had to overcome in an overwhelmingly patriarchal culture gives me hope. I have experienced my own challenges as a result of gender bias but with encouragement and a sincere belief that this hurdle is not an insurmountable one I think that I can achieve a lot. Encouragement is precisely what Elect Her has provided me. It is not an easy thing to reach success and have the drive to turn around and reach out to help someone else, but that is what these women have done. I even ran for office in the Elect Her mock campaign. We each had to come up with a campaign platform and encourage students to vote for us. My strategy was an easy one; we had just learned it in the presentation. I had to first listen, garner support and then take initiative. So I listened to what the students in the room wanted, found a group of strong supporters, consolidated our ideas and boldly walked up to the event hosts, Nancy Bocskor, Dr. Jill Fraley, and the W&L Law Women President and asked for their votes. In the end I won the election but more importantly I learned a lot about the many issues women face on my campus. This has really inspired me to do more. I can’t say for sure that I will run for campus office but whatever I end up doing I can proudly say that if it wasn’t for women like those at the Elect Her event who turned around to reach a hand out for me I would not be in the position to the same for someone else.”
The final stop on this winter’s tour was a trip to Northern Michigan University, located in Marquette on the Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Bocskor was the first Elect Her facilitator who actually arrived during the last three years (yes, Lake Superior was frozen solid and the terrain looked more like Siberia!) Professor Judy Puncochar and her team organized the event – and 25 women ventured out in a heavy snowstorm to learn how to enter public service.
One attendee, Nichole, said of Elect Her: “Today was my most significant day of college!” Two students, Amber Lopota and Abby Roche are running as a team for ASNMU president and vice-president. Both gave speeches that were of Presidential quality – they both have a solid future in public service – and the White House needs their talents.
Said Amber: “ I had an amazing experience today attending the Elect Her event workshop hosted by the gracious Nancy Bocskor. My skillset has been expanded, as well as my understanding of how to best convey to each of you the bright future of ASNMU once I am elected President. I saw a number of strong capable women moving forward today, making the decision to empower themselves and take on the responsibility of serving this student body. Congratulations to each of you, and many thanks to Elect Her for raising our awareness of the amazing results we can expect as more competent intelligent women move into positions in government at all levels. Your talented Vice Presidential candidate of choice, Abby Roche made a rousing and inspirational speech that made it crystal clear the benefits we all incur when strong young women such as herself make the important decision to get involved in student government.”
-By Nancy Bocskor