Twenty-two women pursuing bachelor’s degrees in Eastern Washington are gathered in Spokane for a six-day nonpartisan leadership conference aimed at addressing the underrepresentation of women in American politics.
The WSU/GU National Education for Women’s Leadership program, hosted by Washington State University and Gonzaga University, is modeled after a similar program developed by the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University.
Cynthia Stavrianos, a Gonzaga associate professor of political science and women’s and gender studies, serves as the program’s academic director and said the goal is “to give college undergraduate women the tools and the skills that they need to be successful political advocates, political participants, political coalition-builders and, one day, political leaders who maybe run for office themselves.”
Intended to be an annual event, the conference was made possible by a $45,000 grant from the Women’s Funding Alliance. Since Thursday, the participating students have attended dozens of educational sessions with women politicians, activists, academics and community leaders from across Eastern Washington. Topics have included networking, leadership styles, media perspectives and the legislative process.
A lunchtime panel discussion on Monday featured Brandy Cote, the director of Spokane Mayor David Condon’s office; Maureen Haeger, legislative assistant to state Rep. Marcus Riccelli, D-Spokane; state Sen. Shelly Short, R-Addy; Marianne Nichols, the Pend Oreille County auditor; and Joanna Wilson, a staff attorney for the U.S. District Court of Eastern Washington.
Topics of the discussion included ways to stay healthy and achieve career goals while striking a balance between work and family life.
Cote, who began working in the mayor’s office about four years ago, said she and her family relocated to Spokane for a change of pace after she spent several years working in the Alaska governor’s office.
“I feel strongly that you take whatever position you can get, if that’s the area that you want to be in, and you start wherever you need to to work your way up,” she said.
Nichols said that during her 12 years as an elected official, it has been easy to get absorbed in the work. “Especially being women and mothers, we just a lot of times have that tendency that we have to do it all – and we do a pretty darn good job of it most of the time,” she said. “But you really have to stop and make an effort to take care of you.”
Students participating in the conference are from WSU, Gonzaga, Whitworth University, Eastern Washington University, Central Washington University and Heritage University in Toppenish, Washington.
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