Catherine Emmanuelle, Guest Blogger

My parents often tell the story of my bout with community organizing at the age of five, when I convened my fellow siblings around my parents’ bedroom door. With my hand on my hip and my foot tapping:

Knock knock knock. It’s Catherine and the children, and we’re here to talk to you about the rules in this house.

My parents giggled at my requests for democratic conversation, but the spirit of gathering people who care about an issue is something that I continue to carry in my roles as a woman, student, mother, partner, citizen, and community member.

I am still a student. I don’t have a formal degree behind my name, I don’t have a lot of extra money in my bank account, but I am a woman whose main resource is passion, and it fuels my leadership participation. The purpose of this article is to share practical tips on implementing your experience with women’s leadership trainings in your roles within the classroom and your community.

1.    At the beginning of the semester, read your course syllabus. Then re-read it, and specifically look for opportunities to develop your passions. For example, I took a Women and Gender-Based Violence course. I knew there would be a fifteen-page research paper due at the end of the semester. I also knew that I was attending The White House Project’s START Now Summit 2010: Women Leaders for Nuclear Security during the semester. I talked with my professor and asked if I could examine gender-based violence within nuclear security issues for my assignment. She enthusiastically encouraged me to go for it! I was able to weave my reflections of meeting such inspirational women, like Valerie Plame Wilson, Rose Gottemoeller, Ellen Tauscher, and the theories from my course within my research paper. I’m excited to tell you I got a solid A on the assignment too! Don’t be shy to let your professors know your passions and see if you can pursue them while you are doing your coursework.

2.    Internships and service-learning projects are requirements for many programs. Avoid the doldrums of pursuing obligatory hours; rather search for meaningful ways to explore your possible post-graduation leadership paths. First, I suggest that you look at the any of your personal skills that might be underdeveloped. In other words, what could you use more experience in? For example, perhaps you want to run for public office, but don’t know how local policy is made. Maybe you could seek out an internship at a local government office or with an elected official. Don’t forget to check with your financial aid office or career services regarding paid internships. During my sophomore year, I was able to get a scholarship that paid for me to work as an intern in a United States Senator’s regional office, just two blocks from my house! Other possibilities include looking for vacant seats on civic boards and local bodies of government. Time served on these boards and commissions will most likely count towards service-learning hour requirements (of course, check with your advisor to make sure this is the case). Use these opportunities, which are often requirements, to increase your capacity as a budding leader.

3.    Don’t wait until you are a world-renowned women’s leader to be a famous speaker—start sharing your story and your passions now! Take stock at your passions and your identities to help you find audiences that are waiting to hear from you (yes, I am presuming that they are waiting to hear from you—trust me, they are). For example, I worked with my campus’s women’s center during Women’s History Month and shared about women and activism as part of their speakers’ series. I have been invited back next year to speak about women’s leadership and practical steps on developing passions towards activism (hmmmm, is there a correlation here?). Another place to share is in classrooms. Perhaps you have a favorite professor who has encouraged you in your leadership pursuits. You could approach this professor and ask if there might be a place during the semester where you could join a class for a period of time as a speaker to share about an issue you are dedicated to working on (i.e. local food movements, immigration issues, voter registration—you get the picture). If the professor you ask says “no,” I encourage you to say something like, “thank you for your consideration—might you be able to recommend another faculty member or community leader that would have an audience for what I would like to present on?” As a student myself, there is nothing like peer-to-peer enthusiasm and leadership regarding community issues. Even if you speak for five minutes, you will inspire your audience—so go for it!

Look around—what can you do today? What can you do now? Don’t wait for the future to be your playground of opportunity. Make today your future because our world is waiting for you. I’m not waiting until I have a college degree before I make a difference in my world—and neither should you. 

Catherine Emmanuelle is an undergraduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire where she is majoring Women’s Studies & with a minor in Economics. Her undergraduate writings on teaching women’s leadership in the feminist classroom, and a  book review on Gender and International Security: Feminist Perspectives have been accepted for publication in the journal Feminist Teacher. In her community, Catherine helps to lead diversity initiatives as a director of the Clear Vision Eau Claire board, a local civic engagement organization. She is currently an intern for The White House Project and is excited to help towards the advancement of women’s leadership in all phases of women’s lives. Catherine looks forward to hearing your leadership passions and plans and can be reached at catherineemmanuelle@gmail.com.

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