Passing the Torch of Leadership

This summer, The National Conference of College Women Students (NCCWSL) brought 600 college women from across the United States together for the common purpose of passing on the torch of leadership from one generation the next. This conference provided participants the agency to discuss contemporary issues affecting women across a wide spectrum. NCCWSL is working to create a next generation of leaders through empowerment worships and by equipping women with leadership skills to take back to their universities and colleges. NCCWSL is a collaborative initiative created by the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) and the American Association of University Women to provide women the opportunity to share a unified voice in shaping their own academic and leadership potential.

This conference served as an occasion for students to meet dynamic leaders in the fields of journalism, activism, science, engineering, and policy. NCCWSL paid tribute to women trailblazer, within these respective fields, through the Women of Distinction Awards Ceremony. The women honored included cartoonist and writer Liz Donnelly, entrepreneur Alison Cohen, activist Noorjahan Akbar, women's advocate Sandra Fluke, political strategist Maggie Williams, and journalist Michel Martin. As these honorees spoke about the challenges they overcame to reach success, the participants of the conference were reminded that the struggle for equality did not end with them and that college students must continue to fight for an equal place within society.

Fluke reminded the audience to, "There's the educational privilege that I have and that all of us in this room have... Just by virtue of being women that have had the opportunity to go to college. We have gained skills and tools that a lot of other women do not have the tools to access." These statements summarize the greater essence of the work of AAUW and NASPA in offering this conference -- to remind this generation of students that their education equips them with a rare opportunity to serve as leader.

In 2011, I had the opportunity to attend NCCWSL through a scholarship from my university. I stood inspired by speakers including veteran journalist Connie Chung and former ambassador Swanee Hunt. As these leaders spoke about paving the way for women like me, I knew I had to join in passing the torch of leadership to the next generation. I wanted to join in AAUW's fight to increase women's leadership. During the conference, I learned about AAUW's Student Advisory Council (SAC) -- an extension of AAUW in which student leaders can serve as ambassadors in AAUW's mission to increase women's involvement in student government, combat discrimination in higher education and in the workplace.

As a member of SAC, I received the opportunity to serve as an advocate for women's equality and meet powerful college women student leaders from across the country. During the conference, I felt as though I was staring the eyes of the next Condoleezza Rice or Sonia Sotomayor.

As I turn on the television to tune into the news, I see powerful examples of female leadership. When I see Secretary of State Hilary Clinton or First Lady Michelle Obama, I stand in awe of their willingness to break the glass ceiling for generations of women to come.

Unfortunately, these women stand as a small number of those who have been able to surpass these barriers to achieve perceived levels of equality. We are living in a country in which women represent more than fifty percent of the population but our rights are viewed as special interest issue. According to the Center for American Women and Politics, women comprise 16.8 percent of the 112th United States Congress. According to Forbes magazine, only 2.4 percent of Fortune 500 companies were headed by female CEOs. These strikingly low numbers are not representative of our country's demographics. As a result, we need more women leaders leading the charge for further inclusion and lessened discrimination. The American AAUW and NASPA are heading this call to action through their sponsorship of NCCWSL.

This collective of student leaders gathered at NCCWSL to express a desire to leader both in and outside of the classroom. Though the voices of women leaders often silenced by inequality, NCCWSL is fostering an environment for college women to thrive in the face of extreme adversity. Investing in the future college women creates the next generation of leaders.