Women for Educational Achievement!

smith-jenniferby Jennifer Smith
EVP & Director of Corporate Bank Operations
Zions Bancorporation
Chair, Women’s Leadership Council

Angie Ruiz recently completed her paralegal degree. A single mom of three, she knew she had to advance her education in order to provide for her family. She is continuing to take classes and wants to go on to earn her law degree. Her daughter, Alayna, is so proud of her mom. “She pushes me to study harder and get better grades. I have no excuse. She is up until 2 or 3 in the morning, the only time she has to study for her classes. She works and takes care of us and she gets straight A’s. I have to do my best, too.”

Post-secondary education enrollment figures for Utah women have steadily declined since the early 1990’s, a trend that has resulted in the gap between males and females attaining four-year college degrees rising to six percent. No other state is even close to a gap this size. This reality has severe consequences on our state’s economy and families. According to new research, due to lower education levels, women in Utah currently earn only 70 cents for every dollar men earn— the fourth highest disparity rate in the nation.

United Way of Salt Lake’s 190 member Women’s Leadership Council (WLC) has collectively invested over half a million dollars to support its initiative to empower girls and teens to complete post-secondary education and training. WLC members developed a pilot program focused on aligning volunteer and mentoring efforts around at-risk students who display specific needs regarding academic achievement, as well as transitioning students successfully from junior high, to high school, and to college. Some of the specific activities include: one-on-one mentoring and tutoring, career and college tours, classroom presentations and three-day workshops based on the best-selling book, StrengthsFinder 2.0, designed to help young women understand their potential.

Alayna recently participated in a college and career training with members of the Women’s Leadership Council. “I know for a fact I’m going to college. It’s fun to learn that there are so many options. I know I like poetry and English, but now, I think engineering would be interesting.”

The wide-range of benefits a woman receives from a college education is passed along to succeeding generations. Alayna’s mother is a strong role model to help ensure her college success. Thousands of others of Utah female students are not that lucky. Mentors are powerful influencers who can help guide students to graduate from high school and attain some level of post-secondary education. For an at-risk student, the impact of a mentor can be life-changing not only for the student, but also for her future family.

Research has shown that women with post-secondary degrees are more likely to vote and be engaged members of the community. Women who are more educated are more likely to give birth to healthy babies and by elementary school, their children are more prepared academically and are more involved in extracurricular activities. More educated women who want or need to work part-time or full-time can typically find employment that gives them higher salaries along with increased autonomy and flexibility and more opportunities for family-friendly work schedules.

United Way of Salt Lake Women’s Leadership Council believes in order to achieve the vision that 66 percent of Utahns will have degrees by 2020, we all need to encourage our young women to make better educational choices. It is all our responsibility—business leaders, church leaders, teachers, parents, community leaders and others. We must be positive role models and encourage our young women to obtain post-secondary degrees for this and future generations of Utah women.

Jennifer Smith is chair of United Way of Salt Lake Women’s Leadership Council and is also the EVP and Director of Bank Operations at Zions Bancorporation. 

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Why Attend Power of Your Purse?

Maggie Beasleyby Maggie Beasley
Marketing Administrative Assistant

If you are like me, you may be hearing about the Women’s Leadership Council (WLC) and its annual gala, Power of Your Purse, for the first time. I’m a recent addition to the United Way of Salt Lake staff, but it has not taken long for me to see the wonderful work that WLC is accomplishing. Whether it is on-the-ground work such as tutoring in schools or fundraising for women’s education, the WLC is getting involved in strengthening our community. This signature event, Power of Your Purse, is one of the greatest yielding fundraising events for WLC’s focus, Women for Educational Achievement. Last year they were able to raise $55,000! All of these contributions help girls and women in the community achieve their education goals.

Power of Your Purse is not only an excellent platform to turn people’s focus to the importance of education for women and girls in the community, it also is an experience that inspires the members and friends of WLC. It celebrates and reflects on the work that they have accomplished over the year. Attendees of the 2013 Power of Your Purse event can expect to hear from keynote speaker Joan Cronan (Women’s Athletics Director at the University of Tennessee), enjoy a fabulous dinner, and perhaps win one of the fabulous prizes, which include O.C. Tanner jewelry and designer handbags. Personally, I am excited to get to know these wonderful members and hear more about how they are changing the odds for girls and women in our community through their education efforts!!

Join us on Thursday, October 30, to learn more about how you can support the work of the WLC or even become a member yourself!

Check out these great photos from last year’s Power of Your Purse!

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Women’s Philanthropic Network Summer Social!

by Chelsea Nelson
Interactive Communications Director

Last night members of United Way of Salt Lake’s Women’s Philanthropic Network gathered at the beautiful OC Tanner building in downtown Salt Lake for their annual Summer Social. Members met to network and mingle and also hear more about WPN’s priority of Women for Educational Achievement. Everyone had a wonderful time enjoying the gorgeous surroundings and discussing the successes that WPN has seen over the past few years.

Jennifer Smith, the Women’s Philanthropic Network Chair, spoke about the great work that has been happening in United Way of Salt Lake Neighborhood Centers–thanks much in part to the generous donations from WPN members. She also discussed the struggles that Utah is seeing with young women finishing post-secondary education. Jennifer encouraged guests to take action and invest in WPN’s new priority, Women for Educational Achievement.  Utah currently ranks 26th in the nation for higher education completion and the gap between male and female’s attaining a four-year college degree in Utah has grown to 6 percent; no other state is even close to a gap that size. Jennifer was positive that with the commitment of WPN members, those statistics could change!

Thank you to everyone who came out and made this event such a success!

Also, a huge thank you to OC Tanner for generously hosting the WPN Summer Social and creating such a warm and welcoming atmosphere!

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To learn more about Women’s Philanthropic Network and how to get involved, please contact Megan Jones at megan@uw.org.

What IS the Power of Your Purse?

by Chelsea Nelson

Communications Director

Today, UWSL’s  Women’s Philanthropic Network (WPN) is hosting a great event, Power of Your Purse! This annual event is filled with compelling presentations, networking, great prizes, and lots of fun–as well as wonderful women who make a significant impact in our community and neighborhoods.

WPN supports United Way Welcome Centers, and this year they are expanding their efforts to focus on Women for Educational Achievement.  WPN members make a minimum annual investment of $1,500 a year and are helping create opportunities for young women like Ruqie, a refugee who was born in Syria, to be successful in their educational endeavors.

Ruqie’s parents were both refugees from Afghanistan who fled to Syria, where they met and started a family.  Five years ago, Rugie, her parents, and her 7 siblings came to America for better opportunities.  Ruqie had begun learning English in Syria, but found it very difficult to begin communicating with teachers and students once she was here.  However, she started making great headway by receiving help from her school and an ESL teacher who actually spoke Arabic.   The services provided at Granite Park Middle School and the teachers that worked with Ruqie made it possible for her to communicate the way she wanted to and get an education.

Once Ruqie entered High School she became more involved with extra curricular activities, joining the science club and the service learning club.  She also started volunteering with a UWSL Community Learning and Welcome Center, Hser Ner Moo in South Salt Lake.  At Hser Ner Moo, Ruqie was able to help other students who were in the same situation she found herself in when she moved to America.  In return, Hser Ner Moo offered her homework help and other enrichment activities, introducing her to programs like Utah Federation for Youth, Upward Bound, and Leaders in Training. Because of Ruqie’s involvement in groups like these, she was able to live on campus at the University of Utah during the summers while still in High School.  This gave Ruqie a great introduction to higher education and helped her prepare for college.

Today, Ruqie is in her second year at the University of Utah where she is studying and preparing for a career in Human Development and Family Studies.  Her parents have also recently become citizens of the United States.

WPN and Women for Educational Achievement help to make success stories like this possible.  The donations and volunteer efforts create these networks where young women can have access to education and support from a young age through their college years.  Currently, Utah women have the lowest higher education completion rates of all 50 states. This reality has severe consequences on our state’s economy and families. In fact, due to lower education levels, women in Utah currently earn 69% of what men earn, the highest disparity rate in the nation.  However, we are changing the odds for women in Utah by making educational opportunities available for all women and helping to see that education through to completion of a higher educational degree.

Tonight at Power of Your Purse, we will say thank you to those women who have made it a priority to change the educational future for Utah’s young women.  If you are interested in learning how to become a member of WPN or attend events like Power of Your Purse, please visit our website!