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Drew’s Center for Civic Engagement Hosts Empowerment and Student Leadership Panel Discussion

Students reflect on gender empowerment in honor of Women’s History Month

March 2023 – In honor of Women’s History Month, Drew University’s Center for Civic Engagement (CCE) hosted a panel discussion on Empowerment and Student Leadership.

The event featured student leaders Jen Arias C’24, Becca James C’23, Chekwube Okunowo C’24, Grace Solomon C’24, and Ange Wunderle C24.

Moderated by Alyssa Sileo C’22, community engagement coordinator for the CCE, the group participated in a frank discussion about empowering student leaders and supporting their many initiatives. 

Sileo asked the student panelists how their organizations’ mission, initiatives, and purpose supports people of marginalized communities.

Solomon, who founded the student group Empowerment in STEM to combat underrepresentation in STEM, noted that men and women graduate with STEM-related degrees at a fairly equal rate, but inequality throughout their career paths are evident. “The further along you go, increasing levels of education and particularly in leadership positions at the professional level, the disparities continue to grow.”

Wunderle, co-president of Volunteer Without Borders, a student-run organization that connects students to service opportunities in local communities, talked about the importance of student reflection during the service trips. “We create a space where everyone’s voice can be heard, and connect it back to other moments in their life.”

Okunowo, chair of the Racial Justice Committee, strives for more inclusion on campus and in community. “We work with a lot of other racial and ethnic identity groups to bridge the gap between the different groups and administration,” she said. “We are working to create more representation throughout campus so more people see others who look like them.”

When asked how to create or sustain a student group or project, all participants shared complimentary themes in advice and experiences.

“Remember to advocate for yourself,” said Arias.

“I spoke to people who had been there,” said Okunowo.

“We balance our roles and support one another,” said Wunderle.

“Surround yourself with those who have like causes,” offered Solomon.

“Have the passion to continue doing it,” said James.

As a club founder herself during her time as a Drew undergrad, Sileo offered advice to the students. “Celebrate the little wins. If you’re building community, you’re doing the right thing.”

She reminded the students that historically, women and people of marginalized genders were at the forefront of social justice movements. “I feel like history is happening here on campus,” she said.

Sileo asked the panelists how community members can support women’s leadership.

“Bring other women into the room,” responded Okunowo. “Empowered women empower women.”

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