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UW Women’s Center celebrates courage

UW Women’s Center celebrates courage

UW Women’s Center celebrates courage - The Women of Courage Gala held at the Fairmount Hotel in Seattle raised a collective $143,000 for the UW Women’s Center during a bidding led by auctioneer, April Brown. Photo by Sara Koopai

At its third annual gala, the UW Women’s Center celebrated women of courage that have braved new horizons for younger generations and inspired new ways of thinking.

The gala was held at the Fairmont Olympic Hotel on Nov. 3.

King 5 News co-anchor Lori Matsukawa emceed the event, and UW alumna Lee Rhodes, founder and CEO of glassybaby, was the keynote speaker of the night. Executive Director of the UW Women’s Center Sutapa Basu, Ph.D, welcomed all the guests celebrating courageous women within the community.

A collaborative effort from the gala committee has helped this annual fundraising event grow in the past few years through community efforts and connections outside of the UW. The event has expanded since its beginning in 2010 as a dinner dedicated to fundraising for the programs the center offers to high school and college students.

“It’s kind of a misconception that just because we’re associated with the UW that we are fully funded, and that’s not the case,” said Claire Vander Woude, chair of the Event Planning Committee. “This year we have been able to raise $143,000, which is fantastic given the current economic climate and that we’ve had this event three years in the running. So, we are thrilled with that contribution to our work.”

The funds from this event allow the UW Women’s Center to support programs such as Making Connections, NEW Leadership Puget Sound, Re-Entry, Lifelong Learning, Human Trafficking Research and Policy Development, and Gender Equity and Violence Prevention.

“I cannot believe what [the UW Women’s center] do[es] for so little. [It] changes the lives of so many girls on a shoestring [budget],” said Kelly Wallis, chair of the UW Women’s Center Advisory Board.

The UW Women’s Center aims to promote equality and diversity by opening doors for women and girls through access to education and resources that will help them achieve academic, personal, and professional success.

The gala committee selected 11 women to be honored at the event. Honorees ranged from Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, who has sponsored 10 anti-human-trafficking laws in Washington state, to Gaby Rodriguez, a 19-year-old student who faked a pregnancy to combat the social stigma of teen pregnancy.

Advancement and Events Coordinator Alexandra Eckstein explained how the honorees were selected by defining what it means to “brave new horizons.”

“We took [braving horizons] to mean women who are approaching issues — social or political — with an innovative solution,” Eckstein said.

The gala committee collaborates with the Women’s Center Advisory Board; the UW Women’s Center staff; other UW partners, such as the UW School of Law; long-time supporters in the community; and other women’s organizations to make this event possible every year, Eckstein said.

Making Connections, one of the center’s programs, has a mission to bridge the division of underrepresented populations in higher education and Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) fields.

Making Connections Program Manager Senait Habte strives to provide a support system and resources to young women in STEM fields.

“I want my students to know how much knowledge they bring to the table, and that the University of Washington is very lucky to have them because they are changing the learning environment of the classroom,” Habte said. “Educators are cultivating thinkers. If [society] wants new solutions to yesterday’s problems, we have to bring in different types of thinking from various communities, whether it’s an economic problem or an engineering problem.”

Garfield High School sophomore Naomi Zemeadim is a participant of Making Connections and appreciates the support and guidance she receives from the UW Women’s Center.

“They are really good at helping us with confidence and building our self-esteem — and the fact that you can do other things rather than being a housewife, like society tries to portray women,” Zemeadim said. “[UW Women’s Center helps us believe] that we can go out [into the real world] and be engineers and be pioneers. It’s an encouraging place to be.”

The event ended with a performance of the song “I’m Every Woman” by Whitney Houston to emphasize and celebrate what women have done within their communities.

“Our vision with this event is to celebrate women who are powerful, who have created innovative solutions to different issues that they’ve seen in the society today,” Vander Woude said.

Reach reporter Thamar Theodore at news@dailyuw.com. Twitter: @ThamarTheodore

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