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Photo by Caitlin FowlkesKatherine Lang, mentor and AAUW member, introduced recipient Isabella Ruikis as a "difficult" woman. Each letter stood for something much more appealing than difficult ( D for daring, I for independent …).

A boost to help overcome the gap

Women tend to take lower paying jobs than men, Wanda Chin, the scholarship co-chair for the American Association of University Women said Tuesday. Not to mention the overbearing wage gap.

“The pay gap between men and women in the U.S. — the 80-ish cents on the dollar that the average woman earns for every dollar the average man does — has narrowed at such a slow pace that it would be unfair to glaciers to call it glacial,” according to a Harvard Business Review article.

Is anything doing anything about it? The Ashland branch of the AAUW awarded $26,500 to eight women attending Southern Oregon University and Rogue Community College Tuesday evening — a substantial increase from the $500 ($970 in today’s dollars) that was first awarded 28 years ago.

AAUW co-president Sandy Theis said the organization’s mission is to empower women and inspire them to succeed in their higher education.

“College has gotten so expensive and we know that the debt people leave college with is huge, so we feel that in some small way we can help relieve that,” Theis said. “And it’s often not just the money, but it’s the idea that someone believes in you and believes you can be successful in college. We try sometimes to get people who have not necessarily had a lot of college success, so it’s not all merit based.”

The recipients this year certainly showed glowing academic and leadership skills. Four undergraduates from SOU — Samara Diab, Caitlin Diefendorf, Nomi Macadangdang and Arismendi Villa-Saucedo — and one graduate student, Stacey Vance, as well as three students from RCC — Mitzi Grannis, Isabella Riukis and Amber Stone — received scholarships and shared some incredible stories.

Villa-Saucedo told the story of her hard-working mother who made sacrifice after sacrifice to ensure an education for her and her eight siblings. Her mother was arrested as an undocumented citizen, yet Villa-Saucedo continued her education and became the first person in her family to attend college, after becoming the first Latino valedictorian of her year. She is a senior, studying health and physical education with the goal of becoming a physician’s assistant to provide basic healthcare to the Latino community.

Diab, a junior with a double major in English and French, has studied and worked in England and France, developed programs to help furnish exchange students’ housing here in Southern Oregon, volunteered with ESL students and organized a symposium for high school students to better understand democracy. She plans to pursue a doctoral degree in international development.

“I want to eventually work with refugees,” Diab said. “I’m driven to provide security and empathy for these individuals and I know that with climate change on the horizon, there’s going to be a dramatic increase in these climate change refugees. It’s a new need that’s developing and I’d like to be there to assist in any way that I can.”

Vance, graduate student in the outdoor leadership and expedition program, returned from leading a sea-kayaking trip around the San Juan Islands just that morning. One of her final requirements for the master’s program, and a first for the program, is her graduate summer expedition. Vance, along with a cohort, will bike-pack more than 500 miles from the Caspian to the Black Sea through the Caucasus mountain range. After graduation, she plans to teach outdoor education at the college level.

“This expedition is extremely costly, and so being able to be fully present there knowing that I have financial assistance without having to stress from spending two months away from work is so beneficial,” Vance said. “Also, being a part of an organization of women supporting other women is very inspiring. I hope to continue honoring other ladies in leadership.”

Each woman had a very unique story. Whether they pulled themselves from the depths of poverty to the heights of collegiate education or were inspired to pursue a field to help others, they were unanimously grateful to be supported by other women who had experienced the struggle of staying afloat in a male-dominated society.

“AAUW believes that higher education empowers women,” Chin said. “We believe that we can have a much more fair and collaborative society by investing in a woman’s education.”

Visit their website ashland-or.aauw.net to support local women’s education and to make donations.

— Contact Ashland freelance writer Caitlin Fowlkes at Caitlin.fowlkes@gmail.com.

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