“When you learn, teach, when you get, give.” It was only fitting that this quote from Maya Angelou was on our Women of Promise Celebration program as she visited our university just a few weeks ago. This is at the core of what we, not just as women of promise, but students of promise, need to remember.
In his opening remarks, President Harker talked about the increasing ratio of tenured women faculty members to their male counterparts. There are only a few departments still lacking tenured women. Even the ratio of women to men at the university has risen much higher than 50/50. He says that the goal of the university is to have the board represent the population of the state – a very noble goal I would say.
Walking into this Women of Promise Celebration dinner, I really had no idea what a woman of promise was. I could guess, of course, but was not 100% certain. When I heard that Terri Kelly, the CEO of W.L. Gore, was going to be speaking, I was ecstatic. Gore is rumored to have a very flat organizational structure – and here the rumors were confirmed. Terri was so conversational, friendly and inspiring. She didn’t plan on becoming CEO of Gore when she first started there after college, but as she put it, it sort of just happened to her. One thing that Terri left us with was that there are specific differences between men and women, one being that men tend to be more comfortable with bragging about their qualities (no offense, gentlemen) while women may be equally as qualified, or more so, and will not discuss those in an interview. In fact, women are more likely to point out their flaws. That being said, when Terri found herself in the highest position in the company, she looked back and tried to find out how she got there. The answer was her mentors.
Terri Kelly, as featured in the UD Messenger
Our mentors were why we were present at dinner that day. Tenured women faculty members invited each of us there to recognize our past, current and future achievements and took an oath to be our mentors. I was astonished to see that 35% of the women nominated as women of promise were from the Honors Program, and also proud. I don’t believe that these women were chosen specifically for being in the Honors Program, but because they have shown motivation, perseverance and achievement throughout their academic careers.
Congratulations to all of the women who were nominated as a “woman of promise!”
Ashley Lavery just graduated with an Honors Degree with Distinction in Political Sciences, with a minor in Legal Studies.
This fall Ashley Lavery split her time between taking classes, working in the Honors office and continuing her internship with the Homicide Unit of the Defender Association of Philadelphia. Ashley has been titled a “Mitigation Assistant”, but she has also had the chance to work with clients on her own. What is a mitigator you ask?
“The role of a mitigator in homicide cases is to be a strong support for the client through the judicial process, reach out to their families (who are often struggling as much or more than the client), gather information on the client’s life, including their educational, medical, social, and psychiatric records, work with experts, and compile packages to submit to the District Attorney’s office. These packages provide mitigating factors to the case and are used to get the death penalty off the table for a client, or hopefully negotiate a deal with the DA to get a term of numbers for a client,” explains Ashley.
For her job, Ashley has interviewed clients in each of the Philadelphia county jails, attended hearings, trials, sentencing proceedings and “unfortunately watched some of my favorite clients (for whom I’ve developed a tremendous amount of respect, as crazy as it might sound to some) being sentenced spend the rest of their lives in prison”.
How did she land this kind of gig? “I found out about the Defender Association through my uncle, who happens to be an incredible homicide detective in Philadelphia. He jokes about handing me over to the “dark side” (the defense).”
Ashley can’t say enough about how excited this job makes her. She loves that each day offers a different agenda, full of new experiences and challenges. “I learn something new every day and everyone in the unit is fabulous; everyone brings something fresh to the table” she says.
“The most challenging part of my job has been learning to pace myself and take a step back at times. I’m a total workaholic, and my supervisor has had to constantly warn me about burning myself out”. And of course there is always the question of how hard is it to work with alleged criminals every day? “I think when people ask that question they expect an answer like “oh, I can’t relate to these people who have committed murder…” The truth is, I can’t relate to their offense, but I can listen to their stories and get to know them for who they are, not for what they (may) have done.”
So what’s next for Ashley? “I was lucky to land a permanent position in Homicide Unit, but now my role has changed a bit. In addition to putting together life histories, I’m now doing a lot of investigation and research for the cases. The amount of information that everyone puts on Facebook & Twitter these days is out of control, and can be a good source of what’s really going on [in the streets] and with the witnesses, victim’s family members, and other people involved. I’m also doing a lot of research, which is so much easier after going through the thesis process during my last semesters at UD. It’s really gratifying to put my education to work. I also have applications in for graduate school for criminal justice/criminology, and then I plan on going to law school. Undergrad at UD was great, but I’m definitely looking forward to the next chapter.”
Ashley, who was also a Program Assistant in our office, opens her graduation present from the Honors staff
Imagine a community where hunger endangers nearly one-quarter of all children, and of those who survive, 42% are permanently impaired. This was the reality of Leogane, Haiti before the January 12, 2010 earthquake. Since then, RSOs have rushed into Leogane to help reconstruct the community, which had 90% of its buildings ruined by the quake. Long before the earthquake though, the NGO “The Children’s Nutritional Program of Haiti” (CNP), or “Kore Timoun” in Creole, has been working in Leogane, helping the community lower its acute malnourishment rate from 24% in 1998 to less than 3% today. The organization is now tackling chronic malnutrition. Six months ago, Alyssa Serra, a 2009 Honors Degree with Distinction graduate in anthropology joined the staff of Americans and Haitians as the clean water intern for CNP. Alyssa is helping Leogane residents combat the chronic diarrhea and cholera that threaten their lives.
Alyssa’s involvement in water purification happened almost by accident but has since blossomed into a passion. While studying at UD, she wanted to research the politics of NGOs’ involvement in developing countries. In January 2009, Alyssa traveled to Cameroon, Africa, with UD’s chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB) to collect primary data for her research. The EWB members were working on water purification projects in the remote village of Bakang. Alyssa quickly learned the importance of a hands-on, real life field experience.
While studying the relationships and political dynamics between EWB students and the Cameroonians, Alyssa attended functions with EWB at the Mayor’s and Chief’s houses and attended town hall meetings with the entire community. Alyssa fondly recalls the excitement during one particular meeting when a Cameroonian introduced biosand filters—essentially concrete boxes filled with sand to filter water. Bakang residents cheered and danced exuberantly, relieved that by using simple technology, clean water was at long last on the way.
Alyssa explained with a laugh that in the village two little huts at a crossroad functioned almost like Wawa convenience stores. Each night Alyssa would sit at this crossroad and chat with the Cameroonians, becoming particularly close to a woman named Diane. On Alyssa’s last night in the country, Diane invited Alyssa over to her home, a house far removed from the affluent homes that Alyssa had visited with the rest of EWB. Diane’s invitation to Alyssa communicated the utmost hospitality and gratitude. Being in Bakang taught Alyssa that people are the same with “the same needs, same wants, same issues that we all have.”
As Alyssa weighed her options after graduation, she again turned to Dr. Weil for advice. After constantly guiding her, and at times, Alyssa chuckles, “dragging her through” writing her thesis, Dr. Weil recommended graduate school at the University of Sussex in England as an excellent match for her intellectual interests. The University boasts a renowned anthropology department and employs many of the world’s experts in the field. At Sussex, Alyssa pursued her Masters in Social Research Methods, and hoped to complete her doctorate. When funding was unexpectedly cut, Alyssa had to change paths. Remembering the cheering women of Bakang and Diane’s smiling face, Alyssa decided to return to water purification projects, this time as an active member of an NGO.
In Leogane Haiti, Alyssa encountered a community where cholera outbreaks and chronic diarrhea are responsible for 30% of deaths of children under the age of five. With Leogane’s infrastructure destroyed by the quake, a desperate need for water drives community members to contaminated wells. Alyssa has been able to bring her knowledge of the biosand filters used in Cameroon. These filters are easily constructed with available materials, allowing for quick distribution on-location. She has also tackled a hygienic latrine project known as arborloo. These latrines use basins that once filled can fertilize freshly planted trees. The project not only promotes hygiene but also the reforestation of the ravished countryside.
In many ways, Alyssa’s role in Haiti is not unlike the support she received at the University of Delaware. Alyssa explains, “My department was really small, but I knew everyone really well, so I got a lot of help when I needed it and that helped me get to where I needed to be to do research. It was my first time, and they walked me through it and pushed me until the very end.” In the same way, Alyssa is getting to know Leogane residents. She is walking them through how to use new and unfamiliar technologies and hygienic practices. Alyssa has had “some lively conversations, some of which have gotten rather heated” with hour-long arguments over how to best complete a project. These interactions, though at times leave her “wiped,” allow her to better understand the community and its needs, so she can help them get to where they need to be: well-nourished and healthy.
Originally from Spencer, NY, Eva Koehler attended the University of Delaware as an Honors Program student from 2001-2005, graduating with an Honors Degree in International Relations, with minors in Economics and Music. During her sophomore year she traveled to South Africa via a winter session study abroad program, where she had the chance to volunteer with a local mission addressing the impacts of HIV/AIDS in a community outside of Pretoria. She returned to South Africa in the summer of 2003 via an Alumni Enrichment Award granted by the University of Delaware to volunteer full-time with the same mission, and then co-led a group of UD students who went to volunteer full time for four weeks in winter session of 2004.
The work in South Africa left two things certain in her mind: That good health is the foundation upon which communities can build better lives for themselves, and that she wanted to acquire more usable skills before returning overseas, so that organizations and communities could put her to use effectively. As such, she spent the year after graduation working in foundation and individual fundraising at the Center for Public Integrity in DC before pursuing a Masters in Public Health at Boston University. In addition to classroom lessons and student organizing work, she was able to take key lessons from working on a quality evaluation at Massachusetts General Hospital, and as a member of the advocacy team for Physicians for Human Rights’ Health Action AIDS Campaign during her graduate program.
After graduating, she worked at the Boston Public Health Commission managing grants for HIV/AIDS services under the federal Ryan White program. This offered her the chance to learn about health care in a city and state that have devoted enormous financial and human resources to improving the quality of citizens’ health, and to learn many basic systems of office management, reporting and planning. While keeping an eye out for ways to take her growing collection of skills overseas, she found out about the Global Health Corps, which partners with organizations to send teams of fellows for year long posts in the various skilled areas needed to keep a health system running. Village Health Works was one of several potential slots, and she was deeply impressed by the community ownership of the project and the deep needs which the project seeks to meet.
Her enthusiasm for the work increased when she had the opportunity to hear Deo speak in person and meet with him and Executive Director Sarah Broom when they visited Boston this spring. She was immensely excited to be offered the chance to serve as a Project Manager here, and looks forward to a year of working hard, learning much, and hopefully sharing the story of Village Health Works with as many people as possible.