Photo by: Juana Martinez
New student organization designed to empower women
March 16, 2017
Nicholls graduate student Kellyn LaCour-Conant will bring an American Association of University Women chapter to campus for the fall semester of 2017.
AAUW is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting equity and education for women and girls. It was founded in 1881 and examines current educational, social, economic and political issues.
“AAUW’s goal is to empower women and girls,” LaCour-Conant said. “It was created specifically to advance educational and professional opportunities for women. The main tenants of the group are education, philanthropy, research and advocacy.”
The idea of a Nicholls AAUW chapter began when LaCour-Conant had trouble getting permission to host a film screening on campus. After talking to professors and students, she realized there wasn’t an organization on campus that was dedicated to women or the role of women on campus.
“I wanted to provide a presence on campus that’s a lot more inclusive of all women, girls and people of all gender identities who are passionate about empowering women and girls,” LaCour-Conant said.
Once the AAUW chapter becomes established in the fall, LaCour-Conant would like to work with local organizations such as the Thibodaux Family Crisis Center, girl scout chapters and elementary schools.
“There are certain fields that come across as intimidating to female students either because they’re not getting the encouragement they need or they don’t feel like they can do math, accounting or biology,” LaCour-Conant said. “These fields are traditionally male dominated.”
LaCour-Conant’s experience as a STEM student fueled her need to start the AAUW chapter. She’s encountered people who have doubted her abilities as a student and biologist because of her gender.
“I think AAUW would’ve helped me a lot when I was younger,” LaCour-Conant said. “Even before I graduated, I was doing internships, there were things that I encountered in my field that I wasn’t expecting. I always thought of myself as a very capable student. I think my first internship I did, I had more experience-practical experience than my male counterparts but my boss didn’t want me to drive the bus or the boat.”
LaCour-Conant said that after discussing the issue with her boss, she had the opportunity to get her hands dirty and show off what she knew.
“I was the first female intern that they ever had at this particular location,” LaCour-Conant said. “I had to talk to my boss openly and let him know that I wanted responsibility and more workload. I wanted to show him that I was capable of the workload.”
The United States currently holds a national pay gap average of 20 percent between men and women. Depending on a woman’s background, age and level of educational achievement, the pay gap can worsen (AAUW).
AAUW offers Start Smart and Work Smart workshops to equip women who are enter the workforce with skills and confidences to negotiate their salary.
“We might have certain luncheons, workshops, workshops or discussions that are specifically for self-identified women, anyone is invited to participate,” LaCour-Conant said. “While we don’t want to be exclusionary, it’s important to give women on campus a place where they can talk just amongst peers.”
According to the National Girls Collaborative Project, women continue to be underrepresented in the science and engineering workforce. Women, as a group, occupy about 29 percent of the science and engineering workforce, but minority women make up less than 10 percent of employed scientists and engineers.
LaCour-Conant said that just how Rosalind Franklin wasn’t given acknowledgement for her contribution to the discovery of DNA, many women aren’t given credit for their research and hard work.
“I think it would be good for our female students to see more role models throughout history who have done great things,” LaCour-Conant said. “One of the founders of AAUW, Dr. Ellen Richards, she was the first woman to get accepted into MIT. She was an industrial chemist and a ground-breaking female scientist.
LaCour-Conant plans to host an informal meet-and-greet before finals in May.
“We’re going to have educational material, pamphlets, pens and pencils from AAUW,” LaCour-Conant said. “It’ll give people a low-key opportunity to talk to me or the advisors, Dr. Hollander and Dr. Shields.
The Houston, Texas native completed her undergraduate degree in biology and Russian at Amherst College in Massachusetts. Her graduate studies consist of working on oil spill remediation, looking at the long-term effects of the BP oil spill on the wetland ecology and being a teaching assist for the Biology 156 lab.