UNO Service Learning Workshop promotes female politicians

Photo courtesy Amanda Anderson

Alexandria Wilson

The Thompson Alumni Center on the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s Dodge Campus was full of women from all different backgrounds on Oct. 25.

The League of Women Voters (LOWV) of Greater Omaha partnered with UNO’s Service Learning Academy to host the sixth biannual “Running and Winning” event.

This year’s event allowed 15 elected female officials and over 50 young women from local high schools to interact.

“This event is really the epitome of who we are as an institution,” said Deb Smith-Howell, senior vice chancellor of academic affairs and dean of graduate studies, during her opening remarks on Tuesday.

The day consisted of a chance to tour the UNO campus, hear speeches, attend workshops and the opportunity for students to put together a mock campaign with the help of the elected officials in attendance.

UNO students involved in Instructor Shaughnnesy’s honors public speaking course had the opportunity to help with the event as a service learning project.

“It sounded like something that would open my mind to politics,” said UNO freshman Alex Swanson, who was a volunteer from Shaughnnesy’s class.

Volunteers were broken into committees with responsibilities that varied from making the center pieces for the event, to creating an infographic that explained voter requirements in different states.

Volunteers who attended the event acted as facilitators for conversation between the students and elected officials and as mentors during the planning of the mock campaigns.

“Running and Winning” takes place in the fall of odd number years. The reason being that there is never an election during that time, which keeps the LOWV busy, said Linda Duckworth. Duckworth is heavily involved in the LOWV serving as the membership co-chair and co-chair for the “Running and Winning” program for the LOWV of greater Omaha and the immediate past president of the LOWV of Nebraska.

“I want them to feel that they (young women) can make a difference,” Duckworth said.

The original concept of the event was to help young women get interested in politics. The LOWV exists to educate voters. As a nonpartisan organization, they never support any candidate or party over another.

“I would like to think that she will certainly work on campaigns and definitely consider being a candidate herself and understand that becoming an office holder begins with putting yourself out there,” Duckworth said. “There is a huge imbalance when you look at elected bodies, it’s almost always far more men than women.”

The LOWV hopes to be able to correct this imbalance and Duckworth hopes that all the young women who participated in the event understand the difference they can make in the political sphere and will be lifelong voters.

The LOWV wants to break down the idea that all politicians are bad, and events like “Running and Winning” help them to achieve this goal.

“I found out that politicians are just like my mom, they’re just nice normal people,” a former “Running and Winning” participant said in her feedback about the event.

The partnership between the LOWV and UNO’s Service Learning Academy proved to be a great match as both groups were working toward the same goal for Tuesday’s event, to empower young women by helping them understand the difference they can make.

“It’s important that they see themselves as leaders and people that can be the voice of change,” said Alexandra Bauer, UNO graduate assistant at the Service Learning Academy.

Bauer said that those in attendance should adopt the message that making a difference is attainable for them, and not just something they read about in books.

With empowerment being the goal of the day, those involved in planning hope to have made a strong impact on all the young women who participated.