AAUW: Education, Empowerment, Engagement
In 1937, twenty women met at Claire Tuttle’s home to learn more about the American Association of University Women (AAUW), a national service organization formed in 1881 to open the doors of higher education to women. This local group, all college graduates, knew the power of education and community service. Nevada County AAUW was born.
These ladies worked to educate themselves and the community with programs about international relations, war work, legislation, and civic issues. AAUW has played a critical part in the County’s General Plan, Meals on Wheels, the Volunteer Bureau, and even our County waste program. In the 70’s, Nevada County lacked the framework for recycling. AAUW sponsored a “town hall” on waste disposal, featuring high level officials and engineers to answer questions. The result: the Nevada County Waste Disposal and Recycling Program.
In 1989, AAUW in support of a woman’s right to choose partnered with the Business and Professional Women and the League of Women Voters to provide expanded reproductive choice. In 1992, that coalition resulted in the independent nonprofit, Nevada County Citizens for Choice, still active and still serving women (and men) today.
Above all, AAUW has helped young people. Early on, members tutored elementary students who were behind in reading and math. Led by Hazel Bramkamp, they worked to start tutoring programs at the Youth Authority Camp and at the county jail. AAUW members, led by Margaret Squaires, studied the need for a Literacy Center, donating funds to start the program and train tutors. The Literacy Center became a community-supported entity in 1987.
The commitment to community continues as AAUW members discover ways to make a difference whether through free educational forums and monthly programs, such as CalMatters’ “Navigating Today’s Media Language”, or projects, including making and filling holiday stockings for CASA or donating books for Bright Futures for Youth.
As the new century approached, AAUW’s focus on educational opportunity for young women intensified. AAUW Nevada County Branch began providing scholarships in 1946 with one scholarship the first year. That number has gradually been expanding as has the dollar amount. This year, 2023, the Branch is awarding $47,000 to 17 recipients. Since 1946, AAUW NC has provided 257 scholarships or grants in total. Current awards include: (1) annual and renewable scholarships for high school graduates who will attend college in the coming year, (2) annual scholarships for Sierra College graduates who will be attending a four-year college, and (3) grants for women returning to college after a break in their education.
AAUW California recognized that girls who were interested in math and the sciences during elementary and middle school often lost that focus during high school. To help change that trend, AAUW created Tech Trek, a one-week residential Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) camp for girls entering eighth grade. Held on university campuses, Tech Trek offers a chance to explore myriad STEM fields, meet women in STEM careers, and imagine future possibilities as college students and in STEM careers. The Nevada County Branch has been sending local girls to Tech Trek since it began in 1998; nearly 150 girls as of 2023. Many have gone on to careers in engineering, technology, medicine, research and other STEM fields. Chelsea Sharon, who was the first Nevada County “Trekker,” went on to study astrophysics and is an assistant professor at the Yale-National University of Singapore.
From its 20 original members, AAUW Nevada County has grown to more than 125 members. As Ava Johnson, former Trekker and 2023 Local Scholarship recipient, notes, “If you get involved with AAUW, stay involved. It will be a life changing experience.”