For Wellesley College students, women’s empowerment is something of an unspoken promise. As one of the nation’s top undergraduate institutions for women, the college lifts each student up and broadens their horizons, inspiring them to elevate other women beyond the reaches of their campus. This spirit is evident in the achievements not only of Wellesley’s alumnae, but also in the work of current students, particularly through the campus organizations they lead.
In keeping with Wellesley’s mission and values, JoAnn Jung ’20 and Li Kwan ’20 have channeled their passion for educating girls from disadvantaged backgrounds by initiating Wellesley’s own chapter of the national nonprofit organization, She’s the First (STF).
According to the organization’s website, the group works on an international scale to provide scholarships, mentorship and empowerment to young women from low-income backgrounds who will be the first in their families to graduate from high school.
She’s the First began with a YouTube video by two recent college graduates, Tammy Tibbett and Christine Brandt, who wanted to educate their fellow millennials about girls’ education in third world countries and the powerful impact that a finished and quality education can have. This video inspired other American young women, creating an online movement that eventually became a bona fide NGO. Jung, who is founding president of Wellesley’s chapter, explained that she first heard about She’s the First from a friend who runs a chapter at The College of New Jersey.
“The organization’s mission, values and goals aligned so closely with mine and those of Wellesley. After furthering researching the organization and pondering this serendipitous idea, I made a decision to lead this movement for equal and excellent education for women in countries lacking the quality of education that I have,” she said. “It only made sense to plant She’s the First at Wellesley, an institution highly dedicated to empowering females not only in the U.S. but all over the world.”
The movement’s success comes from a powerful platform—She’s the First’s official website outlines the sweeping benefits of educating females, explaining that, statistically, a woman “earns 20% more per year of schooling she finishes, is less likely to marry early and more likely to be in a healthy relationship, has fewer, healthier children, and changes the world around her for the better.”
Rather than targeting girls within the United States, She’s the First chooses to focus on girls’ education abroad based on the idea that those in developed nations ought to take advantage of their position and pay it forward by lifting up young women in nations without the same resources and opportunities.
“Academic education is an essential right – and also a privilege. But unfortunately, not everyone is guaranteed this basic right and privilege. In many countries around the world, girls are denied education and lack the guidance and tools to further develop as learners. I strongly believe that it is the responsibility of those who have education to help those who do not, and [to] work hard to promote growth in academics for those who cannot,” said Jung.
Today, the organization provides scholarships, mentorship and basic resources to high-potential women from low-income backgrounds in countries in Africa, Latin America and South Asia. The funds for these scholarships are raised by donors, fundraisers and especially by official college chapters of She’s the First like Wellesley’s.
“Members of STF campus chapters work together with STF Scholars around the world to actively learn about issues affecting women and girls on a global basis. Our local partner organizations connect with STF and each other in a knowledge-sharing network that makes them more powerful,” said Kwan, the vice president of Wellesley’s chapter.
Wellesley’s chapter has many fundraising ideas, including a 5k run and cupcake and care package sales for the holidays. They will also seek to build relationships with local libraries and public schools and create opportunities for officers and general members to directly educate the community about women’s empowerment in underdeveloped countries.
According to Jung, Wellesley’s chapter of She’s the First will hold at least two meetings a month and will organize volunteer events where all students are welcome to participate. “After all,” she added, “we are all advocates for equal women’s rights.”