Elect Her program aims to build women’s leadership skills

The Portland State Center for Woman’s Leadership will host Elect Her on February 9, a program that trains college women to run for student government and political office.

Elect Her is a national model used in schools throughout the country, offering a curriculum focused on hands-on campaign skills, how to run for student office and how to become a better public speaker. The organization hopes to diminish the gender gap in political leadership.

The event will be facilitated by Susannah Wellford, chairwoman and co-founder of Elect Her. Wellford founded two organizations over the last 16 years to raise the political voice of young women throughout America. She also worked on Hilary Clinton’s Health Care Task force during the Clinton administration.

Wellford will be accompanied by local and student leaders at the event. Teresa Alonso Leon, the first Latina on the city council in Woodburn, OR, will speak about what it’s like to be a public official and run a campaign. Candace Avalos will speak about the ins and outs for running for student office – Avalos is a Portland State University staff member who supervises student government and Student Activities and Leadership Programs events on campus. Associated Students of PSU President Dana Ghazi will also speak at the event. Ghazi is an alumna of Elect Her training.

Laura Aguon is the PSU student representative for Elect Her and works at the Center for Women’s Leadership. An Asian Pacific Islander and single mother, Aguon became interested in student leadership when she realized the amount of voices that weren’t being heard on college campuses, including her own. Aguon supports organizational outreach by making sure students and the community know about Elect Her.

“Who better to speak than myself,” Aguon said.

Aguon started her college education at Mt. Hood Community College, where she struggled with administrators who didn’t know how to handle a student with a baby. She attributes the successful completion of her associate’s degree to her mentors at MHCC. Aguon is involved with Elect Her because she wants to establish policies and structures that will help build communities to keep students in the classroom regardless of their backgrounds.

The Elect Her event falls just before PSU student elections, providing resources for students who might want to participate in the electoral process.

Mariana Lindsay is a program and communications specialist for the PSU Center for Women’s Leadership. Lindsay works with the national Elect Her organization to ensure that the on-campus event runs smoothly. One of her main goals is to make sure students from all backgrounds and interests learn about Elect Her. She hopes that a diverse group of students attend the training and strengthen democracy at PSU.

“We want diverse voices at the table, the same ones that are in the classroom,” Lindsay said.

Dana Ghazi, PSU’s current student body president, completed Elect Her training in 2014. She remembers practicing elevator pitches at the conference and her surprise at how few women are representative in government.

“The Elect Her space is very diverse and welcoming and presents a range of female leadership in different ways,” Ghazi said. “[It] expresses that women can do the work no matter where they’re coming from.”

Ghazi leaves her position as president at the end of the school year. She described the potential she sees within the current leaders in student government to run for future public office positions.

“I want to encourage people to be the next generation of student government,” she said.

If you’d like to attend the conference, you can register online, or nominate a student for the program here.

Updated Feb. 1, 2 p.m.: The correct time for the Elect Her event is 5 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.