MIAMI, Okla. — Jonni Nigro, a sophomore at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College, recently attended the National Education for Women Leadership Program at the University of Oklahoma.
The program, which launched in 2002, is part of the NEW Leadership National Network at the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. It is a five-day program that takes place each year on the University of Oklahoma campus, and it is designed to encourage women to get involved with government and the policy-making process.
"I learned so much in such a short amount of time," said Nigro, who is from Miami. "Not only did we learn about the political process, we also enhanced our leadership skills and became more familiar with diversity. I met several peers and everyone had different backgrounds, yet we were all there for the same purpose. I had the opportunity to meet several female leaders who encouraged me in so many different ways."
The week included skill-building workshops, a campaign simulation, a networking day at the Oklahoma Capitol, a collaborative action project and panel discussions. Faculty were made up of women leaders from public life, including elected officials, businesswomen and members of the judiciary.
"During the week, we conducted a campaign simulation where we developed a campaign strategy," Nigro said. "We had to figure out a budget, coordinate events, draft messages and speeches, advertise, finance, and many other tasks. ... We took an exciting trip to the state Capitol, where we were able to listen to many women who work in government speak, see behind the scenes at the Capitol, and we even went to the Judicial Center, where we heard from female justices and judges.”
Approximately 35 women from across Oklahoma are selected for the program annually, which is offered at no cost to participants.
"I would recommend any female to apply and participate in the NEW program if they want a week to feel empowered and consistently encouraged by other women," Nigro said. “You will leave the program as a stronger, more driven woman and have close connections with other females in our area.”
Women in government
Just under a quarter of state legislators nationwide were women in 2015, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, but the numbers were even lower in Oklahoma, where only 20 of 149 seats in the Legislature — equaling 13.4 percent — were held by women.