The American Association of University Women is an organization that has advocated for women since 1881. Their mission is to advance gender equity for women and girls through research, education and advocacy.
Though The American Association of University Women (AAUW) mission has not wavered throughout its conception, it has expanded to over 1,000 branches and in 1979, a branch was formed in Issaquah.
The AAUW Issaquah branch holds meetings every few months from September to June.
These meetings give members a chance to speak with people they have supported through their programs, and to promote the exchange of members’ ideas for the branch. The meetings are open to anyone who wants to learn more about the organization.
The upcoming Sept. 23 meeting in Gibson Hall will present Issaquah Mayor Mary Lou Pauly and the AAUW-sponsored Tech Trek girls as the guest speakers.
Tech Trek is one of the many advocacy programs within the AAUW branch.
Tech Trek is a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) camp designed to develop interest, excitement and self-confidence in young women who will enter the eighth grade in the fall.
AAUW Washington branch sponsors two camps featuring hands-on activities in STEM-related fields.
These overnight summer camps are located on the Pacific Lutheran University campus and engage campers in core classes, rotating labs and field trips led by women with high degrees of STEM expertise.
Melinda Hearsey, president of the AAUW Issaquah branch, said while they ask for a small donation from families, the majority of the cost is absorbed by the Washington AAUW branches.
The branch also provides one to two scholarship grants to women at Bellevue College and an annual ceremony for girls in high school who excelled in areas of STEM.
Hearsey said though half of the enrollment in colleges are women, now AAUW wants to push women into college programs that pay, such as STEM.
The AAUW also advocates on the national, state and local levels.
Every January, the AAUW branches of Washington come from across the state, in person or over Zoom, to lobby for issues such as equal pay, family leave, stopping sexual harassment and equality in education.
“It’s a short-term thing. You may get 15 minutes with each legislature, but it does say these are what’s important to us, and it keeps our voice heard,” Hearsey said.
On the local level, the AAUW Issaquah branch partners with the Kiwanis Club, an organization that raises funds to support the youth and their families, and the Issaquah City TV network to sponsor candidate forums.
Hearsey, who has been a member of the AAUW Issaquah branch for 15 years, has witnessed the branch’s growth throughout the years.
However, this growth ceased once the pandemic hit. People stopped attending meetings, and some members passed away, Hearsey said. Some members they lost had been vital to running certain parts of the branch for years.
The loss of vital members has forced the branch to rebuild while continuing to advocate and fundraise.
“I would like to see [Issaquah branch] continue to grow and maybe be able to be more impactful in various ways,” Hearsey said. “But we need to raise the money again to send more girls to the Tech Trek Camp. We want to do more for the Bellevue College students.”
In the past, the AAUW branch has put on a yearly fundraiser, such as a fashion show or bringing in the daughter of one of the main characters from the book “Boys in the Boat.”
Hearsey said outreach has been difficult, as well as getting enough people to help with fundraising.
“You know with limited resources and 50 people, it becomes all out of our pocketbook … it may not be enough for everything. We haven’t figured out what we’re going to do as a fundraiser this time around, so we’re still debating that.”