Students make a difference in the lives of young women

4/19/2010 - By: Natalie Savidge

University of Nevada, Reno junior Shirley Diaz and senior Karen Tshimanga have been working hard to prepare their local outreach program for the global stage, with its debut at the third annual Clinton Global Initiative University Conference at the University of Miami, April 16-18.

The Nevada students were accepted to attend the conference after submitting a commitment to action in January. Diaz, a political science and international affairs dual major and French minor, and Tshimanga, a journalism and communications dual major, will discuss the creation and success of an on-campus club they started in 2009 called DreamGirls.

Last April, a group of female students planned to watch the 2007 movie “Dreamgirls” on Hug High School’s campus, but instead of watching the movie, the event turned into an in-depth college discussion, and the idea for the club was born.

“DreamGirls promotes education for underrepresented high school girls,” Tshimanga said. “We look to inspire young women by interacting through common life experiences.”

After much research and work, Diaz, Tshimanga and the University’s Student Success Services Department prepared a model to “promote the enrollment and success of young women in institutions of higher education, through the empowering of young women by community role models and leaders in society,” as the mission of the DreamGirls International Outreach and Mentoring Program states.

The club, now with nearly 25 University student members, also operates as a mentoring organization through the Washoe County School District and addresses the issue of low graduation rates for minority students. The girls meet about every two weeks to engage in various activities, such as attending basketball games, watching movies and, most importantly, talking about the benefits of getting a college education.

“During activities and events we plan together, we discuss things like self-image, empowerment through education, school spirit, teamwork, sportsmanship, trust, having goals and other life-skills topics,” Tshimanga said.

DreamGirls has expanded from its beginnings at Hug High to McQueen High School and is looking to further expand to Sparks High School. DreamGirls was recently honored with the Outstanding Club of the Year Award at the University’s annual award banquet last week, and also received this year’s Youth Service Award at the 22nd Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Dinner hosted by the Northern Nevada Black Cultural Awareness Society in Reno in January.

After sharing their club model with a group of visiting African women political leaders at an event hosted by the Northern Nevada International Center last semester, the girls were charged with expanding the same club model even further, coming up with an idea to recruit young women in African countries to attend institutions of higher education. With this, they had a commitment to submit to the Clinton Global Initiative University in the area of education.

Diaz and Tshimanga will have one year after their presentation at the conference to reach their goal of establishing the DreamGirls club at a high school and university in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Tshimanga’s parents’ homeland.

The conference, started by former President Bill Clinton, is intended to model the Clinton Global Initiative launched in 2007, which challenges world leaders to take action on global issues. At this meeting, nearly 1,500 attendees will come together to talk about their plans to make a difference in five focus areas: education, environment and climate change, peace and human rights, poverty alleviation and public health. With help and contacts from the conference and support from University faculty, the young women feel confident they will achieve their goals.

“We hope to inspire young women and to create a successful tool to help under-represented youth, no matter where they live,” Tshimanga said.


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