March 8th is International Women’s Day.

According to the International Women’s Day (IWD) website, IWD is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women, and the celebration has occurred annually for well over a century.

To honor the day, I chatted with women in the technology-enhanced learning field about their careers and experiences. Finally, I asked for some thoughts from my mom, because she is one of the most inspirational women I know.

Celebrate, Reflect, and Honor

Growing up in Romania, March 8th was always a reason for celebration. Everyone took time to honor the women in their lives. It is customary to give at least one flower (usually spring flowers like a tulip, iris, or daffodil) to these women. Everyone in the country would carry  flowers home, whether they received them, or bought them for their loved ones. Some gentlemen even bought extra single flowers to offer to women that were walking without any, ensuring no one is forgotten. pink tulipsThe smell of spring flowers will always bring me happiness and remind me of how such a simple gesture brings so much joy. 

Spread the joy this year, even if you only take two minutes of your day to tell your coworker, mom, or friend how much they empowered you to do something you thought you couldn’t. Because you CAN!

– Laura DaVinci, Assistant Director, Every Learner Everywhere, WCET

When I think about International Women’s Day, I think of how far we’ve come and how far we have to go. I turned 40 this year, and I’m amazed that just when you think you’ve got it figured out, some new realization pulls the rug out from under you. These arise because we’ve spent so long focused on other people and denying our own needs. Women take on the larger amount of emotional labor at work, and this is a time and energy drain that keeps us from pursuing our goals and dreams. This is magnified for women of color.

Regarding the future of women’s equality, I think about the importance of white women learning when to speak up and when to shut up. We need to speak up for women of color and demand gender AND racial equity in higher education leadership, to use our voices to amplify those of women of color, and to ask why more resources aren’t devoted to supporting them on our campuses. When do we need to shut up? “More often than we think.” This is a tricky balance, and I don’t have it figured out, but I am working on it. 

I also think about the importance of creativity in women’s personal and professional lives. This is one of the reasons I’ve started Gather, a beyond-institutional collaborative space for women+ in higher education where women are starting projects and movements that inspire them. We need more spaces like this, both within and outside of our institutions. 

– Karen Costa, Writer, Adjunct Faculty, Faculty Development Facilitator

This message from my teammate Cheryl may be short, but it’s definitely sweet: I tell my daughters: don’t let other people’s expectations of you define who you are.

– Cheryl Dowd, Director of the State Authorization Network, WCET

Professional women at a table laughingThe only way to make change to our structures of inequality is through our own individual actions, so be the woman to make change – listen for women’s voices and amplify those voices, search for women in the crowd to lend a hand to bring her on stage, and value women’s qualities, such as care. I used to think if I took on the qualities of men, I’d show them that women were just as good. But I learned that path continues to value masculine ways. I am now learning to value women – all of who we are and all of what we can become.

– Tanya Joosten, Director, Digital Learning R&D and National Research Center for Distance Education and Technological Advancements (DETA)

Cali Morrison is a wonderful friend and she recommended I apply for my current position, for which I am very thankful.

On International Women’s Day, take a moment to reflect on those who reached a hand back for you when you first started your career — send them a note of thanks. Think about those who are in the trenches with you now and give them a shout out. Consider how you can reach your hand back for those younger (or more junior) than you who need the hand which was given to you. Banding together to celebrate our womanhood isn’t about being anti-male. It’s about being empowered in who we are, acknowledging our strengths, and not shrinking away from our duty to speak up. In honor of all of the phenomenal women surrounding me in every direction and for my daughters who have a longer fight for equity ahead of them, I raise a glass and offer my favorite quote, worn around my neck nearly daily: “Here’s to strong women. May we know them. May we be them. May we raise them.”

– Cali Morrison, Associate Dean, Alternative Learning, the Extension School at American Public University System

The statistics below are exciting but disheartening at the same time.

For me, International Women’s Day is a perfect time to reflect on how far we have come; many of us have educational and professional opportunities our mothers and grandmothers never had. I am grateful for the women and men who have mentored me, nurtured my ambition, and given me opportunities to learn, grow, and excel. As a leader, I take the responsibility to return in kind with the next generation very seriously.

As a woman, I am also reminded of how far we have to go. This is the 100th anniversary of US women securing the right to vote. Today, women vote at slightly higher rates than men, but less than two-thirds of eligible female voters utilize this hard-won right. We constitute 51% of the population, but only 24% of the US Congress. 6.6% of CEOs on Fortune’s 500 list are women, but that number, just under 7%, is a record high. Poverty rates for women are higher (13% vs. 10%) and the pay gap persists. That is why we need events like International Women’s Day: to remind us to reflect, honor, and strive for greater equality and equity.

– Kara Van Dam, Vice President and Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences and Overseas Academic Affairs, University of Maryland Global Campus and Chair of the WCET Steering Committee

It is important this International Women’s Day, we remember that in the struggle for women’s equality, fighting for intersectional women’s rights including the rights of non-white women and the rights for LGBTQ+ people is essential. If we just focus on women generally, we look over many other inequities that exist in society, and don’t have as much power to make real change for the people who need it most. However, if we focus efforts broadly on creating equal opportunities across genders, gender identities, races, ethnicities, sexualities, nationalities, religions, etc. we can hope to improve the lives of many more people.

So, this IWD, I am reflecting on the spectrum of privilege and thinking about ways that we can create better systems in order to bring opportunity to a greater number of people. By lifting up the most vulnerable members of society, we have the chance to lift everyone a little higher as a result.two women talking at a table

– Rosa Calabrese, Manager of Digital Design, WCET

Mollie McGill, WCET’s Senior Director of Operations and Membership, is a wonderful role model and friend. Mollie reminded me of our former Executive Director Mike Abbiatti’s focus on staff professional development. He setup meetings for us to learn from leaders, including Deb Adair, CEO of Quality Matters. Mollie told me that we must “create opportunities to talk about leadership with your team. Mentorship is so important in today’s work environment. In Deb’s meeting with WCET staff, she closed with this comment about the qualities of a leader…”a leader should have integrity, a leader should be kind.””

Mollie has this quote on her whiteboard in her office. What a great reminder! Thanks to both Mollie and Deb.

As I said earlier, my mom is a huge inspiration to me. Not just because she’s a great mom, but because of her incredible career.

I was one of the first women in my field as a nuclear fuel technician. I felt I had to be careful to work at 100% (or MORE!) because if I failed it wouldn’t be because the job was difficult but because I was a woman. The perception was that women couldn’t do technical work. I proved them wrong by passing qualifications and practicums with top scores. I paved the way for other women in the field. Near the end of my career, I was chosen by the Department of Energy for a team whose mission was to secure nuclear material in the Former Soviet Union. It was also important to me to mentor other women. As I went through my career, sadly, some of the women I worked for didn’t mentor me well, suggesting that because they had to work hard, I had to, too. In any field, women need to mentor others and give them a hand up the ladder.

I didn’t have an opportunity to receive a college education, but I am happy with the career I made for myself. I am proud to watch my daughter accomplish her educational and career goals and I’m excited about the future for my granddaughter. Days like International Women’s Day are making the future brighter for little ones like her!

– Gail Walters, former nuclear fuel technician and education/internship coordinator, Idaho National Laboratory (retired). Oh, and Lindsey’s mom.

To close today’s post, I thought a quote from WCET’s inspirational founding executive director would be quite appropriate:

Throughout my long career I’ve met and gotten to know several intelligent, skilled, and gracious women leaders throughout the U.S. and the world. In trying to absorb the lessons they have generously offered, I’ve realized the most important was their ability to balance decisiveness and grace. They are/were able to treat every person they encountered with respect and humility, yet still lead in complex and challenging circumstances. On this International Women’s Day, I remember each of them and hope to do my best to pass along their grace.

– Sally M. Johnstone, President, National Center for Higher Education Management Systems

A Virtual Flower

tulips in a vaseThank you to all the remarkable individuals who sent me their thoughts in honor of International Women’s Day. You are all so inspirational to me and I’m incredibly luck to know all of you. To me, this day is to celebrate women’s accomplishments, cherish our achievements, and to highlight ways we can make this world a better place for all.

So, here’s a flower for all of you. Enjoy the day,


Lindsey headshot
Lindsey Downs
Assistant Director, Communications, Community, and Social Media

Celebrate with us on social media!

#IWD2020 #EachforEqual
March 8, 2020

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Women Talking and Women Laughing Photos by Christina @ on Unsplash


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