Saturday proved to be a very enlightening and engaging day at “Write to Change the World,” The OpEd Project’s Chicago core seminar, produced in partnership with The Medill School at Northwestern University and Step Up Women’s Network. This is Yoonj Kim, the new Chicago-based regional management intern, reporting with a fresh recollection of the day’s events.
With a total of 35 people registered (2 of whom were men), the morning started off with great expectations. Due to the big number, we had to be divided into 2 rooms. During introductions and other exercises in the first couple hours, I was struck by the impressive array of the attendees. There was a woman specializing in white-collar crime for the US Secret Service, a former campaign manager for Ralph Nader, an entrepreneur who runs her own business while raising 2 toddler boys…the list goes on. There was even a woman related to Elvis Presley! Naturally, the diversity and accomplishments of everyone made for a great intellectual environment.
The women who led the seminar in the room I was in – Katherine Lanpher, Deborah Siegel, and Michele Weldon – were fantastic teachers. Their passion for what they were teaching and for The OpEd Project was obvious, especially in their connection with the audience and their personal stories. Our room was kept on its toes by Katherine’s exuberant teaching methods, punctuated at random intervals by an excited jump or motivational fist pump. She really pushed us to challenge ourselves during exercises in which we had to describe something we were truly experts in, saying, “Remember, I only pick on the strong.”
Deborah and Michele were also great mentors. Debbie, a PhD holder and author of a book on 21st-century “girl culture,” knew what she was talking about when it came to today’s issues of gender and feminism, not to mention getting an op-ed published thanks to her contributions in The Huffington Post, The Washington Post, and others. The same went for Michele Weldon, who, in full disclosure, was my journalism professor during my freshman year at Northwestern University. She brought the same knowledge she exhibited in the classroom of hopeful young journalists to the classroom of women hoping to make their mark on the world.
The participants got a lot of hands-on time learning the structure of an op-ed and developing topics. This, however, was not the only or main part of the seminar. It was helpful that the day was structured not around a particular exercise or simply the idea of getting more women published, but rather about getting to know oneself, one’s talents, and then utilizing that expertise to contribute to discourse.
The end of the seminar came at just the right moment, which is typically right before people start to get tired and right after they feel they’ve learned everything they expected. At the Elephant and Castle happy hour afterward, I heard someone telling Zeba Khan, the fourth presenter who I did not have a chance to hear, that she thought the seminar was completely “without waste.” I agree with her – the day was chock-full of useful, meaty information, and none of the fluff that I, as a college student, am wary of as soon as I hear the word “seminar.” Alas, I needn’t have worried, because the events of the day taught me another thing or two about increasing women’s voices in public conversation.