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NCCWSL Changed My Life: Success Stories from 4 Attendees

Every year, hundreds of students from around the country (and the world!) attend the National Conference for College Women Student Leaders (NCCWSL). Each brings their individual background and perspective to the event, but they come together with other attendees through their passion and drive for leadership. NCCWSL is a transformative experience, and every student leaves the conference ready to take action. Here are four stories from past NCCWSL attendees who want to see you at this year’s conference!

Mackenzie Koehler

Founded a student organization after attending NCCWSL

Introduction to NCCWSL and AAUW:

When Koehler visited a friend at Grand View University, she attended an AAUW student organization meeting and saw pictures from the previous year’s NCCWSL. The images of women learning and connecting were so powerful that she knew she needed to go to the conference.

Where she is now:

When she returned to the University of Iowa after NCCWSL, Koehler founded the AAUW student organization on her campus and serves as the group’s president. Although she was undecided on her major when she attended NCCWSL, now she is a senior majoring in international relations and plans to attend law school in the fall, with a focus on international humanitarian law.

Words of advice:

“Take the chance. Take the opportunity.” Koehler attended the conference on her own, but she immediately felt welcomed by other students. Those onetime strangers are now friends, and as she says, “You can never have enough connections.”

Sabrina Ridenour

Raised funds to send four more students to NCCWSL after attending herself

Favorite part of NCCWSL:

Ridenour was most excited about the speakers at NCCWSL. She was thrilled to hear from Chelsea Clinton, a keynote speaker at the 2014 conference. As a mechanical engineering major, Ridenour also loved meeting NASA astronaut and Woman of Distinction Pamela Ann Melroy, a fellow woman in STEM.

Where she is now:

Ridenour founded an AAUW student organization at West Virginia University and has been the president of the group for the last three years. After she graduates this spring, she will be part of a rotational program at General Motors, the first automotive company with a woman CEO.

On the impact of NCCWSL:

“NCCWSL was so amazing that I wanted to share the experience with other students at WVU,” Ridenour says. Her student organization raised funds to provide scholarships to send four WVU students to the conference in 2016. In 2017, she will attend NCCWSL as a member of AAUW’s National Student Advisory Council and will use her role on the council to collaborate with event organizers.

Gerti Wilson

Met her future employer at the NCCWSL Career Fair

Best advice she got at NCCWSL:

When Wilson participated in an add-on activity to visit Capitol Hill, she heard from a panel of women who worked in politics. She learned the best way to get a job on the Hill postgraduation was to first gain experience as an intern. She followed this guidance and interned the following year for her state senator; she even had the chance to meet with an AAUW member who was lobbying on the Hill.

Where she is now:

When she attended the Career Fair at NCCWSL in 2015, Wilson met someone who worked for the Center for American Progress’ Women’s Initiative. Wilson took a business card, stayed in communication with the center’s representative, and is now a legal assistant on the legal team at the organization.

Takeaways from NCCWSL:

“The lessons you learn, the advice you get, the resources that are shared,” are experiences she will carry with her through life. She made connections that are “still yielding fruit to this day,” and she encourages attendees who are career-driven to make sure they network at the conference. The contacts she made at NCCWSL ultimately propelled her into her dream of working in law.

Kate Farrar

Joined AAUW’s staff years after her first NCCWSL

Introduction to NCCWSL and AAUW:

Farrar was introduced to NCCWSL before she knew of AAUW. She came to NCCWSL with a sense of “independence, curiosity, and confidence,” and she loved discovering great women’s organizations, including AAUW.

Most memorable part of NCCWSL:

When she looks back on her NCCWSL experience, Farrar remembers the conversations she had with other students while they stayed up late at night in the dorm rooms at American University (NCCWSL’s previous home). At NCCWSL, she felt a “sense of belonging in this sisterhood,” a larger support system for women.

Where she is now:

Years after attending NCCWSL in 2000, Farrar joined AAUW as the organization’s vice president of campus leadership programs. Currently, she is the executive director of the Connecticut Women’s Education and Legal Fund, where she continues to strive to advance women’s rights and equality, with the goal of one day running for elected office.

These women were empowered and inspired by NCCWSL, and we know you will be, too!


This post was written by former AAUW Event Planning and Communications Associate Kathryn Arion.

By:    April 26, 2017