Friday, September 9, 2011

Women, Education, Ensuring the Future

The 35th annual dinner of the Jeannette Rankin Women’s Scholarship Fund was a delightful affair last night. To begin with, I had the best seat in the house, between keynote speaker Elizabeth Kiss, President of Agnes Scott College, and Barbara Dixon, JRF’s first scholarship awardee.

Barbara, a widow with two daughters, decided to go back to school and become a nurse after caring for her husband in the hospital and at home, prior to his death. The Jeannette Rankin Women’s Scholarship Fund (then still known as the Jeannette Rankin Foundation) made it possible. Now retired, Barbara had a long, rewarding career as a nurse, was able to send her children to college (they are now nurses themselves!) and is actively supporting her family’s third generation of college students.

Elizabeth focused, needless to say, on the importance of education for women – education not only makes their lives better, but also the lives of their family members (see Barbara Dixon’s story!) and their communities. Her “homework” for the audience: call your representative in Congress and tell him/her not to let the Pell grant for low-income students disappear.

Dear to my heart, she also mentioned equality for women, which seems still so far, far away. And, of course, she mentioned the intrepid Jeannette Rankin in her speech, without whose $16,000 estate gift in 1976 thousands of women across the United States would not have had their chance at an education and a meaningful career.

One of these scholars sat at our table also, last night, and gave the dinner’s customary scholar’s speech. Patricia Garcia is now a hydrogeologist, has worked in Mexico, Nepal and West Africa, and teaches earth science at Utah Valley University. The chain continues . . ., from Barbara Dixon to Patricia Garcia, to many beyond the room we were in last night and the years across which the organization has done its commendable work, to the future. On to the next 35 years!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Green Jobs: Greener Pay

It used to be that a Georgia high school graduate could find a decent job – in retail, construction, or even banking. Those days are long gone (although just last year a well-known businessman in South Georgia was heard saying that he had done well enough for himself, thank you very much, with a high school diploma and he saw no need for his son to go to college – really!) – and even that college degree we now know everyone needs is no longer enough. Specialization is required, expertise, a niche, an area of deep knowledge, coupled with interest, curiosity, dedication and commitment.

This is particularly true in technical and scientific fields. No one becomes a robotics expert without it, NASA still needs aerospace engineers, and the renewable energy fields thirst for it. Whether it’s building and running Georgia’s next biomass plant, constructing and operating a wind farm in the North Sea, or installing India’s largest photovoltaic field, the jobs are there, talent is in demand and salaries are getting greener by the year.

According to Simply Hired, the average renewable energy job in August 2011 paid $61,000. That compares with averages of $49,000 for a loan specialist and $42,000 for a retail store manager. Salaries for environmental engineers are typically above $75,000, and way back in 2008 supply chain / logistics jobs paid $109,000 and more to professionals with a master’s degree.

According to Bernard Vanderlande, Managing Partner of Tula International, a local retained executive search and talent acquisition firm that specializes in renewable energy industries, a scarcity of experienced leaders is driving competition in the sectors, resulting in higher compensation and greater benefits.

The son of the man in South Georgia who believes a college education is not that important will no longer be able to find a job pumping gas; he may find one harvesting trees for a biomass plant at $8 to $12 an hour. His classmate who is heading for MIT, meanwhile, has his sights set on that six-figure paycheck. Greener pay for green jobs -- education makes the difference.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Vive la diffÄ—rence? Not in this case!

Let me say up front that I believe Nafissatou Diallo. That, despite the fact that I also believe she probably embellished her immigration story. When you are fleeing for your life, I don’t think it’s so unusual to tell a tale you think your potential rescuers want to hear before they will help you.

But did she lie about being sexually assaulted by Dominique Strauss-Kahn in that NY hotel room last May? Hell, no!

Something happened. That is clear. She called it rape and he called it “consensual”. The prosecutors had to acknowledge that “something sexual had occurred”, because a DNA test concluded that it was his semen on her clothes. But they cannot take the case to trial, they now say, because Nafissatou Diallo had been caught in earlier lies, e.g. her petition for U.S. asylum. Ha!

Once a liar, always a liar? Hardly!

Let’s have a reverie for a minute and assume he is right. They had sex, because they both wanted to have sex. Dominique Strauss-Kahn and Nafissatou Diallo. Now that’s an odd couple (-ling), isn’t it? One of the most powerful men in the world takes a besotted, not-to-be-denied fantasy to a lowly hotel maid? When instead he could have . . .? Well, you get my drift. And she, at that same serendipitous moment, develops a twinkle-in-the-eye animal instinct for him?

My aunt Johanna, who was afraid that my perpetual reading would lead to no good, often admonished me with: “Real life is not like that!”


If she, Nafissatou, is the kind of person the district attorney now says she is, after earlier talking about her “compelling story with powerful details” and concurring with the investigators finding her “credible”, I bet you money that money would have exchanged hands. You don’t think that this powerful, rich man, who had paid, what, $3,000 a night for the hotel room he was about to vacate, would not have slipped her a few hundreds after the “consensual” deed had been done? And she, with that eye twinkle still present, would have taken the bus home with bills in her pocket and kept silent – or maybe secretively told a girl friend later that night? That one can image as “real life”. But that’s not, I believe, what happened.

The differences here are powerful, wealthy, white men (the accused and the district attorney) on one side, and a poor, black, female menial worker on the other. If anyone ever needed an example of a stacked deck . . ., here it is! How awful, in 21st century America. Are we still that primitive, this ruthless and so class distinctive?

I hope the jury that will hear the civil case will draw the right conclusion (semen: his, on clothes: hers – what more is there to say?).

Memo to Anne Sinclair: divorce him. He not only did “something sexual” with Nafissatou Diallo, he also made you look like an idiot. It’s over. You’ve done your “job” – stood by your man. Get on with your life.