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Happy International Women's Day: 12 Student Stories Celebrating Women

24 multicolored silhouettes of women celebrating International Women's Day

Every day, women worldwide are making an impact. They’re supporting families, friends, colleagues and strangers. They’re advancing many fields with their research and ideas. And they’re setting examples for girls who will one day do the same.

International Women’s Day falls on March 8 each year, one week into Women’s History Month. On this day, women are celebrated for all they have brought to the table and all they’ll continue doing — and the conversation around gender equity pushes forward.

During a recent essay contest, Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) students took time to write about the women they see making a difference. These women are mothers, sisters, aunts, friends and advocates. They are workers, volunteers, caregivers and, above all, ready to go above and beyond for those around them.

The Winner

Omolayo Akinlosotu Koya with the text Omolayo Akinlosotu Koya

Omolayo C. Akinlosotu Koya, who is earning a Master of Science in Psychology with a concentration in Child and Adolescent Development, is this year's essay contest winner.

It's clear that countless people have influenced her life, but none so much as her mother.

"The role of a mother is often overlooked in society, but it has been an essential key to my perseverance and the success of many within my family and beyond," she said.

When she was younger, Omolayo's mother lacked the financial means to advance her education. Now she's sending money to her hometown in Nigeria that's helping families send their children to school.

She's also instilled the value of education in her daughter.

"The continuation of my education is a reflection of her emphasis on the importance of education to me and my siblings," Omolayo said. "And she is a reminder that I must continue to grow — not just for my own success but for all the work that my mother has done."

Read her winning essay in The Penmen Review.

More Inspiring Stories

For more stories of compassion and strength, read on to see who else SNHU students are inspired by every day.

Reba Arnold

Bachelor of Arts in History with a concentration in European History

Reba Arnold's sister, Rebecca, goes out of her way for her patients and her family.

As a pharmacy technician, Rebecca ensures her community members get what they need — from prescriptions and over-the-counter medications, to home deliveries when they can't get to the family-owned pharmacy.

When Reba decided to return to college, Rebecca was there for her. "She has supported me every single day since I started schooling again," Reba said. "She is the first person to give me a push in the right direction if I begin procrastinating on my assignments. She helps me rethink some of my assignments if they are not making much sense to me."

No matter what life throws at Reba — good or bad — she knows she can count on Rebecca to help her.

Jeslyn Baldovino

Bachelor of Science in Operations Management

Jeslyn Baldovino is inspired by her sister's active role in the community, too.

"My sister Kayla strives to make both practical and beneficial changes for all," Jeslyn said. "She stands for the rights of her community, specifically women and those who are experiencing homelessness."

A technical writer by day, Kayla still finds time to advocate for change, volunteering with organizations focused on homelessness, food insecurity and climate change.

"I truly believe that Kayla will be responsible for guiding change for the ... future," Jeslyn said.

Saundria Cadiente

Bachelor of Science in Business Administration

When Saundria Cadiente moved from Hawaii to the Continental U.S., she was welcomed into her Aunt Sandie's home despite how full it already was. Sandie also helped raise her.

Now her aunt is supporting her decision to go back to school. "She has been my biggest cheerleader and helps me to stay focused on the task at hand," Saundria said.

Her aunt, an encourager at heart, also keeps voter registration cards on hand and calls on people to exercise their right to vote. "If she (is) helping someone with whatever it is, and she finds out they are not a registered voter, she educates them on it and helps get them registered," Saundria said.

Amanda Gordon

Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice with a concentration in Criminology and Crime Analysis

Amanda Gordon is inspired by Aften, an advocate for pit bulls, a type of dog that's often stereotyped as aggressive.

"She is my hero and role model," Amanda said. "One of the strongest and bravest women I have come to know and love. She does not get near the credit she deserves."

Aften, the founder of a nonprofit organization committed to the rescue, rehabilitation and training of pit bulls, was inspired to do something big after encountering and caring for a couple of injured pit bulls. Her organization now boasts 200 volunteers, according to Amanda, and has rescued more than 700 dogs.

"Thanks to her tireless fight and refusing to give up no matter how many times she got knocked down, she has managed to accomplish so many things at a young age," Amanda said.

Luke Graap

Bachelor of Arts in Psychology

Not even an autoimmune disease, and the many hospital visits and surgeries that come with it, can weaken the care and empathy Luke Graap's mom has.

"Growing up, my dad and I didn’t know how much time we were going to have with her, but through her good days and bad ones, she always sought out to help others," Luke said. "She taught me along the way that no matter how bad things get, kindness is always the answer."

Despite her obstacles, including leaving home at 15 years old and supporting herself through school, she's felt compelled to help anyone in need. She built her career as a nurse, assisting patients with dementia and Alzheimer's. She also makes food for shelters and sponsors underprivileged children, and Luke said she'd give away the clothes off her back.

"People that meet her say she is the only person that truly feels, listens to and understands their struggles. She ends up crying with them, then begins brainstorming solutions to their problems," Luke said. "... She is the first person to give others the benefit of the doubt and, without exception, sees the good in everyone."

Jalysa Hughes

Bachelor of Science in Business Administration

Jalysa Hughes celebrates her mother's positivity and how she always finds the good in life.

"You can feel her positive presence a mile away, and it will turn a frown into a smile and a bad day into a good day," Jalysa said.

Working at a public library, her mother brings a love of art to the after-school arts and crafts program she hosts. And Jalysa said no matter what kind of day her mom or anyone else is having, she'll find the best in it.

"My mother gives you hope and faith that there will be better, brighter days and that you can make it through any tough time you are or could be facing," Jalysa said.

Brittany Jokela

Bachelor of Arts in Creative Writing and English

At 21, Brittany Jokela's friend, Anna, became a foster mother. In the five years since, she's cared for 35 children of all ages.

"When I asked her what made her want to do it, she said she 'just wanted to be the light for the kids in what I think is a dark world,'" according to Brittany.

More recently, Anna has been focused on establishing a safe and secure place in her city for people to leave their newborns if they are unable to care for them.

She is also a breast cancer survivor going to school to become a nurse, where she can help even more people.

"They say that not all heroes wear capes, and I believe that to be true," Brittany said. "Some of them wear scrubs and baby puke. My friend, Anna, is a trailblazer, a silent hero and a survivor."

Heather Juarez

Bachelor of Science in Healthcare Administration

Heather Juarez dreams of building her career in healthcare — a field her older sister, Amber, knew well. Amber endured a lot in life, including domestic violence, but she was able to put herself through nursing school as a single mother of three children and became a pediatric nursing assistant.

"I choose her because she was one of a kind," Heather said. "Someone who was there for everyone even though she had her own battles to fight. She saved my life and helped me to become the woman I am today."

Amber's life was cut short at 37 years old. "I know that if Amber was here today, she would want the best in life for everyone, and she would go to the ends of the earth to make sure those around her and in her community were taken care of," Heather said.

Natasha Keesler

Associate of Arts in Liberal Arts

Five years ago, Ashley, a family case manager, began supporting Natasha Keesler's son, who has autism and struggles with mental health. Now Natasha considers Ashley a part of her family.

"Not once in the five years has she ever passed judgment or been unempathetic with our family struggle," Natasha said. "She cares for not only my son but our family as a whole."

Last December, when Natasha's family was in a difficult financial situation, Natasha received a phone call that said someone had adopted her family for the holiday — and she suspects Ashley had something to do with it. She said Ashley is selfless and goes out of her way for those in her caseload.

"If any woman on this earth deserves to be recognized for her community services and just all-around heart of gold, it should be her," Natasha said. "Anyone who is blessed to have her in their lives is the better for it."

Kara Newbert

Bachelor of Arts in Psychology

Kara Newbert's mother's superpower is that she's a caretaker. Not only did she raise her children, but she's also fostered around 30 others and has looked after her own mother.

When Kara's grandmother was diagnosed with dementia, her mother helped her retain her autonomy for as long as possible.

"When the time came for my Gram to lose her independence, my mother opened her own chaotic home with open arms," Kara said. "She already had a full plate, juggling three young girls under the age of five, my adolescent brother, her three grandchildren, her husband, her life. She made sure her mom had everything she could possibly need to feel comfortable in her new environment."

And even when days get tough, love keeps her mother going.

"As I watched my mother comfort her own mother into death, I (realized) what a true hero she is," Kara said. "Resilient, loving, amazing – my own silent hero."

Tammi Shahan

Bachelor of Arts in Creative Writing and English

On International Women's Day, Tammi Shahan is giving a shout-out to all the "Homeroom Moms," bus aides, book readers, classroom assistants, noon-time aides and the other people who have volunteered their time to help in their children's schools.

As a former volunteer herself, Tammi got involved in many school activities, from book fairs and family Bingo nights to fall festivals and more.

"I remember volunteering for various school functions and making cupcakes for holiday parties and birthdays," Tammi, who was known as "cupcake mom," said.

These volunteer roles impact many aspects of a child's elementary education, and Tammi enjoyed supporting her school district and those in it.

What Celebrating International Women's Day Can Look Like

Dr. Laman Tasch with the text Dr. Laman Tasch Dr. Laman Tasch, an associate dean of social sciences programs at SNHU, looks for ways to honor International Women's Day each year. In early 2020, just months after beginning at SNHU, she introduced this essay contest, encouraging reflection and celebration.

What once was available to students pursuing an online degree is now a university-wide opportunity to share stories of impact.

The women who have inspired Tasch have changed through each stage in her life. In high school, she dreamed of being like Christiane Amanpour, a brave war journalist. In college, she said she respected former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's strength and femininity. "Since recently, I am in the camp of Mona Eltahawy, a journalist whom I admire for her relentless courage and unapologetic authenticity," she said.

To keep the conversation going, Tasch helped create another opportunity for SNHU community members to celebrate International Women's Day. A selected group came together to discuss the women in their lives for an Agents of Change podcast episode.

If you're looking for more ways to recognize International Women's Day, you might start by acknowledging the women who have supported and inspired you. Try finding ways to thank them.

You can also visit the International Women's Day website to learn how you can #EmbraceEquity — the theme of this year's celebration.

"To me, (International Women's Day is) an important date to bring attention to serious issues with women’s rights all over the world, even in this country, and to acknowledge all achievements of women who have to overcome multiple obstacles to exercise fully their agency and to continue inspiring others," Tasch said.

Rebecca LeBoeuf ’18 ’22G is a writer at Southern New Hampshire University. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

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About Southern New Hampshire University

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SNHU is a nonprofit, accredited university with a mission to make high-quality education more accessible and affordable for everyone.

Founded in 1932, and online since 1995, we’ve helped countless students reach their goals with flexible, career-focused programs. Our 300-acre campus in Manchester, NH is home to over 3,000 students, and we serve over 135,000 students online. Visit our about SNHU page to learn more about our mission, accreditations, leadership team, national recognitions and awards.