Recently, A Woman’s Bridge interviewed Executive Director and Founder Robin Floyd-Ramson about her organization, Chess Girls DC.
Started as an initiative to build the confidence of young girls by creating an inclusive space for girls to learn and play chess, Chess Girls DC plays a vital role in closing the gender gap, one chess game at a time. Since its original founding in 2013, the organization has grown and sponsored tournaments, field trips, and speaking events to help young girls develop fundamental leadership skills, analytical and strategic thinking, and risk taking. The same skills taught through chess, the organization argues, also help girls take on professions in leadership roles, STEM careers, and more.
What was the inspiration for Chess Girls DC?
I founded the organization because girls could use chess to build confidence. I came to this realization when I saw my daughter playing at 5 years old. I also noticed there might be 100 boys at a co-ed tournament, and maybe 20 girls at a girls-only contest. My daughter really liked chess, and I found that girls don’t usually stay involved in activities unless their friends are involved.
What impact have you seen on the girls in your program?
I think what I see is the confidence. We have dynamic speakers in our chess club, dynamic lectures, and they return to school with more confidence. I see more confidence when they play.
Recently, four of our girls crossed over to become high level players. These communities of high level players have few African Americans. When [our girls] play with others, I see they realize that they are intellectually equal to the other boys and everyone else there. Girls are self-conscious, I think boys are more self-confident but that’s only because they spend more time in activities that build up their confidence and risk taking.
What is your hope for the growth of girls and women in traditionally male dominated STEM fields?
I think that when you look at the root of most of these small programs, I think the take away is confidence and focus. When we think of the first year of college, some are more prepared with time management skills and confidence. We know from studies that men are more likely to go into an interview with a high level of confidence that helps them get the job, even if they are not as qualified.
We need to instill this confidence early by showing girls that they can do it. In my personal life, I had a great chemistry teacher. I was bad at math, but this teacher always made me feel good and slowly built up my confidence. There was nothing that stood in my way and I eventually got into radiation therapy and became an entrepreneur.
We don’t see many chess programs for girls because of marginalization, the little effort made to appeal to young girls to the game, and the social questions of why girls aren’t given an incentive or desire for these activities. The chessboards we play on are standard regulation, just turned pink and colorful. I am trying to coordinate a city-wide tournament for girls. I’m attaching a scholarship to the winner of each level, and that has never been done before. If we can hold that college incentive carrot, it will encourage more parents and the city to have more chess programs. Girls should learn early on the advantages of risk taking to get a high-powered job.
Is there anything else you would like to mention?
Robin: Chess players have the same skill and great leaders. We invite guest speakers in leadership roles to speak with our girls. This year we had the highest-ranking female chess-player speak. We also had the president of Pepco, Donna Copper, talk about how she designed a life plan because she always knew she wanted to run a company. Our speakers talk about having the confidence to do their job, how to work with men, how not to be distracted, and other skills. Not all the girls will be chess masters, [but they can use the skills they learn for other roles].
Something like a chess club should be multifaceted. We celebrated the day of the girl and learned about barriers to girls’ success. Kids find confidence with games. When that male-dominance gets to them, they can realize these are the things great leaders do. All the school programs are trying to tie things to STEM, but I feel like we forget about the artistic and the creative aspect. A lot of people who are artists also benefit from chess because it is cognitive development.
Past speakers include Aprille Ericsson, the first African-American woman to earn a Ph.D in Mechanical Engineering at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Admiral Michelle Howard, and chess champions Nazi Paikidze, Phiona Metusi, and Irine Kharisma Sukandar. Since Chess Girls DC’s founding in 2013, the organization has grown from working with 5 families to 35. Activities that the organization offers includes, etching girls how to play chess, how to participate in tournaments, how to read and write chess notation, chess theory, and to learn about chess scholarships.
To find out more information about the DC Chess Girls, please visit their website.
By Jessica Flores
This 2009 film, is about beating the blues of modern life. Julie Powell, is about to turn 30. Her career is based as a temp which she finished doing after six years to become a first level government worker in a cubicle, and her uncompleted novel that no one wants to publish adds a finishing touch to an existence that is very beaten down. The one redeeming factor in her life is her husband, Eric, who she consistently descrbes as a, saint.
Julie doesn't like her career powerhouse girlfriends and her lunch conversations with them are quite painful. They answer their cells and as one friend makes a multi-million dollar real estate deal while keeping Julie from eating breadsticks another makes an interview date with her. The article that comes from it is titled, "Is 30 the New 20?" This brings into question the maturity of our protagonist's overall existence.
She looks for a refuge, a hobby, something outside of the ordinary to make her happy. And she finds Julia Child, the famous cook, whose book of French recipes sold the world over. So Julie embarks on a quest, to finish 524 recipes from the book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, in 365 days.
One can be uncertain as to the reality, not to mention expense of the actual endeavor itself. As cooking that many recipes in a single year seems impossible due to time limitations alone. But, the blog Julie writes garners public attention, if not the respect of its ultimate host, Julia Child.
And as Julie goes about her life, the past of the actual Julia and the making of the book comes alive. Her times with her husband in France are among the happiest of her life. And not wanting to be thought of as a frivolous housewife, the 6 foot 2 inch woman, decides to take a professional cooking course. And from there she befriends Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle. The three friends begin on the odessey of creating one of the most comprehensive cookbooks ever published. The book will eventually come into the hands of a girl not yet born, who will in time be desperately in need of a good friend and guidance.
By Sarah Bahl
Sister Mary Berchmans, President Emerita & Monastery Superior at Georgetown Visitation Preparatory School, is frequently stopped by people who thank her for wearing her habit. She explains why some nuns wear habits and others don’t and if there are special habits for particular occasions.
What was the original purpose of the nun's habit and has that purpose shifted over time in the U.S.?
Originally, Sisters wore the dress of the peasants of their era of foundation – it was to be simple and poor. Since they became known by the style of their dress I presumed that gradually this became their, “habit.”
Are there different habits for different occasions? And for those that wear a habit, when it is appropriate for it to be removed?
I believe that all Orders and Congregations have only one habit style. It can be changed into work clothes when doing manual labor or while engaged in active sports. The principle is to adapt to the needs of the moment.
Of those who choose not to wear one (and is there a specific demographic you can think of that generally chooses not to), is this a controversy at all? What are the arguments against wearing one that you have heard? Are there generally accepted alternatives?
After Vatican II there was a shift away from wearing traditional habits, which were complicated and difficult to care for. The first step for most orders was a simplified version - such as the Visitation sisters wear today.
Can you describe the similarities/differences between a nun wearing a habit and other religions that ask women to cover their heads such as a Muslim woman wearing a hajib and an Orthodox Russian woman wearing a scarf over her head in church?
Gradually many religious groups have moved away from wearing any kind of habit; I believe it was a question of being more one with the people they serve and avoiding a sense of separateness.
Do you think people react to nuns who wear a habit differently? And if so, in what way?
As a member of a community that continues to wear a modified habit, we do so for several reasons:
witness sign: we have been told that it is a reminder of eternal values
simplicity: it is less expensive, no need to be “in style”
community unity: by obviating the problem of having one sister have more than another because she has family that can provide it
Traditionally, women are often pictured wearing some kind of hair covering – whether it is a veil, a special kind of bonnet, (pioneer women). I think of art pictures of Mary and she is always pictured wearing a veil. Although modern American culture has done away with this tradition, it lives on in other cultures.
Frequently, I am stopped by complete strangers who thank me for wearing a habit. I think it represents an element of the sacred for them and lifts their minds and hearts in welcome to a counter-cultural statement. On the other hand, I am certain that sisters who do not wear a habit convey the same principles by their dedication and hard work with the needy people in our world. “The habit does not make the nun!” We can never allow the habit to become a sign we hide behind.
What do you think nuns will be wearing in 50 years?
WOW! In 50 years I will be “long gone!” Your guess is as good as mine. If life becomes more secular the habit could well disappear. I am sure there will not be a return to wearing a habit by Sisters who have gone without wearing one. I would hope that simplicity would always be a determining factor in the selection of secular clothes.
Interview by Suzette McLoone Lohmeyer
Kim Crawford has put her nursing skills to use in her home state of Georgia, as well as overseas. She explains what nurses need to know and how they are valued at home and abroad.
Tell a little about yourself including what drew you to nursing as a profession.
I grew up in Atlanta, Georgia next to the Center for Disease Control and Emory University. My father was a dental professor at Emory and he taught me when I was a young teenager about how the heart worked. After that I was hooked. I wanted to do something in the healthcare field. I looked at other healthcare professions including medicine and veterinary science, but wanted something, that when I graduated I could work and, that didn’t require any more school. At the time, I was a good student but did not enjoy school. I much preferred other things like sports or playing my cello to opening a book.
I grew up in a house that always had other people over, whether friends from church or classmates. My mother volunteered a lot at our school and had been known to teach fellow classmates how to drive, or she would get supplies for their class projects since their families were usually single parent households. My parents had also traveled several times to Latin America to provide dental care in villages. We learned early on that we were to share our lives and our gifts with people around us regardless of whom they were or where they came from. Seeing people as people and equals regardless of where they are in the world set my path to nursing long before I had even thought of it.
I was a pediatric emergency room nurse for 12 years and did many short-term trips to various countries for teaching as well as providing disaster response. Somehow I ended up here in Tbilisi about five years ago doing continuing education for nurses, many of whom had never had it. This led to my current job as a professor of nursing and public health at a private university in Tbilisi, Georgia.
What is your greatest emphasis when you are teaching nursing students from other cultures? Are there things that you have to focus on that are different from teaching U.S. nursing students?
Since I teach in the country of Georgia and not the State of Georgia, there are many, many differences. The textbooks that we use are from the U.S. or U.K. and some of the content is not relevant to my Nigerian students. There is a lot of explaining regarding some of the anecdotes or cultural assumptions that are written in the literature to make relevant to my students and to the Georgian Healthcare System. Different aspects such as electronic charting, certain insurance schematic types, and even types of equipment used from intravenous pumps to bandages have to be explained knowing that they may not be working in that environment. I take the approach that I will teach them from a western perspective as well as from a current resources available basis. It teaches them to be flexible and possibility be innovators in the community in which they will work.
In addition there is an emphasis on respecting other cultures that often times they are not taught to the level Americans are taught in school. Providing cultural care that involves learning and respecting the differences in all people one comes in contact with. Most students, both Georgian and Nigerian, have limited skills in this area due to living in homogenous environments and have had limited exposure to other cultures.
What are the biggest cultural differences you've encountered when it comes to what is expected of nurses including training and demeanor?
In the country of Georgia, nurses are almost at the level of the maintenance staff. They are not considered a respectable or valued profession as they are in other countries. Up until a few years ago, nurses were not even considered to have a professional level of education. To come from a culture where nurses are more trusted than physicians, developing and implementing a baccalaureate nursing program has made for a very daunting task. Promoting nursing as a profession has become one of my most important tasks.
We are in our final semester of our first cohort of students and each semester has brought along unforeseen challenges from making sure that we have documentation for the students to showing up to clinical lessons and class on time, to the skills of being able to write a term paper. This is in addition to just working through a regular nursing curriculum.
Developing a level of accountability, objectiveness and even attempting to improve quality has been the most exhausting process. Throw in the different dimensions of superiority and respect based on age or job title or even just saying what is expected to be said rather than the reality and it is a very different ballgame than the US.
How has nursing changed over the years in the U.S. and in the places you've been, if at all?
Nursing in the States has become much more autonomous and patient-centered while promoting a climate of safety and prevention. This is to the point where we don’t realize that we are doing this until we move to another culture and realize that these basic principles don’t exist. Nurses have so much autonomy and are able to truly empower the people they come in contact with. In Georgia, I have seen nursing go from no one even knows what to call them (really!) to seeing nurses grow in their solidarity and hear people say that they need better trained nurses.
So at least nursing is on the radar of hospital administrators and policy makers though a small blip. The nurses that I have trained in continuing education in Georgia, I have seen a change in their demeanor. They are more encouraged and empowered than five years ago.
Are there a couple of situations through practicing nursing or teaching that have really stuck with you, either good or bad that you could talk about?
I didn’t know how much I loved my profession until I started teaching it in other countries. I always loved my job as a Pediatric Emergency Room Nurse. There was always an adventure just around the corner. But when I went into worlds unknown whether it was for disaster response or coming to Georgia and teaching those who had been nurses for 20 years but had never had a continuing education course, my love grew. A couple of situations still come to mind.
While in Sri Lanka, after the Tsunami that hit in 2004, I was working in a refugee camp in a makeshift clinic made up of a few tents and other volunteers like me who were there for a few weeks to just fill in with basic medical care since all of the local clinics and hospitals were either destroyed or overwhelmed by this tragedy. We had had busy days of seeing patients and had eaten dinner, played a little soccer with the local children and were about to head to our sleeping bags and camping mats when we heard a cry from some locals. They were bringing in a man who had been in a motorcycle accident. I cannot remember if he had been hit with a motorcycle or had been the one driving it when he was injured.
In addition, he had the smell of alcohol on his breath. Most of us were Americans in this clinic and we all knew what the other was thinking, “This man is a drunk.” One of the physicians was an emergency room doctor. We both knew what to do and worked as though we had worked together for years. That is the exciting part of having such a well-trained system in the US; it builds for well-trained teams when put together outside of the US.
This man had burns on his legs and hands and abrasions and lacerations on his head and arms. We worked on him by flashlight for two or three hours. We didn’t need to give much pain medication since the alcohol’s sedative effects had kicked in; though we did wish we had breath mints for the patient. We found out later that this man had lost his entire immediate family in the tsunami. He was grieving the best way he knew how and probably had a death wish as well. There were no lights except by the moon that was covered by clouds and he was heading to a friend’s place for the evening. We were able to clean his wounds, give him a place to sleep for the night and provide antibiotics; all things that had we not been there, at the very least, he would have lost a limb or two.
Another instance that comes to mind is of a student of mine here in Georgia. This student walked in the first day of simulation laboratory late and did not seem to have a clue and I thought: there is no way this guy is going to make it. But slowly, he changed, matured, grew not only as a nurse but as a person. This past summer he volunteered at a children’s hospital all summer. He is also starting an international nursing club here in Georgia. He is always the first to volunteer for any medial task that the dean needs help with. He has grown into a man of convictions and service. He doesn’t seem to have the social fears that one would have when moving to a new country. His grades continue to be average, but being able to witness the transformation of a boy becoming a man has far surpassed the importance of any grade.
I feel honored that I have been able to be a part of this transformation. I love to teach and I love nursing. It is one of the few places I don’t have to be judgmental. I just have to care and be consistent. I can grieve with those who are grieving, provide a bit of relief even if only temporary to those who are hurting. I can teach and model what a western nurse looks like without all the fancy uniforms, gadgets and even paychecks. I can practice and teach what I love.
Where would you like nursing as a profession to be in 10 years. What about you in 10 years?
I hope nursing continues to grow as a profession here in Georgia, where nurses become a profession with autonomy, critical thinking skills and patient educators. In the west, I hope that nursing turns not only to those patients in the U.S. but that there is a bigger focus building up the nursing profession in other countries. Nurses empowering nurses, all from different cultures and backgrounds. In the U.S., we are too caught up on benefits and paychecks that we miss the much bigger blessing of reaching out to others who don’t have the same benefits and paychecks we do.
The real reward and blessing lies in investing our time, skills and energy in those who do not have those resources. Initially we think that we will be able to make a big difference, but in the end it is we who are changed. I am not sure what would happen in the U.S. if or when I return to teach. I am not the same person as I was five years ago. I am starting my PhD to continue my education so that I can learn how to better educate others. I hope in 10 years I am in a university that values education over money, looks at the nursing profession as one of the greatest potential life changers of the 21st century for the developing world, and that my passport is always close at hand.
Interview By Suzette McLoone Lohmeyer