ORONO, MAINE -- Rachel Binder-Hathaway of East Millinocket recently took part in the inaugural Maine NEW Leadership program, a University of Maine initiative that aims to educate and empower women to become civic and political leaders.
Binder-Hathaway, a University of Maine student, was one of 26 college-age women selected for the weeklong intensive residential training session June 11-16 on the Orono campus. The nonpartisan program, which is slated to be an annual event, is offered through the Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center and the University of Maine Cooperative Extension. It is provided at no cost to participants.
"Each student at Maine NEW Leadership was encouraged to 'Just do it' — to jump into civic engagement, to run for office and to be politically active, regardless of political persuasion," says Rebekah Smith, a policy fellow at the Margaret Chase Smith policy Center. Smith and Mary Cathcart, a former Maine legislator who now is a senior policy associate at the center, are the program's co-directors. "The students were so inspired by the many women civic and political leaders they met. We expect to see great things from them in the future. The enthusiasm and the excitement of our first group of Maine NEW Leadership graduates augurs well for the future of the program and for the state of Maine."
NEW Leadership began in 1991 at the Center for American Women in Politics at Rutgers University in New Jersey to address the historic and contemporary underrepresentation of women in politics. UMaine is the newest partner in the program's 17-member national network, and the curriculum has been altered to reflect Maine's unique political culture and climate.
Sasha Patterson, the program manager for NEW Leadership New Jersey, says the program has great potential in Maine because the political arena is small and open enough that one person truly can make a difference.
"Bringing these women in is going to make a great difference here," Patterson said after the Maine NEW Leadership graduation ceremony. "They have the chance to make changes, to get involved because of the connections they've made through this program. This is just the beginning."
Participants learned from and networked with a who's-who of Maine women leaders, including state Senate President Elizabeth "Libby" Mitchell (D-Vassalboro), Rep. Emily Cain. (D-Orono), and a host of community organizers, policy experts and players on the local and national political scene.
In addition to workshops on leadership development, networking, diversity training and the realities of holding public office, the 26 women spent a day in Augusta. Fittingly, the day ended with a stop at Margaret Chase Smith's home and library in Skowhegan.
"Not everybody is going to want to run for office, but we're urging them to get involved in their community, through a campaign or an issue," Cathcart says. "We're telling women, 'Think about what suits you, but also think about how you can create change in the world and in your state.'"