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Ouellet funds will help intern advocate for women

05.10.17
By: Mark Tarnacki
Summer Colley

Summer Colley '18

Summer Colley ’18, a Saint Michael’s College junior political science major from Colchester whose studies and campus activities focus on gender studies and women’s rights, is the inaugural recipient of the Career Development Office’s Father Ouellet Opportunity Award.

The new award is named for a late priest of the College’s resident Edmundite religious order who was a fearless civil rights activist and founder of the campus counseling center. Colley will use the award to fund an internship this summer with the Vermont Commission on Women (VCW) in Montpelier, where she hopes to improve social media communications, compile legislation of interest and impact to women, and assemble Vermont-based information and statistics on pay equity.

Colley currently is in Chile completing a multi-site junior-year study-abroad experience. “My study abroad program is comparative, so I started out studying human rights in New York City for two weeks, then I spent one month in Kathmandu, Nepal, then a month in Amman, Jordan, and now I am finishing up my last month in Santiago, Chile,” she wrote from Chile this week.

One of Colley’s experiences in Nepal was interviewing women about gender-based violence in their community for a research project on women’s rights. In an application essay for the Ouellet Award committee, she shared how Nepali women often ask her about gender-based violence in the U.S., wondering why it is such a pervasive problem – one in five women will be sexually assaulted at some point in their lives – if the U.S. is so “developed.” Those conversations, she wrote, made her realize that “before I go try to work on social justice in other countries, I need to dig into the issues in my own community,” and the internship with VCW presents an ideal opportunity to do so. “Through this internship I will be contributing to the discourse on women in Vermont while learning how the law can impact their material realities, by creating webpages on pay equity, working on the Legal Rights of Women in Vermont handbook and participating in legislative research,” she stated.

Colley said she always has been interested in the use of the law as a tool for social justice and is considering several possible career paths including law school or work with an advocacy organization similar to the VCW that shapes legislation for social justice and women’s rights.

She is a Presidential Scholar at Saint Michael’s, which means a four-year full-tuition scholarship for academics and community engagement. She also has made the Dean’s List in the Honors Program every semester, with an overall GPA of 3.98. She has been inducted into the Saint Michael’s-hosted chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, the oldest national honor society for liberal arts and sciences, and into Pi Sigma Alpha, the national political science honor society.

Colley also has been president of the College’s Peace and Justice Club since 2015, organizing events, speakers and direct actions on a host of issues, and she volunteered with the “Change the Story” initiative to improve women’s economic status in Vermont. Additionally, she is a writing coach in the College’s Writing Center and has worked 15-20 hours a week during the school year as a pre-school teacher at Early Years Child Development Center in Colchester. Colley was a volunteer with Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign.

She named some of her most influential Saint Michael’s mentors: Aislinn Doyle in the Career Development office, “who has supported me through all the stages of figuring out my career path,” and Saint Michael’s political science Professor Trish Siplon, “who is an amazing professor, person, and a truly inspirational activist.”

“For me the best part of St. Mike’s is the small but committed community of students committed to social justice,” she said. “I'm so grateful for the opportunity that the Father Ouellet award has given me to be able to devote all of my energy to working with the Vermont Commission on Women.”

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Rev. Maurice F. Ouellet ’48, SSE -- namesake of the new Career Development award that is benefitting Summer Colley as its inaugural recipient -- died in 2011. A St. Albans native, he was an Edmundite priest for over 59 years. He did mission and civil rights work at parishes in the Edmundite Southern Missions at the start of his ministry and in later decades was, at different times, a counselor and administrator at high school and college positions in western New York and Texas; he also served as vocations director, novice master and other posts for the Society. In the early to mid-1960s he returned to Selma, AL, in the Southern Missions and directed the Don Bosco Boys Club while posted at St. Elizabeth Parish there. In this period he was well-known and highly regarded for his work during the Civil Rights movement – work that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. publicly admired.  After college counseling work in Texas in the early 1970s, Fr. Ouellet returned to Saint Michael's as the first director of the Student Resource Center -- a position he held until 1982. He continued as counselor and faculty member for an additional year and was a member of the Board of Trustees.

Funds for the new award are from an Endowment established in 2002 through the Wellington Cabot Foundation of Boston, MA, to meet emerging needs of the Student Resource Center (SRC), which at that time in 2002 had both counseling and career development services in a single center. Saint Michael’s students have continued to benefit from the Ouellet Opportunity Fund via counseling services once the old SRC split into separate offices in the past decade --  but College officials determined this year to honor more fully and explicitly the Career Development component of the initial 2002 endowment agreement. Though less publicly, Father Ouellet’s name officially was and will continue to be associated with the counseling funds of recent years, and now will be more formally and openly attached to the distinct new Career Development Award as well.

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