March is Women’s History Month and the American Association of University Women could not think of a better way to celebrate than by honoring local women who are making history today.
“The public celebration of women’s history began in 1978 as Women’s History Week in Sonoma County and it wasn’t until three years later that it was proclaimed National Women’s History Week through a congressional resolution,” said AAUW Turlock/Modesto Branch president Beverly Schlegel. “In 1987, Congress eventually decided to expand the celebration to Women’s History Month.”
During a reception on Wednesday evening, the AAUW honored two local women who have not only received multiple awards in their fields, but have made a difference in the community.
“Each of our honorees has devoted much of her life to promote education and to promote gender equality for women,” said AAUW Turlock/Modesto Branch co-program vice president Hanna Renning.
Viji Sundar, professor of mathematics at California State University, Stanislaus and director of Mathematics Grants & Sponsored Programs, has devoted her research to enriching students through engineering projects, aiding the professional development of teachers, and promoting gender equity in teaching mathematics.
“I am ready to accept this award with great humility, and with even greater responsibility,” said Sundar. “I accept this on behalf of the stellar team of family, friends, students, and colleagues who have carried me all the way, encouraging me when I was discouraged. I accept this honor as a tribute to all the teachers and mentors who guided, supported, and cheered me on.”
Throughout her career, she has launched a number of projects, including the High School Mathematics Access Program at the University, which boosts the confidence level of students in who pursue mathematics and science classes, and the Pre Freshman Enrichment Program , which is aimed at increasing the number of students who engage in mathematics-based careers.
“I realized that projects that I have done in the past 30 years have called me, that excited me, that appealed to me, all I had to do was to fit the pieces in the puzzle,” said Sundar.
“I acknowledge that I do not have one major project, but I do have a vision” continued Sundar. “I do have one goal—to change students’ attitudes towards math and science.
Margo Souza, entrepreneur and contributing author for “Million Dollar Conversations: Women Entrepreneurs Share Strategies for Mastering Business, Life, and Relationships,” was also honored on Wednesday during AAUW’s event for her significant role in the dairy industry.
“Thank you so much for this honor,” said Souza. “I am really touched to be considered a community leader.”
Four years after Souza began working at her family’s dairy business in 1984, her family moved towards using computer technology to both monitor and optimize their operation, thus increasing the overall efficiency of the business. During this time, Souza was in charge of monitoring feed and associated costs, as well as track and manage her family’s business performance with current information.
When Souza sold the dairy farm in 2013, she decided to retire from her role as owner and manager. Although retired, she still devotes her time to supporting and mentoring young entrepreneurs. She has also donated a significant gift to University of California, Merced with the Margo F. Souza Leadership Center.
“Ultimately I would like to see these young people eventually owning their own businesses,” said Souza. “My goal is to support budding entrepreneurs, as well as inspire students to be lifelong learners and leaders in the 21st century.”
Since 1881, AAUW has been at the forefront of promoting education and equity for women and girls. Through its funding, the AAUW foundation is able to aid research, community projects, fellowships, and grants for women throughout the nation. For more information, visit aauwturlockbranch.org.