Penn State celebrates International Women's Day with Global Connections

April 08, 2016

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — "Imagine you are 15 again," Angela Niazmand said to her audience at the International Women’s Day awards ceremony, held March 15 at the Days Inn in State College. “I’ll give you a few seconds to remember how you felt. And I’ll tell you that at that age, not many of us felt ready for marriage, for a family.”

And yet, that’s exactly the age that Niazmand, the keynote speaker, was forced into an arranged marriage as a child bride in Kabul, Afghanistan. A year later, her daughter was born and then at the age of 17, Niazmand found herself a widow in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.

“Even a painful story can have a successful ending if you set a goal and work toward achieving it,” Niazmand said. Though she was forced to leave school at a ninth-grade level and faced severe restrictions under the Taliban government, Niazmand realized that education was the only way to empower herself and her daughter, and spent the next five years running a secret school in her in-laws’ basement, risking her life to teach girls reading, writing and mathematics.

Around the world, communities celebrate women like Niazmand and their achievements on International Women’s Day. Hosted by Global Connections, Penn State’s International Women’s Day celebration brought together people from across the University and State College community to recognize the achievements of six women and a nonprofit organization in furthering global citizenship and women’s rights.

Global Connections Director Marc McCann said Penn State’s core belief in internationalism made the day possible.

“During the speeches, I looked around and saw the focus, the rapt attention that everyone had. People like this, stories like Angela’s, they’re often the nudge that people need to be more inclined to speak up for others around campus. Whether it’s talking with Muslim women or standing with people of color, what we’re creating here is congruent with President Eric Barron’s plan to foster diversity at Penn State.”

Award recipients from Penn State were Shoba Sivaprasad Wadhia, Samuel Weiss Faculty Scholar and Penn State Law professor; Clarisa Capone Huizenga, graduate student and student teacher; Daniela Robledo Vallejos, graduate student in the master of international affairs program; and Yanying Chen, a senior accounting major and founder of the student organization Global Integration. Other award recipients included high school senior Anzhouyu Wang, Frances Shreves, and the Jana Marie Foundation.

Wadhia, who is the founder and director of the Center for Immigrants’ Rights Clinic, said she was humbled to receive the award, and that she was happy to have an impact on the lives of the people at Penn State and in the community in relation to integration and education around immigration policy. In the past, Wadhia and McCann have collaborated with State College Borough on a town hall meeting addressing immigration in State College.

Chen, who won the undergraduate award, has been a Global Connections volunteer and translator for the last two years, and created her organization, Global Integration, to provide a platform for international undergraduate students to make American friends while at Penn State.

“I was shocked to learn that many international students have no close American friends,” Chen said. The group has around 40 members, and she hopes it will continue to grow.

Sarah Dufour, the Global Connections program coordinator, said that in choosing awardees, the committee had looked for the qualities of strength, resilience and variation in the range of what women can achieve.

“What I enjoy about bringing this international celebration to a local level is that it shows in every small place in the world, there are women doing great things to improve their lives and the lives of those around them,” Dufour said.

Since the Taliban’s fall, Niazmand has earned two bachelor’s degrees and now, as a Humphrey Fellow, is learning about best practices in higher education administration. Next year, she and her daughter will be starting their master’s degrees together, and after that, Niazmand plans to return to Afghanistan to continue recruiting women for the American University of Afghanistan and to create a support network so that more women and girls are able to pursue their educations.

Last Updated April 08, 2016