March 21, 2024

Power in numbers, equality in education

More than a century into their mission, the changemakers behind the Calgary chapter of the Canadian Federation of University Women are still making history
selfie of a young woman
Receiving the CFUW Centennial Arts Scholarship allowed student Sophia Shtepa to help organize the relocation of family back home in Ukraine Courtesy Sophia Shtepa

Inspired in part by a suggestion from the first woman to ever hold a professorial chair at a medical school, a small-but-mighty group of early 20th-century Canadian feminists got together to change the game.

A lecture by British physiologist Dr. Winifred Cullis, who was visiting Toronto in 1919, about the need for greater access to education and employment for women, struck a chord with the growing number of university-educated women in Canada who envisioned a more-equitable future in professions such as medicine, law, journalism, nursing and social work.

This inspiration more than 100 years ago still underpins the philanthropic work of the Canadian Federation of University Women (CFUW), whose Calgary chapter recently endowed 10 scholarships at the University of Calgary. 

Driven to “achieve educational and economic equality and social justice through continuous learning and empowerment,” per CFUW’s mission, members of the Calgary chapter — one of 100 such clubs across the country — have long supported multiple student awards across all faculties. Their dedication to creating a better future not only for women but for other equity-deserving individuals and groups includes their milestone establishment of UCalgary’s first Indigenous student award in the Faculty of Arts. 

Celebrating 100 years

In celebration of their recent centennial, the scholarships stand out as extraordinary examples of the power of collective giving. Indeed, over the years, dozens of local CFUW members have contributed more than a quarter-million dollars to UCalgary, funds raised by women like past-president Judy McCaffrey, BA’82, who is committed to driving equal opportunity in education. 

woman in a feathered hat, raising her arm

CFUW past-president Judy McCaffrey

Courtesy of Judy McCaffrey

“My passion — or you could say my obsession, my addiction — is supporting students with scholarships,” says McCaffrey, who co-organizes a variety of fundraising events such as themed dinner parties, costume jewelry sales and, most recently, a vintage fashion show, to raise student-award funds. 

McCaffrey herself has a graduate scholarship in her name and, along with her fellow members, recently raised enough money to endow a scholarship in celebration of a friend’s 85th birthday (a decade earlier, they named the scholarship for the same friend on her 75th).

“It’s about payback,” says McCaffrey. “Many of us had scholarships going through school and we want others to have the same opportunities.”

Scholarship allows student to help family in Ukraine

A recent recipient of the CFUW’s Centennial Arts Scholarship, undergraduate student Sophia Shtepa, says the support has empowered her to forge a clearer path in her academic life, as well as take more meaningful steps in the direction of her career. 

“The scholarship has allowed me to focus on my future rather than on survival,” says Shtepa. As she studied for her Bachelor of Arts in geography (major in urban studies degree, with a minor in communications and media), Shtepa learned more than she’d like about survival: last year, she took a semester off to help organize the relocation of family back home in Ukraine. 

“There wasn’t a lot I could do from here, but it was a very stressful time, and I was able to help with arrangements to get them to the Romanian border,” says Shtepa. 

Diverting her energy to her family meant Shtepa not only missed school, but she also couldn’t work as many hours as a research assistant. When she learned she’d been awarded a CFUW scholarship, Shtepa was beyond relieved. 

“My savings were running very low, and the scholarship has made a huge difference in terms of being able to pay my tuition for the fall semester,” she says. And that, she says, “means I’ve had more time to research and network in the area of digital technologies and smart cities.” 

After a tough year, Shtepa looks forward to her spring convocation feeling more empowered than ever to take on the world (or, at least, one urban centre at a time). 

nine women posing for a photo at a long table

Members of the Calgary chapter of the Canadian Federation of University Women

A recipient of student awards during her own university years, Dr. Aoife Mac Namara, PhD, dean of the Faculty of Arts, is regularly moved by the generous impulse of donors to enrich and empower students via scholarships. 

“Philanthropy is integral to student success,” she says. “By lifting a financial burden, a student award can also alleviate emotional stress and build confidence — a scholarship can take a student from just getting through to really soaring in their education and plans for the future.” 

The women who give through the CFUW, says Mac Namara, “are remarkable for their consistency of giving and their demonstration of how a few dozen caring people can dramatically change young lives for the better.”

Just as a single spark can ignite a roaring flame, philanthropy is the catalyst that starts something special at the University of Calgary. Explore more stories about the difference we’re making in the community and around the world with the support of donors like you.

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