Oakland Mayor Jean Quan: Making history, striving for a difference
Not only is Quan the first woman mayor of Oakland, but she also is the first Asian American elected to that office in 2010. She discussed her views on women in politics, the state of women today, and women's access to math and science careers.
It was fitting for Quan to return to Livermore, the city where she was born and attended school. She remembered being one of only a handful of Asian students at Granada High School. Livermore "was not as diverse then," she said, not like the California cities of today.
"Oakland is one of the most diverse cities in the world," she said. She described her hometown as a gateway for Asian immigrants in the past.
"Today, our children grow up in a world where they know different cultures," she added. About her work as mayor, Quan said, "The personal touch is still important," but suggested that combining the personal with a high tech approach can be successful. When she walks through the city she gets lots of hugs from young girls and is welcomed by Asian Americans. While campaigning last year, she combed Oakland neighborhoods, knocking on doors, getting to know people.
About her challenges in the political arena, Quan believes that women in power still face discrimination.
"Even though we have come a long way, we are still waiting for the first woman president." She said a question she was often asked while running for office was, "Are you tough enough to be mayor?" Having served on Oakland's school board, where tough budget decisions are made regularly and emotions run high, she emphatically replied, 'yes.' "School board members deserve their place in heaven," she quipped.
Introducing young women to positive role models in math and science careers is important to Quan. However, because of many budget cuts, she believes the current state of public education is "a national disgrace."
In addition, Quan spoke about the Oakland Technical Pre-Engineering Academy program, where "kids get a chance to see what scientists do."
Everybody can help to give young people hopes and dreams, she told the audience.
As a member of the board of the Chabot Space and Science Center, Quan said she is proud of her work that promotes teaching science and math to girls. "Why is that important? Because this gives you a different face of science," she said.
In particular, the young people she strives to help in Oakland are those who are in trouble with the law, young people ending their time in foster care and facing homelessness, or chronic absentees from school. She emphasized that training young people for jobs and getting them interested in after school programs can help the crime rate drop.
Quan said her goals are to help the schools and at the same time bring the crime rate down. Can she accomplish these? "We'll see," she concluded.
The talk was sponsored by the Director's Office, Lawrence Livermore Laboratory's Women's Association (LLLWA) and Asian Pacific American Council (APAC).