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College-bound girls ready to fly after retreat

Amari Hughes18 wipes tear as her Mother Lanette Smith reads her commitment her during Lady Butterfly 2012 Sweet RetreSaturday West

Amari Hughes,18, wipes a tear as her Mother, Lanette Smith, reads her commitment to her during the Lady Butterfly 2012 Sweet Retreat on Saturday at West Aurora High School. Amari will be attending Mississippi State University.

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Women in college

Young women headed to college may face more social challenges in their first years of college, but statistically, they’ve gained the lead on college men:

On the ACT in Illinois, the gender gap for composite scores largely has been erased since the state began testing all students. Girls, on average, score the same or a 10th of a point higher than boys in Illinois, according to ACT Inc.

Women make up almost 58 percent of all college undergraduates, and are also the majority in master’s and doctorate programs. Women also graduate at higher rates than men, and are more likely to do so on a four-year schedule.

The major exception continues to be STEM fields — science, technology, engineering and math. Just 39 percent of STEM graduates in 2007 were women, and women are particularly underrepresented in engineering.

Young college women may also find it more difficult to find mentors once they reach campus. Women account for just 25 percent of all full-tenured faculty at colleges and universities across the country.

— Jenette Sturges

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Updated: September 8, 2012 6:02AM

Every August, a new group of teenage girls experiences a new reality — last-minute campus tours, shopping for dorm furnishings, and the struggle between parents and daughter as she flies off to college, leaving the nest a little emptier.

“We did a butterfly release for the parents,” said Katrina Boatright-Smith, organizer of the two-day Lady Butterfly 2012 Sweet Retreat at West Aurora High School, for college-bound girls and their parents.

“It’s a symbol of letting her go to fly on her own.”

While the retreat aimed to put parents’ minds at ease, it was the girls at the center, learning about everything from good study habits to finding a mentor on campus this fall.

Mentors and a strong transition to the first year of college — getting involved early and taking on leadership roles — are particularly important in ensuring success, Boatright-Smith told the teens and parents.

“I heard so many incredible ladies and their mothers sharing just heartbreaking experiences about their first years away, and I thought ‘there’s something that can be done,’” she said. “When I was organizing and getting the word out, I heard so many say ‘I wish I had something like this.’”

While women have largely closed the gender gap when it comes to success in college — in 2010, more women than men had graduated from Illinois public colleges in four years — first-generation students and students from minority backgrounds still struggle.

Just 18 percent of black female students attending public universities in Illinois graduated in four years, according to 2010 data from The Chronicle of Higher Education. Among Latinas, that number was 23 percent.

Girls said they came for more advice and to be around their peers.

“I wanted to talk to girls going through the same thing,” said Carter Jordan, a Neuqua Valley graduate who will study nursing and Spanish at the University of Missouri this fall. “I wanted to see new faces and network.”

Girls also focused on managing social relationships. The weekend’s most popular event was a panel featuring the college-aged members of Boys II Men, discussing the nature of co-ed college relations.

“I got their perspective, how guys put us in categories, how they label women high or low class,” said Deandra Stewart, a recent West Aurora graduate who will be headed to Northern Illinois University in the fall.

“The advice from college guys was good,” said Cynthia Smith, also a West High grad, who will attend Clark Atlanta University in the fall. “You hear it from so many people, but when you hear it from guys, you really get it, and when you really get into a situation, you’ll think about it.”

This is the first year for the Lady Butterflies, but Boatright-Smith sees the weekend event as the beginning of something much larger.

“This is just the seed, and we’re going to make it blossom,” Boatright-Smith said. “They’re going to stay in touch and come back together over Christmas break.”

The first group of butterflies also will be asked to come back and talk to next year’s group, to help guide them and allay fears.

“I overcame a lot of fears, knowing that I’m going to be OK, and my mom’s going to be OK,” said Lanesha
Henderson, who after graduating from East Aurora High School will start at Waubonsee Community College.

But whether parents are comfortable with letting their butterflies go, time will tell.

“They said they were,” Boatright-Smith said. “But we’ll see.”

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