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Off Campus: Committee of Seventy Welcomes Wendy Williams to Board of Directors
limjr [at] chop.edu (By Jillian Rose Lim)
Editor's Note: We're wrapping up our seasonal Off Campus series where we share how our Research Institute colleagues spend time when they're away from the office. In our last installment of 2021, we congratulate Wendy Reed Williams, PhD, on her new role as a board member of the Committee of Seventy.
The first time Wendy Reed Williams, PhD, received her own voter registration card in high school, it felt as big a deal as getting a degree. The importance of voting, after all, is a family legacy whose roots run deep. Growing up, Dr. Williams' parents were active members of the NAACP and other organizations focused on civic engagement, with her father routinely taking people to the polls to vote, and her mother eventually becoming an elections official.
Now, the Senior Director of Academic Training and Outreach Programs (ATOP) at CHOP says it's her turn to "do more to protect voter rights," taking on a newly appointed role as a member of the Committee of Seventy's Board of Directors.
"Voting is so much more than just casting your vote," Dr. Williams explained. "I'm really interested in helping other people understand how exactly the voting process works and de-mystify that process."
A non-partisan civic leadership organization, the Committee of Seventy seeks to advance a representative, ethical, and effective government in Pennsylvania through citizen engagement and public policy advocacy. From vigilant advocacy for fair, equitable elections to leading coalitions to educate voters, the committee has a long list of storied accomplishments. In addition to voter advocacy, the committee works toward helping people understand how governments work, finds ways to improve the voter experience, and promotes representation and transparency in government as well as public trust and openness.
For Dr. Williams, who learned of the committee from CHOP colleagues Kisha Hawthorne, PhD, senior vice president and chief information officer, and Peter Grollman, senior vice president, external affairs, joining the board seemed a natural step in contributing toward a cause she has supported all her life.
"Civic engagement and the right to vote are something that, for generations, has been extremely important to my family — it's something that we've really been passionate about and dedicated to doing and being a part of," Dr. Williams said. "The more I learned about the Committee of Seventy, the more I wanted to contribute and support their mission. They're doing all of this work in the background to make sure that our experience as voters is positive while also advocating for fair elections, representation and transparency in government, and public trust."
As a board member, Dr. Williams aims to learn more about all aspects of government and the voting structure in Pennsylvania (having grown up in Maryland), as well as the state's policy-making processes. And though her work on the committee is technically an "off campus" activity, there's inevitably an overlap between her leadership role to advance CHOP's education and research missions and what she hopes to bring to the committee to advance voter education in Philadelphia and Pennsylvania. Both responsibilities give her opportunities to advocate for children and their well-being.
"Our local, state and federal political agendas have a big impact on kids, how they are treated, and what we do as a hospital and an organization," Dr. Williams said.
At the same time, she is looking forward to spreading awareness of the outstanding outreach work conducted by ATOP to the wider community, such as CHOP-RISES, a program that introduces local students to scientific careers within the Research Institute.
"CHOP is internationally recognized as a wonderful hospital, but in terms of the Research Institute — the kind of work that we do here and what we're excited about — I'm interested in getting that word out and increasing knowledge of the Institute's part in the community," Dr. Williams said.
It is how these concepts of education, advocacy, community, and children's health blend together that makes Dr. Williams most excited to start working with the Committee of Seventy. As an African American woman in the diverse city of Philadelphia, she feels uniquely positioned to help with building those connections.
"I'd love to use my insights as an African American woman, but also as a member of the workforce, to help people understand more about the voting process, and also raise visibility of what we do here," Dr. Williams said.