Degrees of Success: Societas Docta Awards Tonight at 7 p.m.

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From Scene staff writer Ron Wynn: Tonight the education organization Societas Docta holds its annual Nefertiti Awards and scholarship banquet at the Sheraton Music City Hotel, 777 McGavock Pike. A reception begins at 6:30 p.m., followed by the banquet at 7. This year's theme is "Impacting Tomorrow with Women Who Make A Difference." Tonight's event honors Dr. Valerie Montgomery-Rice, founder of the Center for Women's Health Research at Meharry Medical College. The center is the first of its kind anywhere in the country devoted to research and examination of the disparate impact of various diseases on women of color, and Rice has emerged as a national voice and key figure in the field of reproductive endocrinology. The evening's speaker will be Dr. Gwendolyn Lee, national president of The Links, Inc. The importance of education in the battle for social change and advancement has been emphasized by many groups across America. But the Nashville chapter of Societas Docta, Inc. -- an organization that began in Atlanta in 1987, and now has branches in several cities -- targets a very specific constituency with its message of enhanced self-esteem and improved status through knowledge. Societas Docta (which roughly translates as "society of doctors") mentors black women, providing them verbal support and personal example as well as scholarship assistance. Its goal is to encourage more African American women to pursue advanced degrees in various disciplines, especially those fields where there's a keen shortage of black advanced degree holders. Every member is either a medical doctor or holder of a Ph.D. or corresponding law or business degree. They reaffirm to young women the value of hard work, sacrifice and knowing their history. "Trying to get an advanced degree is tough enough without any other obstacles being put in your path," says Dr. Monique Robinson-Wright, president of the organization's local chapter. "One thing that we've done over the years is expand our outreach from just the high schools and colleges to the lower grades and the middle and elementary schools. You've got to get the message out early about the advantages of education and create an attitude where students really enjoy learning and want to get their advanced degrees." Even if women don't make it all the way to getting their doctorates, Wright says, the experience of mentoring and being around successful, educated women is a good one. "One of the things that's critical is identifying early those women who do want to go on to college and graduate, law or med schools," she explains, "finding out what their problems or family situations might be and doing what we can as an organization to help them. Sometimes that entails helping out with books or expenses. Sometimes it's just being there to give them some encouragement or let them know that others have gone through what they are dealing with now and that they aren't alone." Wright adds that she sees Societas Docta as a vital part of the tradition of work and service championed by fraternities and sororities, networking groups and other entities throughout the African American community. In addition, she feels the organization has made substantial inroads in its tenure, and that the Nashville chapter's reach and impact will continue growing. Tickets to Friday night's event are $50 and may be purchased directly from several members. These include Dr. Wright (monique.wright (at) volstate.edu), Dr. May Alice Ridley (mayalice.ridley (at) tn.gov), Dr. Jackie Mitchell (jmitchell (at) tnstate.edu), and Dr. Sabrina Finney (sfinney (at) mmc.edu).

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