Vancouver’s Ally Orr is a trailblazer.
In just a few months, Orr has raised nearly $150,000 to support women in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and law fields at Boise State University.
And she’s just 22 years old.
Though the Prairie High School graduate now speaks proudly and fondly of her efforts to create a new scholarship fund for her fellow and incoming Broncos, Orr’s inspiration to launch the fundraiser came from a place of frustration and disappointment.
At the National Conservatism Conference in Orlando, Fla., last fall, a Boise State professor, Scott Yenor, stated that independent women are “medicated, meddlesome and quarrelsome” in a speech to the crowd of hundreds.
Yenor continued on to directly advocate against women being able to pursue fields in STEM and law.
“Every effort must be made not to recruit women into engineering, but rather to recruit and demand more of men who become engineers. Ditto for med school, and the law, and every trade,” he said.
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News of the professor’s words quickly spread to the internet, local TV stations and, finally, the Boise State campus.
“I won’t even say his name,” Orr said. “ I thought, ‘Wow, this is really the 1800s.’ I was so shocked that someone in his position would actually have the nerve to say that.”
As student outrage from Yenor’s comments spread across Boise State’s campus, Orr felt it was an unproductive pattern she’d seen before. She recalls another incident in 2017, when Yenor’s anti-transgender comments brewed similar outcry.
“All I could think about is how he loves this attention,” Orr said. “Everyone got mad, and then he wrote more books and got more attention. I thought, ‘The same thing is going to happen again.’ So we have to do something more substantial about it.”
Her urge for a tangible response quickly transformed into a GoFundMe that would direct funds directly toward young, female students and future applicants interested in studying the fields that Yenor had sought to discourage.
Orr launched the GoFundMe with an email to hundreds of staff members with the subject line “Scholarship for medicated, meddlesome and quarrelsome women.”
In just six weeks, the fundraiser ballooned past $100,000.
Amid the success, Orr said, was the chaos of making sure the funding would go where she had intended — at first, it started pouring into her own bank account. She quickly had to seek the help of Boise State’s scholarship office to get situated and work with the right people.
She also said the process has opened her eyes to just how deeply rooted discrimination is in policymaking on a variety of levels. At one point, Orr had to get the scholarship around sex-based discrimination laws, since the fund would be directed specifically toward women.
“It was a bit of an obstacle, maybe because I wasn’t taken super-seriously as a 22-year-old donor,” Orr said, laughing.
As the fund continued to gain steam, dozens of media outlets caught wind of Orr’s efforts. In the weeks since launching it, Orr has done interviews with People Magazine, Idaho News and even made an appearance on ABC-TV’s “Good Morning America.”
Though exciting, and huge for the scholarship, Orr admits it got to be a bit much. “I almost said, ‘I’m done’ a month ago,” she said. “It was unsustainable, three to four interviews a day, going live on TV. All these different things. I have a job. I have a school. I have the scholarship.”
The attention, however, has helped keep Orr grounded, she said.
“I’ve never been in the spotlight like this, I’ve learned to be careful with my words. As much as I am angry that (Yenor) is still on campus, the best thing I can do is continue and keep the scholarship positive.”
Orr plans to graduate this spring with a degree in marketing, and she’s considering pursuing a law degree. Before she leaves, however, she wants to ensure that the fund, now formally known as the Women in STEM, Medicine and Law Scholarship, will live on past her tenure in Boise.
“One thing I want to do is create a scholarship separate from (Boise State), I want to allow any student to apply,” Orr said. “Our current goal is $150,000, which I think we’ll hit in the next few weeks.”
Orr is extremely grateful for the support she’s seen from the Prairie High community and those across Clark County. With every message of encouragement from women she’s received, Orr said it only makes her want to do more.
“It breaks my heart seeing how much it resonates with so many people from so many ages and demographics,” she said. “The money part is so important, but I think it’s the message of the scholarship that keeps me going.”