Sometimes the hardest part of getting into a conversation is recognizing that you have something to contribute.

In an age where it seems everyone's opinion is readily available on blogs, Twitter and Facebook, there are still some people who don't chime in enough.

"A lot of women who have thoughts that are worth sharing, who should be thought leaders, don't see themselves that way," said Alison Piepmeier, director of Women's and Gender Studies at the College of Charleston.

That's where The OpEd Project comes in.

College of Charleston faculty and staff participated in the national project which encourages women to make their voices heard by coaching them on how to identify an area of expertise, where they can speak with authority. Then they write op-ed submissions to newspapers, news magazines and websites.

Beyond gender barriers

Female faculty and staff are certainly confident in their areas of scholarly research.

"All of us have had things published in the specific area of our research," Piepmeier said. "That's written for a really specific audience."

The OpEd project teaches women at colleges and universities, as well as community leaders and those in women's organizations, how to translate an area of expertise into something for a more general audience.

You probably don't see a ton of women-written opinion pieces or editorials in most newspapers, including this one. Unfortunately, that's a national trend.

According to The OpEd Project's website, op-eds written by women constitute only 16 percent to 30 percent of what you see in a given week in print and online.

"We're not seeing (women) write op-eds. We're not seeing them on the news," Piepmeier said. "It's not because women don't have things worth saying, it's because we're not training women to be thought leaders."

Beyond publication

You might have read Alison Smith's defense of College of Charleston students, or her piece about a women's co-op of coffee growers in Nicaragua, both of which were published in The Post and Courier. Smith is an affiliated faculty member in the college's department of French, Francophone and Italian studies, as well as in Women's and Gender Studies. Piepmeier also published a piece in The State about prenatal testing. And they're just two of the published participants.

"It was absolutely one of the most incredible experiences I've ever had," Smith said. Smith not only got great feedback, she received public speaking invitations. Creating continuing dialogues is another goal of The OpEd Project.

"Not only are you getting more opinions out there … but it also creates new opportunities for exchanging thoughts," Smith said.

That ensures the project will have long-lasting benefits for women at C of C, Piepmeier said.

"The point is you have thoughts and knowledge that the world needs," Piepmeier said. "I'm so glad that we connected with them."

We should be too.