By Nicole Villalpando
The high school girls at Girls Empowerment Network’s Pathfinder Leadership Summit are mingling with professional women at the Austin headquarters of Google Fiber. The last time these girls were in this building was probably when it was the Austin Children’s Museum. Now they are all grown up and learning skills to help them find a pathway toward a career.
Sometimes camps for high-schoolers are hard to find, plus there’s pressure kids face of doing something in the summer to advance college applications. This camp provides that, and not for thousands of dollars, either.
The girls apply to be part of the camp and pay $450 for six days of interacting with professional women at different businesses throughout Austin. Scholarships also are available.
On this day, the girls and mentors start with a game of “Would You Rather?” Questions are asked, like, “If you had to take a test, would you choose an essay where you can free write and explain all your thoughts or would you choose a multiple choice exam?” The group divides by their answer into different corners of the room and starts talking to someone they haven’t met.
Later, they have a speed mentorship round (much like speed dating). The girls sit on one side of the table, the mentors on the other side. The girls have a series of questions to ask like: How did you end up in your current job? What did you learn in college and how does it impact your current job? What skills do you do every day?
Then Ami Kane, development director at GEN, tell the group that “because our girls have a ton of knowledge and expertise as well” the mentors should ask questions, too, such as: What do you want to do after college? What are you most excited about? What makes you nervous?
Kane tells the girls that they should go off-script if they get to a table and are like “Oh, my God, she has my dream job! I don’t care about any of these questions.”
The speed mentoring begins and through multiple rounds, the girls meet all kinds of women with real jobs. Sandra Bryant, a benefit specialist at the University of Texas, tells Unique Shanklin, a Bowie High School ninth-grader, about pursuing her dream: “Go for it. Don’t be shy. Jump out there.”
Bryant advises Unique to read a lot to increase her future knowledge.
Sheila Garcia, who is in marketing, talks to Riya Chaundhry, a McNeil sophomore, about high school. She shares with Riya that in high school she didn’t want to ask questions. “It’s OK to ask for help,” Garcia says. She advises Riya, who wants to be a pediatrician, to reach out to a pediatrician to find a mentor.
Mackenzie Abbitt, an 11th-grader at Hendrickson High School, shows her art portfolio to Sandra Bucklin, who is in marketing at Rackspace. “Continue to nurture your passion,” Bucklin advises. “I think this is amazing. … You have the talent. You just need the confidence.”
Sydnee Williams, a 12th-grader at Vandegrift High School, called Pathfinder “empowering and inspirational.” “They care about you, and they want the best for you as well,” she said.
GEN wants girls to come out of the conference with confidence and skills, says Blair Stirek, project manager for GEN. “We want them to learn about public speaking and how to write a résumé but also we want them to find their path,” she says. “We want all the opportunities presented to them, and they can choose what to do with their lives.”
Rithi Mulgaonker, a 12th-grader at LASA high school, said she came to Pathfinder with an idea about what she wanted to do, but “my mind has been open, my eyes have been open. Now I’m kind of flustered. … I feel like I haven’t been exposed to this much advice and leadership skills ever. … I have met numerous women who are inspirational, passionate about their jobs and are super educated in whatever field they want to go in.”
The experience would help any woman, says Kayla Ford, an 11th-grader at Akins High School. “If you do this, you’re getting a head start and different connections to help you,” she said.
Pathfinder is about girls discovering “their unique strengths,” Stirek said. “We want them to get excited about that and their futures.”
Pathfinder Leadership Summit
What: Girls Empowerment Network’s personal and professional development program.
Where: Girls Empowerment Network’s Office, 3000 S. Interstate 35, Suite 400.
Who: Girls entering ninth grade-12th grade.
When: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. June 12-16 and 10 a.m.-7 p.m. June 17.
Cost: $450, scholarships available.
GEN also has camps for younger girls. Find more at girlsempowermentnetwork.org.