Speaker series empower young women scholars

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Imagine what it would be like to have a career day, where professionals and community members visit a school to share their experiences not just one day a year but on a regular basis.

Associate superintendent Nancy Bernardino, who was the founding principal of the school and the late Jennifer Turner, the founding assistant principal, came up with Wisdom Wednesdays, also known as Wonder Woman Wednesdays, and Fierce Female Fridays.

“To believe that they have potential in STEM and careers that are in leadership, they need to be able to see women who look like them almost on a weekly basis,” said principal Olivia Santos.

That idea evolved into a regular speaker series, where the presenters are asked to prepare a two- to three-minute presentation. They share things like how they became interested in their career, and, as women, what obstacles they overcame.

Since its inception, the speaker series invites everyone – from presidents and CEOs, to Zumba instructors, doctors and teachers, to share their experience with Solar Prep students. Philanthropist and Microsoft trailblazer Melinda Gates was even one of the guest speakers.

“I think it’s really just figuring out how to make sure that we are encouraging girls to be able to see themselves in different roles and then what that looks like for them,” Santos said.

During their presentation, participants are asked to share a piece of advice with the students and end their conversation with a question. For example, a speaker might say something like “I’ve had to practice a lot of empathy in my career. And so my question to you is, ‘When have you shown empathy this week?’” Students will then turn and talk to each other and have a conversation and then come back to the group.

“We want to make sure that we are representing the whole idea for them to be able to see themselves in these individuals and know they have experienced the challenges that we know that our girls may face in their future,” Santos said.

School leadership wants the students to see men who are willing to empower and uplift women, so they also occasionally invite men who are strong role models in the community to be part of the speaker series. One of the biggest takeaways from the speaker series is seeing how much it changes the girls’ perspective of what they can be, Santos said.

“When we were young, you might have said things like we want to be a doctor or a police officer or a teacher or a nurse or something like that,” she said. “We have girls who now talk about being physicists or stem cell researchers. There’s just such a wide variety of professions, and students need to be exposed to these many different options.”

 

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