Defining Their Futures

Women in Business is showing high schoolers to succeed, and how to be themselves while doing it.

When Women in Business (WIB) members presented to over 600 high school students in their fall workshops, they came bearing knowledge, skills and a message: don’t let anyone tell you what you should do or who you should be. Business is broad, flexible, full of options. Business values trailblazers.

WIB representatives worked with students at six local high schools this fall, sharing their own experiences and expertise informed by hands-on coursework and Learn by Doing opportunities. Their workshops focused on business-centric topics—professionalism, networking, career exploration, resume development—as well as college success topics like application processes, time management and self-care.

“A lot of students don’t get to learn how to write a resume or how to interview in high school,” said WIB High School Coordinator Sarah Galicinao. “We’re giving them a jump start. Simply having the time and guidance to explore your options, prepare for college, and plan your career is a huge advantage.”

Three to five women go to each school where they participate in panels and interact with students one-on-one. They’re open and honest about the college experience and what employers look for in candidates. In the networking workshop, the WIB reps role-played employers from well-known companies so the students could practice making connections. In the time management one, Galicinao put her Google calendar on the projector, full of color-coded boxes identifying meetings, classes, work and study time. “Some of it shocks the students. But it’s a good shock, an honest look at college and business skills in action,” she said.

But even more than providing practical tools for success, WIB wants to empower students to venture out, discover their passions and break the mold.

In one session at San Luis Obispo High School, WIB members asked students to discuss where they wanted to attend college, what they wanted to study, how they wanted to get involved and, most importantly, why. It encouraged the high schoolers to think about their motivations, whether they wanted to take a certain path for themselves or because they think it’s expected or because it’s the only way they know.

“The tools we give them aren’t just for career success. They also help students gain confidence to veer from the path that media or other influences might be telling them to follow. Students have so many great options open to them and we want to give them that awareness.” Galicinao said.

And the third-year accounting concentration knows how to make her own way better than most. She’s always followed her passions, no matter what others were doing. While many of her peers were interning at large accounting firms, she found work at Northrop Grumman, and aerospace and defense company. While others took office jobs on campus, Galicinao—a lifelong basketball player— followed her passion and found work with the women’s basketball team. “It’s not that the ‘typical path’ is a bad thing,” she said. “The typical path is a great experience and works for a lot of people. But if the typical path isn’t your passion, you should shift your perspective and step out of your comfort zone. You can be successful any number of ways. That’s my message to these students.”

This breaking of stereotypes is important in the world of business, which has long been male-dominated. As they teach and encourage students, WIB representatives embody female business expertise and leadership. For female high school students, seeing women in leadership roles allows them to picture themselves in similar positions. For male students, it provides different perspectives and voices, prepares them to be well-informed, empathetic coworkers.

Denise Conte, entrepreneurship teacher at Paso Robles High School, said her students appreciated seeing the WIB members as “living, breathing demonstrations of the power of women,” and that “the young men in class were so impressed.” Conte has facilitated in-class discussions about women in leadership roles, but said it’s “important for the students to see positive models in action.”

In the spring of 2016, after two years of hosting high school students for their “Defining Her Future” professional conference, WIB members decided to broaden their mentorship efforts through community outreach. So WIB alumna Annie Wilson formed a vision for the high school workshop program and put it into action. In its inaugural year, WIB members developed and delivered professionalism workshops to local high schools. And by the spring of 2018, they had recruited 100 high school students from nine different local SLO county high schools and awarded nine high school scholarships.

The program is only two years old, but between its first and second years, it nearly doubled in size. Last year, WIB members were making calls to high schools, pitching the program to guidance counselors and teachers. This year, high school teachers have been calling them. With three additional schools in the fold, WIB is bringing their practical wisdom to a broader, more diverse group of students at schools in San Luis Obispo, Paso Robles and Santa Maria.

Shelley Benson, a guidance counselor at SLO High School, loves to collaborate with WIB. Her students “love hearing from Cal Poly students because it gives them the perspective that attending a four-year university and helps them see business careers as a real possibility.” Benson has hosted WIB workshops on campus both years and also brings her students to the WIB “Defining Her Future” professional conference in the spring.

Her students can’t get enough. “They’re always asking me when the next workshop is going to be, when we’re going to the conference, when we can visit Cal Poly again” she said.

And WIB offers plenty of other opportunities for these students to stay engaged. Each year, they invite high schoolers to their “Defining Her Future” Conference, and this year, they will be starting “Wander With WIB,” a new program where students can come shadow members around campus, to see what day-to-day college life is like.

As WIB continues to expand their high school workshops, Galicinao says they are seeking ways to get involved with more underserved schools and communities. “It’s important for us to reach diverse populations, because we want everyone to have access to college and career success strategies. Everyone deserves access to explore their options. We want everyone to hear that they’re talented and that their goals can be a reality.”

In doing so, the WIB representatives continue to practice a pillar of good business leadership: lifting others up. In each workshop—college strategies, resume building, networking, time management and self-care—they present both knowledge and inspiration. “Here are the skills,” they say. “You are able and talented, now go out and do it your way.”

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