Empowering young leaders: Amazon employees mentor Baker students to prepare for college, careers

Published 6:00 pm Wednesday, January 24, 2018

partnership between a group of women from the Amazon Customer Service Center in Winchester and Baker Intermediate School aims to help young girls feel more empowered as leaders in their school and as they strive for college and career readiness.

The program is facilitated by Partners in Education and was born out of Amazon’s Women in Leadership program.

On Monday, three Amazon employees — Melanie Derrick, Stephanie Maciag and Brittany Smith — met with a few dozen fifth- and sixth-grade girls to talk about career aspirations, overcoming fears and networking.

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Through the program, the women hope to start conversations about career aspirations among young girls.

“When I was younger, there wasn’t a lot conversation about career opportunities,” Smith said. “I think it’s our goal to start those conversations now and help motivate these young girls that if they try, the probability of success is great. If we start talking about it with young girls, we can hopefully get them excited about their career opportunities.”

Through various themes and assignments, the program offers mentorship but also allows the students to think critically about how their current interests could manifest into a professional career.

This week’s theme was “Just try it.” The students were asked to talk about situations where they felt intimidated or nervous to try something different, meet someone new or reach out to others.

They shared stories about feeling inadequate in their extracurriculars or disliking feeling too competitive with other girls their age. Students left with “homework” designed to get them talking with people working in the careers they are interested in, and the options were varied.

One wants to be a prenatal nurse, another an artist. There were aspiring attorneys, a marine biologist hopeful and a professional soccer player in training. Each was encouraged to find a connection outside their home, whether it be a family friend, a teacher or a community leader, to learn from.

The whole point, Derrick said, is to get young girls thinking about the many career possibilities open to them.

“There has been a shift in society that allows women more career choices,” she said. “We want to make sure younger girls are aware that the options are there and the sky’s the limit for them.”

Derrick, Maciag and Smith all participate in the Women In Leadership program, a grassroots effort to bring females in their workplace together for workshops on personal and career development, Maciag said. The program also allows newer, younger females in leadership roles to network with other leaders who have more experience.

Participants were looking for a way to spread the cause outside Amazon’s walls. That’s where Greg Yates, PIE’s executive director, came in.

He connected the women with Baker Intermediate School Assistant Principal Susan Jacobs who helped identify groups of girls to participate in the mentorship-style program.

So far, the team has met with groups of 15 to 30 girls in November through December and will finish with the current groups in February. They will continue meeting with groups in March through April. The groups meet for about 20 minutes to talk, learn and connect with women who might offer role modeling or guidance outside their school or home.

“If you ask a young girl who her role model is, she will most likely say her mom or her teacher,” Maciag said. “Which is great, I’m sure all our moms rock. But I also think it’s important for young girls to have other positive role models.”

For Jacobs, bringing community members into the school to mentor students is always positive, particularly when it aims students toward college and career readiness.

“These are girls with bright futures and good grades,” Jacobs said. “It’s great to see someone from the community want to come in and continue having a positive impact. We are always open to anyone who wants to mentor students. I particularly like how this program is about empowering young girls to know their potential and to become leaders.”

About Whitney Leggett

Whitney Leggett is managing editor of The Winchester Sun and Winchester Living magazine. To contact her, email whitney.leggett@winchestersun.com or call 859-759-0049.

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