Young women learn career tips at JA Symposium

Junior Gonzalez

Near the entrance to the Ballroom of the Roses at the Wyndham Garden York in West Manchester Township, the booth for visitors was accessorized with brightly colored heels with flowers and ribbons popping from the shoe's insole.

“We like to say your shoes are the path to success,” said Joy Cobb, manager of the annual Junior Achievement program JA Symposium. More than 100 students from schools across York County participated in the program, which aims to prepare young women to succeed in the workforce.

The daylong event included segments designed to help the students transition from adolescence to a successful career in adulthood.

“They deserve a very fun day with businesswomen,” Cobb said.

The event covered interview skills, social media management and proper workplace attire, among many other topics.

Cobb said upon looking at many of the registration forms, she saw a pattern in career fields such as investigator, photographer and psychologist, but few were outside of the box.

“They don’t know what’s out there,” she said.

The symposium took place a day after Equal Pay Day, which points out the time a woman must work through the following year to make the same annual salary as a man in an identical position. This year, it was April 4.

Silhouette: The symposium began with an icebreaker — a human silhouette.

The students, split from their home district peers, were grouped in tables across the ballroom. Each table was given a silhouette, and students filled the outline with features they thought would make a successful woman.

Later in the day, one of the students from the winning table, Dimone Fleming of Dover Area High School, said the group tried to create a woman without gender-defined labels.

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She recalled the engineer who spoke during the career panels to describe why they drew a strong heroine.

"You don’t normally think of a woman when you think of an engineer,” Dimone said, “so she’s like a superhero.”

At their tables, students were paired with two local leaders to mentor them through their assignments. At one of the tables sat Irene Hudson, director of the York College Community Opportunity Scholarship Program.

Hudson, who has participated as a mentor for the past three symposiums, said she appreciates the number of issues the event tackles at once.

"What I love about this program are the application skills. It helps them work on their communication skills, motivates them on physical fitness and mental toughness," she said. "It's designed to empower them holistically."

Financial literacy: One eye-opening moment for many of the students was a budget activity.

Each table had a different career path, such as a paralegal, bookkeeper and schoolteacher. The students had to calculate how much money they would spend on bills and home payments, as well as groceries and amenities, such as getting their nails done.

"No! I have like $70 left!" said Hannah Plotkin, a sophomore at York Suburban High School, who was trying to come up with a budget on a bookkeeping job. By the time the assignment was over, she had just $36 in spending money, but luckily, she figured out a plan to buy a car.

"After a year, I'd be able to buy the Jeep that I wanted," Hannah said.

Another student came away with a different learning experience.

"I learned to care more about my education to not have a job like this," said Kristen Sweets, a sophomore at Central York High School.

Hudson said becoming financially literate is an essential component to becoming successful in the workforce, and part of becoming financially literate is the choice of one's career path.

"There are select careers to have a quality of life that they'd want," she said. "They need to know that."

'Follow your passion': The panelists came from a range of professions and spoke at length about the path to their current careers. Speakers included an artist, a chemist, a construction company owner and even a mayor.

“It’s always a great opportunity to give back, particularly to girls,” said York City Mayor Kim Bracey.

She said she has attended the event for several years and loves to see the girls from all walks of life come together.

“There’s just something special about this event to me,” she said. During her career panel, Bracey said, she told her group of students to "follow your passion."

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“Do something that you truly love doing,” she said, adding, "getting up in the morning won’t be that hard.”

Bracey said she finds the students are surprised when she recalls her path to public service.

“I went to school to be a nurse,” she said, but she ended up in the Air Force. “But I always wanted to give back and do some form of public service.”

One quality Bracey said is the most important for any young woman trying to succeed is honesty.

“You have to stay true to what you believe and say,” she said. “Your word is your bond.”

Bracey said that includes showing up on time, staying engaged in interactions and always speaking the truth.

"Your integrity is everything,” she said.