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Eureka! Students Discover the Power of Networking

By Cori Mattli, YWCA Strategic Communications Specialist
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Professional networking might be a foreign concept for most high school students, but those in the YWCA Minneapolis Girls Inc. Eureka! Program learned it is as easy as saying hello and offering a handshake.

Eureka! is a five-year summer and school year program for girls focused on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM). Last week, a group of high school students from the program came together to get real-life practice and demystify the process. Teresa Thomas, Director of Women in Networking, presented a Networking 101 training and professionals from across the Twin Cities volunteered their time to help the students practice.

Networking 101

“What comes to mind when you think about networking?” Teresa Thomas started. The youth threw out a couple ideas: “computers!” and “social media!”

“Yes that’s true,” said Thomas, “But today we’re here to talk about a different type.” Thomas gave a quick rundown: Networking is when people come together to gain something they both want. Some tips? Ask authentic questions, listen well and make eye contact.

The students took a few minutes to write down positive things they wanted to say about themselves. Next, they buddied-up and gave it some practice. When training was over, there was a tinge of tension in the air. “Anything else before the professionals come into the room?” asked Thomas. “I’m nervous!” one girl admitted.

Meeting Community Professionals

The room fell quiet as more than twenty community professionals arrived and introduced themselves. They were pros of all kinds – pharmacists, urban planners, software developers and lawyers. Even local star, Dessa, was there to volunteer her time and she introduced herself, humbly, as a “musician.”

Everyone found their seats for a few rounds of speed networking. The room buzzed with conversation and laughter as the Eureka! group put their skills into action. One student began: “Hi. I’m Mia.* I like getting my nails done and I want to be a lawyer.” One professional introduced herself as an Urban Planner. There was a pause and the Eureka! student responded sensibly, “Umm, can you explain what that is?”

Introducing New Careers and Building Confidence

Events like this help introduce new career paths in STEM to girls. “A lot of times, people just think about STEM fields as being doctors or medical professionals,” said JoJo Ju, Girls Inc. Internship Liaison. “An event like this, where students can meet professionals in all kinds of fields, shows them just how many different opportunities there are.” Another big impact of this event is that it helps youth build their confidence and learn the soft skills they will need in the professional world. “It’s important they practice how to talk about themselves positively to potential employers,” said Ju.

Becoming Networking Rockstars

As the event was winding down, everyone circled up and recapped what they learned. “I saw all of you become networking rock stars today!” said Jazmyn Becker, Girls Inc. Coordinator. One girl offered, “It was nerve-wracking at first but as I started talking, I got more comfortable.” Another student added, “I want to be a pharmacist now!”

Girls Inc. Career Exploration Series

This event is part of a series for Girls Inc. Eureka! students. Last month was a resume tutorial and next month will be the pinnacle event for the group – the Eureka! Internship Fair – where they will interview for internships.

As the event ended, the students were left with advice from the powerful women in the room, including one tip from musician Dessa. She offered the youth one universal piece of wisdom for career success: “Show up on time, be nice and always keep your promises.”

*Actual participant names changed.

Learn More About YWCA Girls and Youth Programs