On May 11, 2019 the PowHERful Foundation brought its Enrichment Conference to IBM Austin. The free empowerment summit for young women ages 14-23 gave high school and college-aged girls the chance to explore different career options, access guidance and advice, and interact with successful professionals.
The PowHerful Foundation invited me to attend the Austin PowHERful Summit and interview some of the speakers and conference leaders.
Free PowHERful Enrichment Conference at IBM Austin Gives Young Women Career Guidance and Tools
What is PowHERful?
While covering Hurricane Katrina, Soledad O’Brien, one of the co-founders of PowHerful, realized the financial help was not quite enough. An application for a $1000 roof fix only provided $800. She noticed the trend in education too. For example, a young woman might get a $2,500 scholarship, which is great, but that wasn’t enough to get her through college. So, Soledad O’Brien decided to create a foundation with the mission of getting young women to and through college.
She realized that the issue wasn’t just the finances and getting these girls to college. In fact, another problem was getting them through college. It requires a lot of emotional support to get through college. As a few examples, there’s course selection, internships, finding mentors, getting tutoring, and then eventually finding a job or continuing education with graduate school.
PowHerful Foundation Mission
The PowHerful Foundation’s mission is to get women to, and through college. The foundation provides financial assistance, mentorship, and other services in order to help these young women achieve their highest potentials.
In this video, Soledad O’Brien talks about how PowHerful started and how the foundation is helping young women.
The PowHerful Foundation Enrichment Conference Series
Soledad O’Brien and Jesus Mantas (General Manager and Managing Partner for Digital Innovation in IBM Global Business Services) met during the promotion of the movie Hidden Figures. Jesus had the idea to put together what the foundation was already doing with a hands-on approach to technology. He wanted to give these girls an introduction to technology with hands-on experiences from experts.
On November 11, 2017, PowHERful and IBM held the first collaborative partnership in Austin. It was a daylong summit for young women to help them explore career options, interact with successful professionals, and receive guidance and advice.
2019 Austin Enrichment Conference with PowHerful and IBM
At the 2019 Enrichment Conference at IBM in Austin, experts lead discussions about STEM, finance, digital literacy, college readiness, health, and more. There was even an Artificial Intelligence workshop where the girls created an AI-powered application from scratch!
Interview with Jesus Mantas, Renée Joslyn, and Sheba Turk at 2019 Enrichment Conference: Austin, Texas
During the summit, I sat down to talk with Jesus Mantas, Renée Joslyn (Executive Director of PowHerful Foundation), and Sheba Turk (TV anchor/host and scholar alum of the PowHERful Foundation). During our chat, we discussed work-life balance, college decisions, entering adulthood, and more.
Should everyone go to college?
During the interviews, we talked about the decision to go to college and whether everyone should go to college. Renée says it’s about following who you are depending on what you want to do. For example, she says, “If you want to be a doctor, then yes.”
And, if someone doesn’t know what they want to do before entering college, what should they do? Renée says mentorship is very important. It doesn’t have to be a formal mentor. These young women can talk their moms, an older sibling, or a teacher to try to figure things out. In addition, Renée suggests that these young women try lots of different things to see what their interests are.
Additionally, it’s okay to start college without knowing exactly what you want to do. Often career paths change, but it’s good to follow different pathways to help figure it out.
Jesus thinks it isn’t realistic to think that everybody is going to be able to afford to go to college. Because of this, one of the things that IBM has been doing is creating a pathway for students to learn technology and skills who may not be able to go to college. With the P-Tech program, these students can still have a good career without necessarily going to college.
When speaking with Sheba, she told me she was one of the students that couldn’t afford college. She made it through anyway, and she does feel like education is a tool to improve your circumstances. However, the problem is that the kids that need it the most are often the ones that can’t afford it.
While Sheba was in college she came close to dropping out because of financial issues, but then she met Soledad O’Brien. She happened to be a guest speaker for one of Sheba’s journalism classes. Soledad found out that Sheba was struggling to pay for college and then paid for her to finish college. That is how Sheba became the first graduate of the PowHerful Foundation. After that, Soledad became Sheba’s mentor. Sheba says this is the reason she is where she is today.
Is it realistic to love your first job?
In terms of that first job, Renée thinks the first job is hardly ever exactly what you want. She suggests trying to stick it out unless it’s an abusive situation. Even if that’s not the job for you, you are still learning a skill. At least, if all else fails, you are learning perseverance.
Jesus says it’s a journey and it takes some self-realization. You can always find something special in what you are doing and create something much bigger. To do this, it takes an attitude change to look at life that way.
As an example, Jesus says he stayed a job that no one else wanted and wrote a different story. He turned a boring job into a special story where he learned a lot. That very job ended up giving him a promotion about five years ahead of schedule.
Sheba agrees that the journey is important. She says that the great thing about these PowHerful conferences is that they sit down and talk with people about their journeys. Sheba grew up learning not to idolize someone’s endpoint since you don’t know how they got there. Therefore, she says, if you don’t idolize every step of the journey, don’t idolize the endpoint. Sheba says she helps the girls see that there are baby steps to reach your career goals.
Her first job was not a news anchor. So, when Sheba meets girls that want to be news anchors too, she gives them the steps that it takes to get there. She stresses that you need the other parts of the journey to be good at the thing that you want.
How should young women create a work-life balance?
According to Renée, what works well for many to create a work-life balance is taking the time in the morning to be still and be in your space. During this time, think about what you want to achieve that day and how you want your day to look. She’s also a big believer in not staying too late at work. If you don’t finish something on your list, then put it on the list for the following day. It’s okay.
As a way to balance life, Jesus says he was always doing different activities than the things he was doing at work or school. In life, it’s important to balance art with science or academics with sports.
When you are starting your career it can be difficult to have a good work-life balance. Jesus says he thinks that in order to develop mastery you have to put in the hours. There is a lot of work that goes into getting good at something. His advice is to never forget to enjoy the journey. It’s not just about the destination or the next milestone.
Sheba says her answer to work-life balance is to be off balance at times. Her balance right now doesn’t look like these perfectly balanced days. Sheba works really hard eleven months out of the year and then takes the last month off. It might not be the perfect work-life balance, but it’s what works for her right now. She says there are times your life won’t be balanced, especially when you are just starting out and feel the need to move upwards.
What are important things to know for adulthood?
According to Renée, the first most important thing when entering adulthood is creating a budget. After paying for rent, essentials, food, and savings, girls should also allow some money for a night out or other fun things. She highly recommends saving money from the start. Even if they can just save a little bit, anything is better than nothing.
For Jose, he says to get over the idea that just because they haven’t done something, that doesn’t mean that they can’t or won’t do it. Today, he found it interesting when he asked a question to some of the girls in the mentoring session. He asked them that if before today, they thought they would be able to program an artificial intelligence chatbot. They said, “No, absolutely not”. Then, he asked if the girls thought they would be able to do it now and they said, “Absolutely.” He hopes they can bottle that and apply it to many aspects of their lives.
In addition, Jose says to really spend time learning soft skills such as collaboration and being able to really listen and read situations. Soft skills help you understand purposes and motives. To work on this, there are more and more training and institutions that give you guidance. Step number one is just being aware.
How should young women stay informed with current events?
First of all, Renée says don’t rely on your social media to get your news. She still believes in traditional media sources. She recommends looking at several different sources and types of sources. For example, if you are conservative look at progressive points of views, and if you are progressive look at conservative views. Start dialogues and talk to people with different points of view.
Jesus says the good news is that you can find information anywhere, but you have to anchor on which sources, people, and institutions are you going to trust. Then, once you have that clear, start the compass on those points. With any source that you read, he says it’s important to try to understand their purpose. There is a lot of de-biasing that can be done if you are very clear on the purpose.
More Information about PowHerful and How You Can Help
If you would like more information about the PowHerful Foundation and how you can help, be sure to visit the website at powherful.org.