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  • Photos by Lisa Green | The Journal Gazette High school students from a wide range of Fort Wayne-area school districts attend the Nontraditional Employment for Women workshop, founded locally in 2017. Roundtable discussions gave the young women a chance to learn about various careers.

  • Alex Sejdinaj, co-founder of the South Bend Code School, was the keynote speaker at the workshop. She taught herself code.

  • Lisa Green | The Journal Gazette Students at a table hosted by Dr. Anna Menze from Lutheran Health Physicians learn to suture raw chicken breasts.

  • Lisa Green | The Journal Gazette Representatives from NIPSCO were among the mentors talking about nontraditional career options for women.

  • Lisa Green | The Journal Gazette Alex Sejdinaj, co-founder of the South Bend Code School, set up laptops to help show high school students that coding may be easier than they imagined. She was the NEW workshop keynote speaker.

Sunday, October 06, 2019 1:00 am

Young women see possibilities

220 hear about nontraditional jobs at seminar

LISA GREEN | The Journal Gazette

Imagine what could be.

Leaders do it all the time – or they should; they're called to be visionaries, right?

Last week, I had the opportunity to help dozens of high school students think about what could be. And they were all female. 

The opportunity came through the Nontraditional Employment for Women Workshop, held at the Ivy Tech Public Safety Academy, and the vision locally of Megan Crites, an architect at MKM architecture + design. Crites founded the Fort Wayne workshop after attending a similar event in another city.

Crites told workshop attendees she's the oldest female architect she knows in Fort Wayne and will celebrate her 40th birthday next year. She wants young girls to be aware of the widespread options. 

Many of the more than 30 women who served as mentors are in leadership roles. They included Candice Dunkin, manager of Athletic Trainers, Parkview Sports Medicine; Tracey Wilkinson, a Fort Wayne Fire Department captain; and Olivia Warner, president of Indiana Stamp. Lara Gaerte, CEO and pilot with Century Aviation, Clarice Kashuba, owner and head trainer of Flying Colors Canine Academy, and Kristina Kimpel, construction laborer with Weigand Construction, were also among the mentors.

I got connected to the workshop through a local leader who about three years ago asked me to invest some time with her, talking about leadership and management. We did lunch about three or four times over the course of a year or so.

Last week was the third year for the Nontraditional Employment for Women workshop, which had about 220 youths from various area school districts in attendance. Each mentor hosted six, 12-minute roundtable discussions about their careers with the students in the morning. They then offered students a chance to participate in hands-on experiences or other activities based on their diverse jobs.

Yalonda Naylor, described in the workshop booklet as the first black female locomotive engineer based in the Fort Wayne area, was among mentors. She offered an afternoon trivia activity for students who gathered at her table, colorfully and distinctively decorated with oversized model trains and festive “All Aboard” balloons floating overhead.

Dr. Anna Menze from Lutheran Health Physicians decided to go into health care after a medical mission trip to Jamaica in high school. She found workshop students eager to take a seat at her table where they could suture raw chicken breasts.

Students paying attention to the large projector screens in the workshop room would have benefited from the PowerPoint messages that cycled through repeatedly. They included sayings such as:

• “Women belong in places where decisions are made.”

• “We must believe that we are gifted for something, and that this thing, whatever the cost, must be attained.”

• “The question isn't who's going to let me, it's who's going to stop me.”

I felt empowered myself.

Gabby Louden, a senior at New Haven High School, said the workshop was valuable. She hasn't decided what career she might pursue.

“It's really open for me right now. Something along creative lines,” she said. “I really like to build things; like for our school musical last year, I was part of building a castle.”

Last week was Louden's first time attending the workshop.

“Honestly, I'm really glad I decided to do it,” she said during the lunch break. “There's a lot of things I've really thought about, but being able to get the actual information really helps.”

Alex Sejdinaj, co-founder of the South Bend Code School, was the keynote speaker. She taught herself how to code, abandoning the initial plans she had as a Notre Dame student to go into the health care field. Although she was an English and pre-med major, Sejdinaj said she didn't enjoy or do well in math or science.

Becoming a doctor would have “checked the right boxes,” she said, including making her parents happy. But health care wasn't what she was passionate about.

Self awareness is critical. She encouraged the students to figure out what their passions are and learn what careers connect to their passions.

“You can't build a career or education for others,” Sejdinaj said. “It is incredibly hard to let other people's voices get into your head.”

Unless, of course, they're encouraging you to explore all the options – even nontraditional careers for women.

Hats off to Megan Crites and her team for the leadership and vision.

To share a thought, a favorite quote or other wisdom about leadership, email Lisa Green at lisagreen@jg.net. Lead On also appears online as a blog at www.journalgazette.net/blog/lead-on/