Salena Scardina understands the value of doing her best, even in an entry-level position. That attitude as a teenage busgirl helped her catch the attention of a patron who offered her a job elsewhere, she said.
“You can learn something from every job you have,” Scardina said, adding she never imagined she would become the only female executive at Sweetwater.
She plans to share that message with Hispanic high school girls during the Latinos Count College and Career Pathways conference Friday at Ivy Tech Community College Northeast.
More than 150 students from Fort Wayne Community Schools, East Allen University, Bishop Luers High School, Concordia Lutheran High School and Homestead High School are expected to attend.
A similar event for Latino high school boys was held in September.
Latinos Count organized the conference, which will showcase good-paying jobs and careers that might not require a four-year college degree.
Previous conferences focused on giving students information about college, but organizers realized that didn't fulfill their goal of preparing teens with an “exit strategy” from high school, said Steve Corona, the nonprofit's executive director.
More than two dozen Hispanic women who are in the workplace or attending college will serve as mentors and engage in small-group conversations during the event. Role models include a registered nurse, a police officer, a banking representative, a sales executive and a guidance counselor, according to a news release.
It's important for Hispanic or Latina students to listen to and speak with individuals who look like them and who might have similar experiences and challenges in life, Corona said.
The conversations teens can have with the mentors might address issues that are difficult to bring up to their family, he said.
“I know that in many Hispanic families, they still discourage women from going to school,” he said.
Scardina, who is half Mexican, said she was the first in her family to graduate from college, from the only school that accepted her – Monmouth College in Illinois. She later earned a Master of Business Administration from Benedictine University.
“I didn't even know it was in the cards for me,” she said.
She is the senior vice president of customer experience at Sweetwater.
The conference will also include hands-on demonstrations, a financial aid workshop and a presentation by Eric Doden of Greater Fort Wayne Inc. about the city's appeal.
Organizers hope to arrange a follow-up event so teens can shadow women in the workforce, Corona said.