Speaker series empowers young women scholars

Imagine what it would be like to have a career day, where professionals and community members visit a school to share their experiences not just one day a year but on a regular basis. Associate superintendent Nancy Bernardino, who was the founding principal of the school and the late Jennifer Turner, the founding assistant principal, came up with Wisdom Wednesdays, also known as Wonder Woman Wednesdays, and Fierce Female Fridays. 

“To believe that they have potential in STEM and careers that are in leadership, they need to be able to see women who look like them almost on a weekly basis,” said principal Olivia Santos.

When it started on Fridays, it was like a call out to the community. The school used its resources, such as parents and teachers who know somebody who knows somebody and so on, she said. That’s how they continue to identify and invite the speakers to this day.

Most schools have career day once a year, and students might have a connection with someone who comes to the school, but Santos thought “why not give students more options?” Santos said that they’ve invited speakers such as presidents and CEOs to Zumba instructors to doctors and teachers to share with students. Philanthropist and Microsoft trailblazer Melinda Gates has been one of the guest speakers. 

“I think it’s really just figuring out how to make sure that we are encouraging girls to be able to see themselves in different roles and then what that looks like for them,” Santos said. To further expand this work, Solar Prep for Girls has partnered with organizations such as Lydia Hill Philanthropies who have provided resources. 

The women that have participated in the speaker series are asked to prepare a two- to three-minute presentation. They share things like how they became interested in their career, and what obstacles they’ve overcome as women. Santos and her team have taken it a step further and wanted to make this experience more relatable and understandable for students.

The speakers also share a piece of advice with the students and end their conversation with a question, Santos said. For example, a speaker might say something like “I’ve had to practice a lot of empathy in my career. And so my question to you is, ‘When have you shown empathy this week?’” Students will then turn and talk to each other and have a conversation and then come back to the group, Santos said. 

“We want to make sure that we are representing the whole idea for them to be able to see themselves in these individuals and know they have experienced the challenges that we know that our girls may face in their future,” Santos said.

While most of the speakers have been women, they occasionally have male speakers. They want the students to also be able to see men who are willing to empower and uplift.

Santos said one of the biggest takeaways from Solar Prep’s speaker series has been about how much it has changed the girls’ perspective of what they can be. 

“When we were young, you might have said things like we want to be a doctor or a police officer or a teacher or a nurse or something like that,” Santos said. “We have girls who now talk about being physicists or stem cell researchers. There’s just such a wide variety of professions, and students need to be exposed to these many different options.”


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