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December 19, 2013

Job jewels: Local career women share insights into accessing their professions

NEW CASTLE — Yesterday, BC3 at Lawrence Crossing was a mine full of knowledge.

Nineteen area women laid out their career paths for local ninth-grade girls, hoping to pass on some jewels of information during GEM, or Girls Engaging Mentors.

Girls participating in theLawrence County School-to-Work program attended 20-minute sessions in seven classrooms where they got to talk to the mentors, listen to presentations and ask questions about multiple career paths.

“The whole objective of this is to kind of broaden the girls’ horizons on career opportunities,” said Paula McMillin, executive director of the School-to-Work program.

McMillin began the program last year in response to a statistic showing that 20 percent of women are employed in five careers: secretaries, registered nurses, elementary school teachers, cashiers and nursing aides. Of those five careers, women can financially support themselves in only two.

“If you’re pursuing a career path that you can’t support yourself on, then you’re bound to always be dependent on someone,” McMillin said. “And I really like them to explore those opportunities where they have the interest and ability that they can indeed support themselves and, if need be, support their family.

“There’s a lot of other choices out there, and this is just about showcasing them.”

McMillin wanted to give the 150 freshman girls a chance to learn about careers they might not know exist.

“I tell the presenters, ‘We’re not looking for a talking heads presentation. Think of it as a chat, like a big sister conversation or a favorite aunt conversation — kind of just perch on the desk and talk about your personal career journey and how you got there,’ ” McMillin said. “Because you know kids, they think everybody else has the answer of exactly what they want to do, and nobody does.”

Each presenter represented a nontraditional career field for women. McMillin shared that about half presented at last year’s event, and the other half were new faces.

“It’s a neat day. The thing that just amazes me, is I call these people. I cold call these women, and I try to explain to them what we’re trying to do and nobody says no,” McMillin explained.

The mentors agree it’s an important day for young girls.

“I think it’s a great thing,” attorney Carolyn Flannery said. “I grew up not knowing any limitations on what I wanted to be. I knew that the world was open to me, but not every girl knows that and it’s important that they see that they can really be anything they want, and there are examples of that right in their hometown.”

Nicole Ferraro and Karen Cohen, each a certified public accountant, applauded the program for presenting girls with ideas they might not have considered previously.

“We both said, ‘We wish they had something like this when we were younger,’ ” Ferraro noted. “You know we weren’t informed of the multitude of careers available for women to help young girls understand what careers are out there.”

Cohen added: “If you never knew anybody other than a secretary or a nurse, then you have no one to really envision yourself becoming to be a role model.”

As a second-year presenter, Ferraro had some insight into the program. The girls’ enthusiasm in the first year made her want to participate again. She shared that the day seemed to influence girls’ decisions toward what sort of career they could pursue and offered them advice to begin taking classes in high school that could eventually lead to their chosen career.

“You’re not expecting them to decide right then, but just for them to get an awareness of all the careers that are out there, that’s really important,” she said.

Above all, the mentors wanted to show the girls that women can do anything they put their minds to, and that if they ever need a helping hand, these career women would be willing to reach out.

“You can be anything that you want to be,” Cohen said, “and if we can ever be of any help to you, call us.”


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