The University of Chicago Women’s Board and the Urban Education Institute volunteer committee welcomed nearly 60 young women from the University of Chicago Charter School’s Woodlawn Campus to the Quadrangle Club on Wednesday, May 8 for an opportunity to network with female leaders in Chicago.
The program, titled Pearls with Power Tea, was as much about learning how to network as it was about networking. Nycole Buckner, a counselor at the Woodlawn Campus, emphasized how important it is to nourish confidence and “soft skills.”
“Getting prepared for college requires a lot of things, but it also requires etiquette,” Buckner said. “It requires talking well, networking skills, knowing how to dress. To prepare and do well in college, these students need to learn how to talk to people.”
Eleventh-grader Shanice Deals, said of the opportunity, “I’m a little shy, especially around these powerful women, but talking with them will help me learn how to maneuver with people who know so much more than I do.”
Another 11th-grader, Priscilla Agbeo, was not at all fazed by the challenge of confronting a room full of Chicago leaders. “It’s a breeze,” she said. “I know my worth so I can blend in with these prestigious women. I want to network with them so I can understand how they became successful.”
Some of the women leaders attending the event were Margot Pritzker, chair of the University of Chicago Charter School Board; Liz Thompson, a University of Chicago Trustee; Sharon Coleman, United States district judge on the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois; and Anne Kimball, partner at Edwards, Wildman Palmer LLP.
The first half hour was spent with the students and volunteers exchanging cards and introductions. Later, the students sat with the adult leaders, who discussed what they were like at the age of 17. Then, the students shared what they hoped to be like at age 30.
The event culminated in the presentation of a pearl necklace to each student in attendance. The necklaces symbolized their successful participation in Polished Pebbles, a local mentoring program that stresses the importance of good communication skills.
Director of the Urban Education Institute Timothy Knowles spoke after the necklaces were presented, placing the importance of the training these students were receiving in context.
“There’s a body of research called resiliency, it looks at the kids who make it with all the odds stacked against them,” Knowles began. “The kids who make it, it turns out, always have people in their lives. That’s the one consistent thing—the ability to build relationships with people who may not talk or act like you, to cross boundaries. Yes, you still have to do homework, but you have to do this, too.”