2020 Young Women’s Leadership Summit goes virtual

Every January the application for the Young Women’s Leadership Summit (YWLS) goes live. YWLS is a three and half day leadership program for rising high school seniors who identify as female and are interested in business. The overnight program typically brings young leaders to the University of Washington, Seattle campus. Over the course of the program, students interact with faculty, alumni, UW students and employers in the areas of finance, operations and supply chain management, and information systems, while learning about the different fields of business they can study and careers they can pursue.

As you can guess, the 2020 YWLS cohort applied for a very different Summit in January than what they ended up attending once summer arrived. When it became clear that the 2020 YWLS was going to look very different from previous years, YWLS Program Manager Andrea Pesola got to work on reimagining the program.

To start, Andrea emailed every high school student who had applied for YWLS. We did not know who had been accepted to the program at that point as the application closed on March 30th; however, it felt important to ask every student who applied to YWLS what they would like to see if the three and a half-day fully in-person program had to go online.

Responses were mixed. Students were understandably disappointed, but no one pulled their application as a result of this change; everyone still wanted to participate in the program, regardless of the changes that would need to be made in order to meet the demands of 2020. This encouraged Andrea. To know that a large cohort of high school students were motivated enough to spend some of their summer participating in a Zoom version of YWLS got her excited for what the new program could look like. She intentionally considered the applicants’ responses to her survey regarding the 2020 YWLS, as well as what possible schedules could accommodate the majority of students’ summer availabilities.

Thanks to the commitment and graciousness of the over 40 speakers and facilitators who supported this year’s program by helping to host a session, the 2020 YWLS kicked off on Monday, July 13, 2020 with the largest cohort yet. For the next 7 weeks, 81 students from across the state logged onto Zoom and came together as a YWLS cohort for two to three sessions a week.

I was able to make so many friends from across the state that I would never have met otherwise!

A couple weeks into the program, a YWLS student asked Andrea if she could leave the Zoom room open at the end of each session for those who want to stay longer for casual conversation. Not only was this a great idea because it helped fill the need for casual time to connect outside of structured sessions, but it also allowed participants to develop their leadership skills as they stepped up to help keep these casual conversations going in Zoom.

In the end, the YWLS students participated in a variety of sessions ranging from The Power of Mindset & Utilizing Your Natural Strengths with Erinn Ford, President and CEO of KMS Financial Services, to Being a Successful Female Business Leader in Technology + Innovation with Charu Jain, Senior Vice President of Merchandising and Innovation at Alaska Air Group, including a Real Talk: College Life session with YWLS Alumnae and Current UW Undergraduates.

I am so beyond grateful that I stumbled upon this program and had the opportunity to engage in it. I’ve learned so much and it truly has enabled me with tools that will guide me in the path to a successful future.

Thanks to the commitment of the YWLS students to their personal and professional growth, the 2020 YWLS was as successful as any. 81 students from across the state were able to gain valuable resources and information that will support them as they begin their college application process this fall, and get ready for the leap out of high school and into college next year.
While no one knows what the 2021 Young Women’s Leadership Summit will look like, the 2020 cohort proved that a virtual version is worth pursuing if needed. Yes, everyone would have rather been able to meet in person, but through intentional program creation, a lot of flexibility, and an attitude of “we are all in this together,” going virtual ended up having much less of an impact on student development outcomes and the ability to form genuine connections than we feared it would.

I truly want to thank you for this experience because I’ve learned so much- not just about business-related topics, but also about post-secondary school life and building a professional portfolio.