“A Feather in Your Cap Is a Feather in My Cap:” A Foster Student’s Experience at the 2023 Foster Women’s Networking Event
Isabella Schwalm is a junior majoring in accounting at the Michael G. Foster School of Business. She has enjoyed working for the ASUW Senate, participating in the ALBA study abroad program, and getting active with the Husky Run Club. In her free time, Isabella loves to run, hike, and delve into a historical fiction book!
The Foster Women’s Networking Event provided an opportunity for female identifying students to network with various successful companies and hear from Sally Jewell, an inspiring and successful woman who has had a notable career journey. She started as a mechanical engineer, later becoming the CEO of REI, and also serving as the Secretary of the Interior under the Obama Administration. As female identifying students, Sally reminded all of us how we can use our voice in the workplace, not allowing imposter syndrome to hinder our potential, but she also highlighted the importance of asking for help when needed and listening to our needs and wants.
Sally recounted her career and life journey, the insights and advice she learned along the way, with her leaving time for students to join the conversation and ask her questions. I appreciated how Sally was very authentic about her experiences, including hard life lessons, and how she provided a comfortable environment that made students feel as if they were having a one-on-one conversation with her.
When speaking about mentorship, Sally Jewel gave everyone an important reminder that mentorship comes in all forms, extends both ways, and arises in places that may be unexpected. She recounted her experience working as an engineer in the oil fields when a local oil field worker said to her “a feather in your cap is a feather in my cap,” meaning if they worked together they could more efficiently and successfully do their jobs, not only benefiting the company as a whole, but also their work environment. They may have been in different careers and at different levels in the company, yet formed a connection that provided one another with a unique set of knowledge they might not have otherwise discovered. This naturally formed mentorship reveals how getting to know the people you work with across departments can strengthen a company and also uplift employee sentiment of belonging and growth.
I think this is an important message for students who sometimes unconsciously overlook potential conversations or connections that can be made, viewing mentorship as something that only comes from someone in a high position. While those connections are very important as well, trying to force them solely based on an agenda to advance a career rather than foster a meaningful relationship can harm a work environment – as Sally mentioned, the best mentorships are the ones that aren’t forced. Applying this to myself as an undergraduate student, I plan to carry this reminder with me to be open minded and have conversations with as many people as I can to discover hidden areas I can grow and learn in.
Sally also emphasized that everyone should strive to work in an environment where they feel respected and valued. She gave an example that when employees were interviewing with her she always called the receptionist desk to ask how they were treated by the interviewees. I think this was an important measure of character, evaluating the interviewees willingness and ability to respect others, regardless of position. A candidate can have all the skills but if they do not have softs skills or respect for others in general, they could negatively impact a company. Stemming from this idea of respect, Sally also emphasized that “life is too short to work for a jerk” reminding us female identifying students that we do not need to settle for being belittled in the workplace.
After hearing Sally Jewell speak, I was able to finish my breakfast having conversations with other students from various majors and professionals from different companies. I was seated at a table with RSM US LLP, a well-known and successful audit, tax, and consulting firm. As an accounting major in the Foster School of Business still figuring out the path I want to take, this was a very beneficial experience for me to speak with working accounting professionals. Katie Mungen, an audit associate at RSM, recently graduated from the UW Foster School of Business and was able to give insight into her journey to becoming a CPA and working in audit.
She also was able to give me advice in an area I have to make a decision in. I did a tax internship this past summer but have not gotten to experience audit and am unsure if I would like the auditor role more. One of Katie’s first internships was also tax and she explained to me why she moved to audit and steps I can take if I want to consider audit in my future. Lenore Drollinger, an accounting partner at RSM with 23 years of experience, gave insight into what she valued at the company and how the positive business environment at RSM has kept her there. She also shared some of her areas of expertise, including audit and mergers and acquisitions. I recently learned about mergers and acquisitions in my accounting class, and connecting it back to a real world application with an opportunity to connect and potentially learn more from Lenore in the future was very exciting.
I was a little nervous about connecting with professionals, wondering if I would say the right things or present myself well, but this breakfast provided a safe environment for me to get a glimpse into what networking is like, and Katie and Lenore were wonderful to speak with. Being surrounded by and getting to meet other students through this breakfast who are in similar positions to me fostered a sense of community and comfortableness as we were all getting to know each other and were able to laugh with each other about topics outside of just careers.
Following the breakfast I got a wonderful opportunity to speak with Wendy Sancewich about her role as an accounting partner at RSM, alongside all of the other roles she has taken on, such as promoting diversity in the workplace and contributing to public service. As a student with a Latino background, I was particularly interested in if there were employee groups at a company such as RSM. It was very encouraging to hear about HOLA! and STAR at RSM, employee network groups (ENG) focusing on Latino and female identifying employees that hosted events to make the work community more inclusive and knowledgeable in areas like cultural diversity. As a PNW Culture, Diversity, and Inclusion Leader, Wendy manages all of the ENGs at RSM, participating in all of the events, and is constantly having hard conversations or reading books to educate herself in areas of culture and diversity.
As an accounting major I mistakenly had the sentiment that although I am passionate about areas of public good, crunching numbers would not offer me the opportunity to do so. Looking at Wendy’s positive community impact put into perspective the only limits on my ability to foster connections and uplift others are the limits I put on myself. Both Sally and Wendy opened my eyes to the importance of extending my role to volunteering and community, even if my role started as solely doing prescribed accounting tasks.
I also loved finding out Wendy was a fellow historical realistic fiction book and movie lover, and when she mentioned an author named Kristin Hannah, I realized I was currently reading the book Nightingale from that author. Wendy is also a UW Alumni and now a Foster champion, meaning she helps to secure extra funding for Foster each year and donates herself to uplift students. Hearing about her journey from Foster to an established accounting professional impacting many people around her inspired me to consider what I value and what I want to contribute to the workplace.
Surrounded by not only a delicious breakfast with coffee, but also a wealth of knowledge and meaningful connections to be made, I really appreciated the opportunity to attend the Foster Women’s Networking Event and plan to do so again next year as a senior. Sometimes when I feel a lost sense of where I am going with my life or career, I forget the value of speaking and learning from others; this opportunity reminded me of the community I have at Foster and how I am never alone in my journey.