Young Women’s Leadership Summit provides high school seniors a golden opportunity to learn, grow, network—and experience Foster

This post was written by Echo He, a rising senior at Skyline High School in Sammamish, WA, who wants to study business administration in college. Echo participated in the Young Women’s Leadership Summit this summer and had an amazing experience immersing herself in the business world created by the Foster School of Business. She is planning to apply to the University of Washington and possibly Freshman Direct to Foster.

On a warm Sunday afternoon, 40 high school seniors joined together at the University of Washington, excitedly waiting to attend the Young Women’s Leadership Summit (YWLS), a program hosted by Foster School of Business Undergraduate Programs. YWLS is aimed at rising high school seniors who identify as female to explore the world of business through workshops and discussions with faculty, alumni, current students and professionals.

As one of the 40 young women handpicked from a competitive application pool to attend YWLS, I looked forward to making valuable connections with other ambitious attendees, immersing myself in the business world through lectures, networking, and company tours over the next four days at Foster.

DAY 1 – Welcome from YWLS, move-in and orientation

After checking in, everyone arrived and moved into the student dorm: McCarty Hall. We said goodbye to our parents and gathered around the Denny Field for an orientation with icebreaker activities. We formed a circle, talking about the issues we care about, and the equity issues we face in the current world as women. Damariz Ibáñez, our program director, introduced the “Shine Theory” to us.

“The Shine Theory is an investment, over the long term, in helping someone be their best self—and relying on their help in return,” Damariz said. “It is a conscious decision to bring your full self to your friendships, and to not let insecurity or envy ravage them.”

I looked at everyone around me and started to think deeply about the definition of the Shine Theory. I decided to apply the Shine Theory in my relationship-building with the other impressive women in the next four days.

We also set the expectations we have for ourselves, our peers and YWLS staff. We created the community guidelines we aimed to follow at an individual and group level so that we could all create a respectful and engaging environment. The day concluded with the “Risk Assessment” assignment, where each one of us committed to accomplishing a task that lay beyond our comfort zone while at YWLS.

The short day went very fast. However, there was so much to look forward to the next day, including great lectures and guest speakers.

Day 2 – Welcome from Foster faculty, scavenger hunt and guest speakers

The day started in PACCAR Hall with a welcome from Michelle Purnell-Hepburn, Foster’s associate dean for inclusion and diversity, and Christina Fong, the associate dean of undergraduate programs. We explored Foster’s mission and work in diversity, equity and inclusion, as well as diving into a self-reflection and identity session, where we reflected on our identity including our roots and aspirations.

After that, we went on an exciting and competitive scavenger hunt. We were divided into four teams, each led by a YWLS intern, and given the task of taking pictures at specific places at UW. This is such a fun way to tour the beautiful campus of UW while getting some exercise and taking fun pictures with symbolic UW architecture. We were all walking around, and my residential advisor Laila was such an expert on navigating the UW campus! We got all the pictures done while having plenty of time left.

After coming back, we had lunch with Shay Hobby, the commercialization senior vice president, west division, at PepsiCo. Shay shared her career journey at Pepsi as a female business leader at such a huge corporation, as well as personal and professional advice for us. We were all so inspired by Shay’s leadership qualities and experiences, aspiring to be a passionate young female business leader like her in the future.

In the afternoon, the associate and assistant directors of Undergraduate Career Development at Foster visited us and presented tips and strategies for developing a résumé and elevator pitch for our professional career preparation. We also had a workshop from the Undergraduate Diversity Services program manager Natalia Esquivel Silva and recruitment program manager Juvi Therese Mallari on creating our unique personal mission statement. Through these activities, we learned how to improve our résumé, crafted our personal mission statement to put on LinkedIn, and delivered our elevator pitch. These were big steps towards our professional development, and I now feel more confident and better prepared for my future!

Day 3 – Company visits, Women in Leadership dinner

The third day was a big day for us! In the early morning, we hopped onto the bus to Amazon’s headquarters in Seattle. We first attended a company tour, and then met with two Amazon leaders. Molly Cochran, finance director for Amazon’s World-Wide Grocery Stores, and Preeti Viswanathan, finance director for Amazon Web Services (AWS), spoke about their work at Amazon, their educational backgrounds, and their professional journeys as women in business. We received valuable advice that they learned through their own experience, such as: “Careers are a jungle gym, not a ladder.” And “Don’t waste your time on jealousy. Sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes you’re behind. The race is long and, in the end, it’s only with yourself.”

It was inspiring to learn about the evolution of their careers, and the lessons they learned through the process were very helpful. After the panel, we toured the Amazon Spheres, stopped at the iconic banana stand and had a networking lunch.

After we said goodbye to Amazon, we headed to RSM US LLP, where we were welcomed by Wendy Sancewich, a partner and leader of PNW culture, diversity and inclusion. We were divided into five groups, each paired with a female employee who spoke about their professional experiences and answered all of our questions about their jobs. We learned how RSM, the 5th largest accounting firm in the world, serves clients with a strong sense of mission and integrity. We also got a chance to tour the office and learn more about RSM’s history, company mission and work values. At last, we had the opportunity to network with the employees, learn about their work experiences, ask for tips and advice for career development, and exchange LinkedIn profiles.

I felt very fortunate that I got the chance to visit Amazon and RSM. We learned a lot through talking to leaders and were all inspired by their intense passion for empowering other women in business.

After coming back, we had our celebration dinner entitled “Women in Power” at Agua Verde. All the girls dressed in pink—like the Barbies; Barbies can be anything. Michelle, Christina, Vikki Haag Day, Foster’s assistant dean of undergraduate programs, joined our party. We had a fun time having food while appreciating the beautiful sunset above the harbor, and took a lot of photos to record those sweet and unforgettable memories.

Day 4 – Last sessions, mini TED Talks, graduation from YWLS

In the morning, we packed our luggage and checked out of the dorm rooms. We then had a student panel with six current Foster undergraduates and asked questions about their college experience at Foster, business-related resources and opportunities, as well as their tips and advice for rising high school seniors.

To help us prepare for the upcoming application process, both the UW and Foster admissions teams came by to answer all of our questions regarding admission thoroughly and led a few brainstorming exercises.

After that, we gave our mini TED Talks, a project that was assigned to us on the first day. We spent three days preparing for the talk by brainstorming our values, reflecting on our experiences and things we care about to determine a topic, and practicing the speech. For me, this was the most impactful part of YWLS. Listening to everyone’s three-minute speeches on a range of topics, I was able to learn so much about my peers and what they value. These moments formed connections in our community, a community we created through YWLS that brimmed with support and love.

The program officially came to an end when we received our certifications in the closing dinner and graduated from YWLS. These last four days were like a dream to me. They went by so quickly, but also felt so fulfilling because I was able to meet and make connections with so many inspiring, impressive individuals at YWLS.

Even though we might not see each other often next year, we will update each other about our life and college decisions. Those memories will last forever.

I know that we are all future women leaders and will have a bright future.

Support of Foster School’s Young Women’s Leadership Summit was made possible by the generous support of our DEI Partners Amazon and RSM US LLP. To learn more about supporting diversity programs at Foster, please contact Eileen Bhatia, Director of Corporate & Foundation Relations at [email protected].