During Saturday’s Young Women’s Leadership Conference, Metrolink Chief of Staff Noelia Rodriguez opened up to more than 100 female high school students about how her professional life was nearly derailed before it even got started.
As a shy, introverted high school freshman, Rodriguez mustered up the courage to ask her guidance counselor about what she needed to do to get into college. He looked at her file dismissively and told her that she should forget about college and take typing and shorthand classes instead.
Rodriguez would go on to become director of communications and press secretary to former U.S. first lady Laura Bush.
“Don’t give away your power,” Rodriguez said during the event put on by the Center for the Political Future at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. “Find mentors in your life, whether it’s a counselor, teacher or upper division college student. It’s so important to have somebody support you and encourage you when you feel challenged or when you don’t know.”
Downtown Women’s Center L.A. CEO Amy Turk and Ashley Fumiko Dominguez, associate director of federal relations at UCLA, joined Rodriguez at an afternoon panel inside Traditions in the basement of the Ronald Tutor Campus Center. The panel was followed by a keynote speech from Los Angeles Unified School District board member Tanya Ortiz Franklin.
Young Women’s Leadership Conference: Overcoming discouragement
Dominguez shared that she also had to endure a discouraging high school counselor; years later, she enjoyed sending that counselor a graduation announcement when she earned a master’s degree in international relations. Rodriguez said she wished that when she became the highest-ranking Latina in the White House in 2001, she had thought to do the same to the man who had been dismissive of her dreams.
You only can’t do it if you let yourself not try.
Ashley Fumiko Dominguez, UCLA
“There’s a lot of young women I’ve mentored who are in high school, and that kind of thing is still happening,” Dominguez said. “People are saying you’re not smart enough, that your English isn’t good enough, that you’re a little too dark, you’re undocumented. Don’t let them take it from you. You only can’t do it if you let yourself not try.”
The speakers shared some of the details of their professional journeys, how they followed their passions and the steps or pivots they took when faced with a career crossroads and unexpected setbacks.
Ortiz Franklin, for example, had been an LAUSD middle school teacher for only five years when she lost her job during massive layoffs at the district she now helps to oversee. Instead of trying to stay in teaching, she attended the UCLA School of Law and later became senior director of the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools.
“Getting laid off is great motivation for wanting to do something different,” she said. “I want to use my current job as long as I can for the people who elected me — these are often the people who’ve been pushed to the margins.”
Turk said working to help others led to her career path, which currently has her focused exclusively on serving and empowering women who have experienced or are experiencing homelessness.
“Even from a young age, I felt something in my gut that, when I was helping other people, it’s when I felt better,” she said.
Turk knew she’d have a career in public service, but had to figure out how to recreate that feeling and turn it into a paying job.
Panelists inspire young women at Young Women’s Leadership Conference
As she waited in line to meet the panelists after their presentation inside Traditions, Glen A. Wilson High School student Katharine Rovira said she was inspired by their stories.
“Just hearing about how they overcame people telling them ‘no’ really resonated with me,” Rovira said. “I like how they said to not let people take your power because it took a while for me to recognize that I even had power.”
Mia Verastegui, a senior at Los Altos High School in Hacienda Heights, found herself wanting to remember every word that was said during the sessions.
Talking to these women who have made a difference in their lives is so incredible.
Mia Verastegui, Los Altos High School
“We were all taking notes because it was very insightful and eye-opening,” she said. “Talking to these women who have made a difference in their lives is so incredible. I want to make a difference in my community.”
Kamy Akhavan, executive director of the Center for the Political Future at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, said conference participants come from five counties in Southern California and that the event has quickly reached capacity in recent years.
“There’s a great need in Los Angeles for events like this where young women can connect with the leaders in their communities,” he said. “They can learn from them, grow their networks and become change agents in whatever ways they see best.”
The post Hard-earned professional lessons shared at Young Women’s Leadership Conference appeared first on USC News.