When Olympic gold medalist Brenda Villa opened up for questions at the 16th annual Young Women’s Leadership Summit, Columbia Middle School girls rushed the stage to learn more about the water polo star’s life.
Villa was one of 130 women who attended the conference, many of whom lead and participated in interactive sessions with the girls aimed at drawing them into science, math and technology related careers.
The conference, put on by the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, is designed to empower middle school girls by engaging them with private and public sector leaders.
“We were really lucky to have marque speakers at the event,” said Education Director of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, Kristina Peralta. “Maria Shriver talked about what empowerment meant to her and about her experience as a journalist, producer and advocate for young women. We also were really lucky to have Brenda Villa. I think her story really resonated with a lot of girls.”
Brenda Villa is a four-time Olympic medalist who talked about her experience growing up in underprivileged area in Southern California and how her community supported her desire to play water polo.
“When Brenda Villa told us about her background and that she grew up in an average Latino family, I just thought all superstars had like amazing help and had everything they needed, but she actually had to work for everything she did,” said CMS eighth grader Quenytta Fakava who got to close the conference on stage with Brenda Villa. “She’s really easy going and friendly and just being there with all the girls, it was really inspiring and motivating.”
When asked what she would tell younger girls who haven’t been to the summit yet, Quenytta said, “You need to go on this field trip.”
The middle school’s seventh and eighth grade girls joined nearly 380 middle school girls at the summit on April 28.
Held for the first time at Levi’s Stadium, the 2015 hosts were Bayview/Hunters Point public school teacher Danielle York and her husband, San Francisco 49ers CEO Jed York.
The keynote speaker was Emmy and Peabody award-winning journalist; producer and founder of A Woman’s Nation and The Shriver Report, Maria Shriver—better known as Patrick Schwarzenegger’s mom to the girls in attendance.
“It’s great for them to hear people’s stories to see that there’s a lot of successful people who had to overcome a lot of challenges,” said Columbia Middle School Principal Mary Beth Allmann. “So if they’re facing challenges now that doesn’t mean that they can’t succeed or can’t overcome them. It’s inspirational but it still feels like it’s attainable. It’s not just people talking to them about things that they think they could never do.”
The young women also got to break out into groups for a Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) activity organized by Lockheed Martin, where they designed and built Newton Scooters, small cars propelled by balloons.
A big priority for The Silicon Valley Leadership Group is to diversify the STEM field Kristina Peralta said.
“I think that there’s been so much growth in the Silicon Valley and we would love to have all the industries also represent the great diversity of our valley and right now that’s not the case,” Ms. Peralta said.
To help address this, she said the group plans on continuing to expand the event each year so that it serves more girls. This year they had about 500 attendees with around 380 students and 130 executive women. They hope to double that by next year.
For more information about the Silicon Valley Leadership Group visit http://svlg.org/.