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Local mentorship program holds event on campus

Strong Women Strong Girls (SWSG), a mentorship program for young girls, conducted one of its semi-annual field trips to Carnegie Mellon’s campus this past Saturday.

The organization strives to imbue in girls a sense of strength and opportunity. “The ultimate goal of Strong Women Strong Girls is to empower underprivileged girls, showing them how strong they currently are as well as how they can become strong women in their future,” said Stephanie Guerra, a senior Science and Humanities scholar and a SWSG mentor.

Carnegie Mellon’s chapter of Strong Women Strong Girls was formed in the spring of 2006. The creation of the Carnegie Mellon branch shifted the organization to one with national influence. The branch was created with the specific intention of creating a program that fostered strong mentorship relationships between female Carnegie Mellon student mentors and girls in the Pittsburgh community. This weekend’s field trip is only one aspect of the program; the program uses a range of tactics to instill in girls a positive sense of strength.
Throughout the semester, each mentor works weekly with a group of girls. The goal of the program is to empower and to develop them into strong people and community members. According to the SWSG website, SWSG.org, “Relationships, skills, and role models are essential to helping girls and women succeed.” These three capstones are actualized in two ways.

Each week, the mentors focus on one “strong quality” and develop projects and activities in order to emphasize this skill. Skills range from goal setting to determination, and girls are engaged by the inclusion of real-life historical or current examples of women who exemplify those qualities.

The second way that girl empowerment is implemented is through the community. The mentors function as friends and role models to the girls, and the girls both connect with and learn from their older mentors. “We want to raise self-esteem, help the girls reach their potential, and we tell them that if they really want something, they can go out and do it,” said Mallika Sahay, a senior psychology and social decision sciences double major and co-director of Pittsburgh SWSG.

Saturday’s field trip focused on that sense of community. This trip is one of two annual ones; the second trip is taking place during Carnival and rewards the girls for their hard work throughout the year while showing how fun college can be. “The [fall] field trip is a way to accomplish our goals of empowerment and encourage girls from a young age to attend college,” explained Guerra. “We get to visit their school on a weekly basis; [the girls] really love to see where we work too!”

The program’s encouragement of girls’ collegiate futures was evident from this trip. “For these girls, college is not thought of as something that they can achieve; our goal is to change that belief and to have fun. We want them to really want to go to college so that they will work towards it,” Sahay said.

This year, the focus for this particular field trip was “When I grow up,” and the day featured a healthy living workshop hosted by health care policy master’s student Jonelle Saunders, a science workshop hosted by the Society of Women Engineers, and a “Stella Hunt” (a hunt for SWSG’s mascot, Stella, through campus) with Alpha Kappa Alpha. The healthy living workshop, held in UC Rangos 3, included stretching, a dance routine, and group discussion about how to develop physical health. The science workshop provided girls with a greater understanding of engineering and science concepts through a hands-on boat-building project. Teams of girls competed to create a foil boat that held the largest number of marbles. The Stella Hunt was essentially a campus tour, which allowed girls to experience Carnegie Mellon’s campus firsthand.

Overall, the mix of educational and fun activities seemed well-received by the girls. When asked if the day had been fun, one young participant nodded enthusiastically. “By providing them with this encouragement and showing them that college is a great option, we hope to empower the girls,” Guerra said.

However, it is not just the young girls being mentored who are empowered by the program. Fifteen new mentors were recruited this fall alone, and they have all undergone rigorous mentorship training as well as participated in their weekly work with the girls. An integral part of the program, as stated in its mission, is creating “cycles of mutual empowerment.”

“The mentors empower themselves by empowering these girls. I feel like I myself have become a better leader through mentoring,” Guerra said. Co-director Katherine Yang, a social and decision sciences senior, is a testament to the quality of the work that SWSG does for both the girls and the mentors. “Over the years it has become a huge part of my life,” she said. “I really believe it is impactful.”
Clearly, this level of personal growth is something that Carnegie Mellon students seek out.

Hannah Wirtshafter, a junior Science and Humanities Scholar, noted, “The program is a good way to get involved and contribute; I recognize the impact that my mentors have had on me, and I wanted to provide that mentorship for someone else.”