Skip to main content

Cottonwood Heights Journal

Local professional businesswomen mentor high school girls in scholarship program

May 05, 2023 01:20PM ● By Julie Slama

Salt Lake Community College President Deneece Huftalin talks with Junior Women in Business members during a recent South Valley Chamber of Commerce Women in Business luncheon. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

It wasn’t expected to be a traditional cap and gown graduation, but one to celebrate 11 high school seniors at South Valley Chamber’s Women in Business meeting. Miss America 1985 Sharlene Wells Hawkes and two students were slated to speak.

These female students—one from each Canyons School District high school and Canyons Technical Education Center, four from Jordan School District and one from Juan Diego Catholic High School—have been part of the Junior Women in Business program this school year. It’s an opportunity for them to be mentored by professionals and be awarded with a $1,000 educational scholarship.

Corner Canyon High senior Chesney White, who plans to study international business at the University of Utah, is one of the junior members.

“I thought this would be a great scholarship opportunity for me, but since being a part of it, it’s been much more,” she said. “I’ve shadowed my mentor (Draper City’s Chief of Staff Kellie Challburg) and learned how the city runs and collaborates with other local businesses. It’s important to have good relationships because it impacts the community.”

The program pairs professional businesswomen with the students, who learn that even successful leaders may have been once just like them—ambitious, but maybe a little uncertain too.

Gaby Bernal-Camacho graduated from Junior WIB in 2019.

“As a first-generation college student, I was honored to have received that scholarship, but moreso, the resources that Junior Women in Business gave me were unmatched,” she said. “My mentor, Chris Whipple, was phenomenal. We immediately clicked. She was so supportive, I could have called her at two in the morning and she would have been there.”

Bernal-Camacho’s mentor helped her on her career path, supported her through graduating with a health society and policy major and a business minor and applauded her as she started her own business.

“When I shadowed Chris, she was passionate about her job. I remember thinking, ‘I want to be that in love with my job and have that kind of impact in the world,’” she said. “She and (former South Valley Chamber director of programs) Karla Rogers were always there helping me make decisions that impacted my life and my career.”

South Valley Chamber CEO/President Jay Francis is enthusiastic about the program that began about 20 years ago. 

“I’m passionate about having these high school senior girls rub shoulders with successful businesswomen at professional lunches, perform a service project, be mentored; it gives these young ladies a boost up,” he said.

Former Sandy Chamber CEO/President Greg Summerhays agrees.

“Many of these girls have a great GPA, they know where they’re going, they know what they want to do,” he said. “Others look for direction and guidance. So that one-on-one mentorship helps these girls to discover what it’s like to be a woman in business, the challenges women face, and the amazing opportunities out there. They’re able to network and have their mentor’s cell phone number as they are graduating from high school, entering college and looking for jobs or internships. It’s an amazing connection for them.”

The mentorship helps the girls gain insight, support and guidance, said Susan Edwards, Canyons School District’s public engagement and legislative liaison.

“We match the girls and their interests with our mentors,” she said, adding that in the past 15 years she’s been involved in the program, mentorships that once focused in business fields now extend to other careers. “(My mentee) this year is interested in environmental policy, so she’s had some experiences and talked to people in that field. Last year, my mentee wanted to understand politics so she talked to people at the Capitol. When a student wants to go into education, I introduce her to all the working parts of the district office so she learns the business behind education.”

White, and the other junior members, attend monthly luncheons featuring keynote speakers.

“We heard how small business owners learned from their experiences to become successful. We heard from the Policy Project, a nonprofit that recently got the legislature to pass getting menstrual products in schools,” said White, who afterward volunteered to be an ambassador with the Policy Project. “We’re lucky because as Junior Women in Business members, we get a shoutout and get to meet the presentation speakers. It’s a cool opportunity to be with these successful women, all who answer our questions. I’ve learned a lot of leadership skills; it’s been uplifting.”

Bernal-Camacho also remembers speaking to the women leaders.

“I’d ask every speaker for contacts and follow up with them,” she said. “I wanted to make the most of the opportunity. I’m still in contact with some of those people as well as my cohort of girls to this day.” 

Through the years the speakers have ranged from Gail Miller, owner of the Larry H. Miller Company, to the local business entrepreneurs with Julie Ann Caramels and RubySnap Bakery.  

In March, Salt Lake Community College President Deneece Huftalin shared how she uses her leadership style to lead the state’s largest two-year school. She hopes she inspired the junior members.

“I want them to think the world is their oyster,” she said. “They should never think that they can’t do things they care about. If they want to do something, pursue it. Work hard to get to that place, do your homework and be prepared, and realize, you can do more than you think. Sometimes, a job doesn’t always line up with what is on your resume, but when you’re passionate and have enough capability, you can do incredible things.”

Three-year WIB committee member Gayle Whitefield of Jordan School District said students appreciate the messages of encouragement.

“It motivates them to see the changes they can make and how women are leaders,” she said. “They realize, ‘I can be a part of this great thing;’ we’re here to make that connection and give students a step to achieving their dreams. These girls will be leaders, and we’re giving them support.”

As part of the program, the teens learned from legislators at the Utah House of Representatives.

“We learned how they work through bills and how the government affects how businesses run. I compete in congress debate in school, so I was able to relate to it, which was neat,” White said, adding that they helped with Women of the World, an organization that helps women who have been displaced become self-reliant. “This program is one of the best things I’ve done; I’d do it again—in a heartbeat. I’ve loved it.”

The program evolved from Sandy Chamber of Commerce wanting to support a student interested in business into the mentorship scholarship, beginning with seniors in Canyons School District and at Juan Diego, Edwards said.

Former Sandy Chamber President/CEO Stan Parrish said that the strong WIB program allowed for more networking opportunities.

“There’s a lot of support in the program and a genuine goodness in the community to want to help,” he said. “We learn a lot from one another about running a business; when we share those stories with everyone, we become a stronger community.”

The junior program multiplied in 2019 when the chamber became South Valley and included four Jordan District high schools: Bingham, Herriman, Mountain Ridge and Riverton. It also expanded in its scope beyond the business pathway, Edwards said.

Summerhays said Rogers “elevated” the program during her tenure to include powerful speakers, strong mentors and meaningful service.

“What’s neat is the Junior Women in Business girls are right alongside these professional women; they see their impact in our community,” he said. 

Rogers said the program’s focus allows girls to learn from women about their careers.

“I grew up thinking you were either a nurse, a schoolteacher or a secretary, so having these girls be exposed to women with so many varying backgrounds is critical to their learning,” she said. 

Juan Diego Catholic High’s John Moran, a WIB committee member, agrees.

“There’s a big push to get girls into these nontraditional tech fields, so we get them opportunities to see these women in action so they can learn successful professionals are doing and how to become those future leaders,” he said.

This fall, the Chamber plans to include girls from all Jordan School District high schools Francis said.

“We’re reaching to all the high schools in Jordan and some private schools to expand this opportunity to 17 or 18 girls. As a Chamber, we’re finding resources so we can mentor young women in careers and help with their college education,” he said.

Canyons’ Career and Technical Education Specialist Patti Larkin is serving her sixth year on the WIB committee.

“The biggest benefit is the connections that are made, those with the mentor, the speakers, the Women in Business and the other girls themselves,” Larkin said. “Most of the girls stay in touch with their mentors long after their mentorship ends and continue to connect with those people they’ve met during their senior year.”

Summerhays agrees.

“There are tears and hugs when they say goodbye at the formal end of the program, but the girls stay in touch as they move forward with their lives,” he said. “Those connections continue through college and as they enter the business world.” λ