On Tuesday, October 21, Laura Van Peenan, Managing Director in Investment Banking at William Blair & Company, moderated a panel of three exemplary role models for the 9th & 10th grade girls at Metro Achievement Center in Chicago's West Loop. Laura introduced Liz Thompson, civic leader; Kristi Ross, Co-CEO of dough, Inc; and Shradha Agarwal, President and Co-Founder of ContextMedia as "three women in leadership positions at the top," while pointing out that, "this is an exciting time to set goals as a woman."
Laura prompted the panelists to share the path they have travelled to get where they are today and to share what they know now, that they wish they had known in high school.
Liz grew up in Cabrini Green and worked her way all through college at Purdue as an electrical engineer. Paying for and persevering through college was a real challenge for her. She felt like many of her peers had an advantage that she didn't have. During college she learned the value of confidence. She encouraged the girls to ask themselves anytime they encounter a challenge, "What do I own about this situation?" then, take that knowledge, and confidently move forward. Liz wished she had known in high school that "confidence is so important in life. It is everything!" She encouraged the girls to "be more secure about who you are and carry that with you wherever you go."
Kristi had a long journey to the position she holds today, and knows what it is like to face hardship. Her parents divorced, and her mom died of cancer when Kristi was 16. None of her siblings went to college. As she grew up, Kristi learned to talk to as many people as she could in each stage of her life, seizing opportunities as they presented themselves. She encouraged the girls to jump into situations and try things, because that is how you will learn what you like and are good at: "Opportunities are everywhere around you. You just have to pay attention." Her ultimate advice: "Do what you love and love what you do."
Shradha grew up in India in a one-bedroom apartment with her parents and brother. Living in that tiny space, her father gave her advice that still serves her well today: "If you want to do something in life, learn all there is to know about it. Then, be the best at whatever you want to be." She took this mantra to heart and was always the girl in the classroom raising her hand saying, "This doesn't make sense, tell me more." Full of curiosity, Shradha told the students "education is as much about learning from people outside of the classroom as it is about learning from those in the classroom." She urged the Metro students at a young age to "be aware, inquisitive, and opportunistic." She also reassured them "no matter what mistake you make, you can get back up. That's the celebration of life!"
Christina Villa, Metro's High School Program Director, was grateful that Laura and William Blair & Company were able to organize a compelling and relevant panel for the students. "It is always inspiring for the students to see real-world examples of successful, virtuous women," she said.