Students from Cherry Creek Schools and Denver Public Schools got a face-to-face look at what it’s like to be a woman in a non-traditional career field during “Women in Work Day,” held April 28 at the Lowry Conference Center. The event was sponsored by Cherry Creek Schools Career Connections and Career and Technical Education programs and the Denver Public Schools' ACECONNECT program.
The students got to meet successful women from a variety of typically male-dominated fields, including law enforcement, construction, transportation and the automotive industry.
Wei-Yun Gibson, a regional parts and service specialist for Subaru of America, shared her story, which began in the automotive program at Smoky Hill High School. After graduation, she earned a degree in automotive industry management at Colorado State University – Pueblo. She is now well on her way to becoming a district parts and service manager. She wants young women to know they can be successful in any career they choose, but more importantly, that they can be agents of change.
“I hope they leave with the belief they can change something,” Gibson said. “They can transform culture and shift nations through any type of industry they’re involved in.”
Rinay Gonzales, currently a senior at Smoky Hill High School, has taken some of the same automotive classes Gibson did when she was at Smoky. Gonzales already understands some of the challenges women face in non-traditional settings.
“I was the only girl in my class,” Gonzales said. “I was put down for being a girl. So I had to have that determination to prove people wrong, to break the barriers and show them what we can do.”
She loved attending the Women in Work Day event, which offered a keynote speaker, a panel discussion and small group, roundtable discussions with a variety of accomplished women.
“I loved the connections and networking, the reminder that if they can do it, I can do it,” Gonzales said.
Gonzales and many of the other students who attended the event have taken the Career Explorations class at Smoky Hill, which is taught by Dan Draper.
“The ultimate goal of the class is that students get to know themselves, their strengths, their interests, their abilities, their values, their passions,” Draper said. “They investigate a variety of careers and then find where those intersect … How they can pursue that career, be it through an apprenticeship, a traditional schooling program, or by going straight into the work force.”
Students in Draper’s Career Explorations class and the Cherry Creek School District’s Career and Technical Education (CTE) program have the opportunity to participate in events like the Women in Work Day and in internships, like the one Savannah Nichols completed through the Department of Transportation.
"With the ‘Women in Transportation’ initiative, the department did a social media campaign called ‘Transportation Girl,’ Nichols said. “It’s to help women and young girls get involved in the transportation field and recognize it as a career possibility. I helped set up the Instagram and Facebook page, interviewed the committee members and helped put together a video.”
Nichols said the skills she learned in a CTE digital media studies class helped prepare her for the internship opportunity. Together, her classes, internship and events like the Women in Work Day have helped her plan a bright future. This fall she will attend the University of Colorado-Boulder, where she will study fine arts, on her way to a career in digital animation.
Draper said inspiring and empowering young women is one of the goals of his class and the Women in Work Day program.
“This event ultimately is designed to inspire young women to believe in themselves and know that they can accomplish anything they want to do,” he said.