Discovery Days connects girls with female business leaders

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West Stockbridge native Sophia Tenuta has always had a mind for business, ever since she was a little girl watching her parents cook for the restaurant they once owned.

"We had a patron chef who would make cookies and stuff, so one day I decided I wanted to do that as well, except I wanted to sell them, not bake them," said Tenuta.

"I took the basket of cookies outside and sat on our doorstep and sold cookies. My parents didn't realize until later."

Now as a young adult, Tenuta is still just as ambitious and entrepreneurial. This summer, the 17-year-old keeps busy by helping her parents out with their catering company, working at the Marketplace Kitchen and Cafe in Sheffield, babysitting and designing a cookbook for a school project.

It's a full plate, but Tenuta isn't the only driven Monument Mountain Regional High School girl with an eye on her future. Fellow senior Helen Pajeski and recent graduates Samantha Watson and Hannah Flynn are also working multiple jobs this summer as they prepare for college.

Something else they have in common? All four girls received local scholarships to attend GenHERation's Discovery Days, one- or two-day trips to large U.S. cities where young women from across the nation can meet female leaders at places like Google, the World Bank and NASA.

The four girls first learned about Discovery Days through posts on social media from Allison Kinne, another Monument graduate. This summer, Kinne is interning at GenHERation, a Philadelphia-based network that helps young women launch their careers. Tickets to attend a Discovery Days program are normally more than $300 each, but Kinne asked her father's law firm, Cohen Kinne Valicenti & Cook, if they would cover the fees for three young women. Lee Bank also provided a separate scholarship that Pajeski received.

"They thought it would be a great way to invest in young women of the area and make the trip possible for all girls, regardless of financial status," Kinne said.

On July 24, Flynn took a train from her summer location in Hudson, N.Y., to Washington, D.C., where she and the dozens of other GenHERation attendees — some from as far as San Diego — met with women in leadership positions at the World Bank, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, NASA, Capital One, and Ernst & Young (EY).

Flynn, a psychology major at Loyola University Maryland who hasn't decided on a profession yet, found their stories reassuring.

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"Every single woman talking about how they got to where they were said, 'I never thought I would be here from where I started,'" Flynn said. "That was an encouraging thing: that it doesn't matter where you start, what matters is that you work hard and are open to anything."

One week later, on July 31, Watson had to wake up at 4 a.m. to travel to New York City, where she, Tenuta and Pajeski, along with another group of Discovery Days attendees, met with panels of female leaders at Google, Viacom, Bloomingdale's Inc. and EY.

The girls were given tours of the company's sprawling buildings and even the Viacom-owned MTV studio.

"They told us the Jonas Brothers were there just a few days prior!" gushed Pajeski.

In addition to the tours, they received advice from the women on topics like resume building, the importance of self care, and balancing humility with self-confidence. Tenuta even swapped contact information with a representative of Bloomingdale's, who said to email the company's chef, who gives cooking lessons, if she wants an internship.

Flynn, who admitted she often struggles with speaking up for herself, felt empowered listening to other women that had found their voice.

"At Capital One, one woman talked about how she was really pushing her manager to put her in the front of projects and presentations," Flynn said. "I thought that was neat — she knew where she stood and what she wanted to do."

While all four girls said that they live in an inspiring time for women, perhaps the biggest indicator of change was Watson's initial reaction to meeting all the women in charge.

"I didn't even realize we were meeting with only women until the second or third company, because it felt very natural," Watson said.

Both Flynn and Pajeski said that learning from the female leaders, who all came from different backgrounds, helped them to deconstruct their ideas of what constitutes a "successful woman."

"Break out of what you're supposed to look like," said Pajeski, recalling the advice that stood out to her the most. "Be your own person, do what you love, and never apologize for being yourself."


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