Most adults know how critical networking is for their careers. They hear the message often from colleagues, bosses and career experts, through books, media interviews and conferences. But did you know that networking is also critical for your children’s educational careers?
For children of immigrants and for those whose parents haven’t gone to college in this country, developing a strong network can make a substantial difference in terms of higher education opportunities. Let me give you an example.
Abby, the Anglo daughter of one of my closest friends, has been a Girl Scout since she was in elementary school. Through this organization, not only has she developed a tight group of girlfriends, but she has also met high-ranking corporate executives and mentors. Because she’s been taught how to approach successful and well-known professionals and because she has been exposed to events where she could meet them, she feels extremely comfortable doing so. This ability is already paying off.
At 15, Abby is going for her Girl Scout Gold Award, the highest achievement in Girl Scouts and a commitment that she needs to complete as an individual. She has to create a project that demonstrates measurable impact and leadership and develop a written proposal that is then reviewed by a committee. (This process alone offers a unique chance to explore personal interests and get in touch with key people who can help make the project a success.)
A member of the Techno Chix, an all-girl robotics team that competes in the FIRST Tech Challenge, Abby decided to develop an eight-week, hands-on, after school engineering program for girls in her local middle school. She wanted to create exciting activities to plant in their minds the notion that science, technology and engineering are fun. If successful, the program can be easily scaled up to other school districts.
With this in mind, the energetic high school sophomore started reaching out to people she had met at conferences and events. She wrote to Ginni Rometty, CEO of IBM—whom Abby had approached for an internship after she heard her speak. She wrote to Rosalind L.Hudnell, Chief Diversity Officer at Intel Corporation, after I made a recommendation. She wrote to Col. Stephen Ressler, head of West Point’s Civil and Mechanical Engineering department, because she wanted to tap West Point’s expertise in bridge building. She asked for these organizations to sponsor one or two sessions of her program by sending engineers to help with the activities.
The process involved writing letters and having phone conversations with industry leaders who are not only helping Abby with her project now, but who become powerful references for her college applications, not to mention door openers to invaluable opportunities such as internships, job shadowing, and even scholarships. She has already been invited to shadow an engineer for a day at IBM and to spend a day on the West Point campus learning about college-level engineering.
The truth is that this teenager is not doing this alone. She has a strong and relentless advocate who is always looking for ways to expand her life experiences—her mother. Someone who knows that this is the way things work for kids and for adults alike. Unfortunately, very few Hispanic children have parents with the knowledge of what it takes to get to college therefore, they miss out on the kind of activities that could really impact their future education.
Yet, to help your children network you don’t need to have a higher education degree yourself. You just need to understand that the rules that apply to workforce opportunities for adults are the same that apply for your children’s educational careers. In both cases who you know and who knows you makes a world of difference.