Joanna Cheng and Sasha Pines (both BS’18) co-founded the Vanderbilt undergraduate chapter of Women in Business in 2015 to help connect undergraduate women to female business leaders and career resources. Over a few years, they quickly grew the chapter to 600 members, almost 9% of the total undergraduate student body at Vanderbilt.
But as Cheng and Pines prepared to start their first full-time jobs in consulting, they realized that there was a dearth of resources for new graduates, especially women, trying to navigate the first 10 years of their careers. So they launched another business sisterhood, Aspire to Her, an organization that helps women use their first decade in the workplace to set themselves up for fulfilling, successful careers. The two recruited a team of fellow Vanderbilt students — many of them fellow Accelerator alums — to coordinate Aspire to Her, and the website launched on June 26.
“A lot of (existing resources) don’t focus on the first 10 years, which is a very formative time for building your career,” said Sam Merrick (BS’21), Director of Marketing for Aspire to Her.
Getting it “right” in this decade can pay off for women later in their 30s with faster promotions and better career options, leading to even bigger opportunities and financial rewards in their 40s, 50s, and beyond. –Kellogg Insights
Aspiring to Better Resources
Over the past eight months, the team has been building the Aspire to Her website and creating resources. The website currently offers three guides — discovering your career, excelling in your role, and networking smart — for early career women in their 20s and early 30s. Users will receive all three guides once they sign up for the twice-monthly newsletter.
“These are the main areas that people in the first 10 years of their career are really struggling with, and there’s not always resources about them,” Merrick explained.
In addition to the guides, there are currently five interviews with female business leaders available on the website — including one with Cherrie Wilkerson, Assistant Dean of Young Professional Programs at Vanderbilt Business — and newsletter subscribers will receive a new interview in their inbox every other week.
As Aspire to Her continues to expand, the team plans to host networking brunch events in major metro areas around the country, so Aspire to Her members can meet each other and profiled female business leaders. “A lot of people, especially those who have less connections in the business world, sometimes might find it difficult to network with these individuals and hear their stories about the beginning of their career,” Merrick said.
In the long run, they hope to add book recommendations, podcasts, and other helpful content to their list of offerings.
“Accelerating” Their Ideas
Five out of the eight members of the current Aspire to Her’s team are graduates of the Vanderbilt’s Accelerator®—Summer Business Institute, a four-week certificate program for college students and recent graduates that combines classroom learning with real consulting projects. Merrick and Samantha Schneid (BS’21) went through Accelerator this summer, while Cheng, Pines, and Morgan Reed (BS’18) attended in past years.
They all credit Accelerator with helping launch both Women in Business and Aspire to Her. “Sasha and Jo and Morgan really utilized what they learned before at Accelerator and implemented it into this website,” Merrick said. As for her own Accelerator experience, she says, “It’s really exciting to see how the various lectures are really resonating with me in regards to (Aspire to Her), and then how I can apply everything that I’m learning.”
“For me personally, the marketing lectures have been super helpful,” she continued. “Specifically, there was one about social media marketing and they talked about the various type of social media and the audiences for each channel…as we expand more, I definitely want to take all those things into consideration.”
The team has received positive feedback for their early efforts, and they’re excited to grow the Aspire to Her community. “Even at Accelerator, I’ve had so many women specifically come up to be and say ‘I checked out the website, I’m so excited for this, I subscribed right away,’” Merrick said. “(As for me,) it’s nice to know that once I graduate, I won’t be lacking that female community that I love so much at Women In Business.”