Photo courtesy El Paso ISD
The Young Women’s STEAM Academy inaugural Women’s Conference earlier this week gave students and other participants a chance to hear inspiring stories and messages from successful women leaders in a variety of fields.
Featured speakers for the “Be-YOU-tiful” conference included: Emcee Dr. Tamekia Brown, EPISD chief academic officer; Congresswoman Veronica Escobar; Georgina Perez, State Board of Education; Iris Lopez, founder & executive director of “Mija, Yes you Can”; Alejandra Baca-Rodriguez, founder and editor-in-chief of Belle the Magazine; and Crystal Ponzio-Busto, marketing executive of for Netflix.
“We were so fortunate to have five amazing women who graciously donated their time and energy to speak and lead at our first conference,” said Naomi Conner of the Young Women’s Academy. “The student committee was so encouraged by their stories they thought to open the conference to all families, all genders, and all who seek to support women in leadership. People registered from El Paso, North Carolina, Florida, Connecticut, California, Tennessee and more.”
Brown, who kicked it off with her own story of perseverance and overcoming big obstacles, guided participants through the program.
“She inspired us all to keep pushing through the hard times because that is what makes us stronger and resilient,” Connor said.
Perez shared her story of resiliency during her childhood and how she turned to the library to find peace though the books given to her by the librarian. This small action was significant point in her life as she now fights the good fight to strengthen our Mexican-American and African-American studies in the state of Texas.
Baca-Rodriguez left participants with a message on how to embrace fear and use the momentum of fear to move forward. A traumatic event during her adolescent years, left her fearful to leave her home but her parents supported and wanted her to leave her hometown in Mexico and attend college at UTEP.
“This allowed her to grab a hold of many opportunities to travel around the world and overcome her fear of people and the unknown,” Connor recalled. “Now, she is an advocate for LatinX representation in the wedding industry.”
Ponzio spoke to the audience about taking chances and not letting doubt creep in our minds. She shared that school activities would always seem interesting when shared on the morning announcements but never felt like ‘it was for her.’ Then, one day, she noticed her friends taking advantage of opportunities to do cool things, and thought, “Why not me?” It was in that moment, she realized that she could do whatever she wanted to do but it would take her making the first step, a bit of work behind the scenes, and persistence.
“This persistence has helped her make sure the LatinX community is being represented in the entertainment industry,” Conner said.
Lopez’s presentation focused on mental health and how hard it was to always wonder why she was so different than other people.
“With the encouragement of the people who were close to her, she pursued her dreams in the journalism field,” Connor said of the KVIA weathercaster. “She has changed the landscape of how we discuss mental health in the work place and she is paying it forward with her organization, ‘Mia, Yes You Can.’”
The students also received video messages from other prominent women: U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar; KVIA anchor Stephanie Valle; Katherine Balogun with 21st Century Women; Valerie Ponzio, singer-song-writer from “The Voice”; and and Angel Mitchell, an aspiring Naval Flight officer.
“Each person had an uplifting message on what is Be-YOU-tiful to them, to keep pressing on, and the importance of taking every opportunity presented that will help them,” Connor said.