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As my friends and I entered the Serendipity Labs downtown, we took pictures on a purple carpet, wrote down creative ways to make the world a better place on dry erase “Idea Boards,” and told jokes on camera for Hilarity for Charity’s Alzheimer’s patients. Joined by 100 other Chicagoland high school girls, we were there to witness the first GenHERation Summer Leadership Series in Chicago.

The evening kicked off with a panel of female executives from different fields: Christian Young, Senior Manager in Ernst and Young’s Advisory Services Practice; Janel Forde, Deputy Commissioner of the City of Chicago’s Chicago PanelistsDepartment of Fleet and Facility Management; Jayne Reardon, Executive Director of the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism; Lynn Jerath, President and Founder of Citrine Investment Group; and Sarah Doherty, Co-Founder and CEO of TeleHealthRobotics. Panelists talked about being minorities in the worlds of business, tech, and law, encouraging us attendees to reach for the sky and not let anyone, even ourselves, tell us what we can or can’t do.  In regard to choosing a career, they said to find work that’s meaningful for us, to not worry if our plans changed, and to have mentors and be a mentor. Panelists also stressed the importance of asserting oneself, especially when it comes to doing things outside the status quo. As Sarah Doherty said, “Just ask, and then don’t take no for an answer.”

My favorite portion of the evening consisted of using standard household objects to create inventions that would make schools more efficient.  My team used toothpicks, styrofoam bowls, mini marshmallows, and paper candy wrappers to portray “Desklon,” a Teflon-coated desk that would prevent chewing gum from sticking and consequently reduce the workload of custodians. We listened as other groups presented their creative ideas — a “Desk Buddy” that held essential paper, pencils, and calculator, so students didn’t have to bring materials to class with them, solar powered motion sensor soap and water dispensers and hand dryers to reduce bathroom waste, suction cup shoes that would prevent hall traffic jams by allowing students to take walls and ceilings to class.

Three attendees participated in the Social Innovation Challenge, and the winning selection will use the prize money to equip an underprivileged African school with iPads.  A raffle drawing concluded the evening; several lucky winners took home gift cards and scholarships.

This event was an amazing opportunity to meet other girls my age who want to achieve their dreams and learn from women who already have.  I learned to think creatively and go for my goals, no matter how old I am.  I was inspired to go out and make the world a better place.  I can’t wait for next year’s Leadership Series!

Contributor: Claire Reardon

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