Joscelyn Williams’ dream is to one day play in the WNBA. And while she dreams of a career in sports management, the METS Charter School student’s aspirations have made her a target for discouragement from classmates.
“A lot of times there will be boys, even girls, who say, ‘Oh, you’re not good enough’ or ‘You’re not gonna make it,’” said Williams, who plays point guard at the Jersey City-based charter school.
So when she had a chance to ask a panel of professional women about their experiences in business, she asked how they overcame the critics who told them they didn’t belong.
Marjorie Perry, president and CEO of Newark-based MZM Construction and Management Co. Inc., called it “a hard question” and gave an answer that spoke to the discrimination she faced in building her career. For Perry, who grew up in Newark, being taunted with racial epithets “was the end of the world, you think it’s the most disrespectful thing someone can do to you.”
But she took leadership classes that taught her how to change her perspective “and help you realize it’s disrespectful of the other person. You will have dark days, you will have doubts, but learning how to say, ‘that’s his problem, that’s her problem’ is so important to your success,” she said.
Empowering business students of tomorrow
Perry was speaking at Junior Achievement of New Jersey’s Career Success — Women and Girl Empowerment Series, which gave female high school students an opportunity to develop career-building skills in networking and business while hearing from female managers and learning about the unique technology-based business careers available through students at the School of Business at Stevens Institute of Technology.
Nearly 200 girls from 14 high schools attended the event, where students were guided by School of Business student ambassadors as they learned about success in tomorrow’s tech-driven workplace.
In addition to Perry, the panel featured Linda Sullivan, chief financial officer for American Water; Karen Lemon, vice president for network sourcing and service management at AT&T; and Sandi Catalano ’11, a project engineer for Phillips 66 who majored in mechanical engineering at Stevens. Women on the panel discussed overcoming challenges, the value of STEM as technology continues to redefine jobs and employment sectors, their mentors, and how they manage — and leverage — challenges from their personal lives in the professional space.
There was particular value in holding the event at Stevens, said Dr. Ann Murphy, associate dean of the undergraduate division at the School of Business. As companies aim to become more agile and aggressive, they need professionals who are skilled in the STEM fields and can blend business sense with technology and analytics-driven intuition.
High demand for Stevens graduates
Dr. Murphy pointed to the 100 percent placement rate for business students in the Class of 2016 as validation for the school’s direction. At Stevens, 99 percent of women are employed or in graduate school within six months of commencement; for the School of Business, that figure is 100 percent, she said.
Perry, of MZM Construction, said the focus on technology and STEM “is why Stevens is one of the top schools in the country.”
“You may go into policing, you may go into nursing, you may go into education — but it’s all driven by technology now,” Perry said. “The quicker you get ahead of that curve, the more likely you are to succeed. STEM is part of every job category today, whether you’re studying to be an engineer or planning to work for Verizon on the telephone poles.”
The event also taught girls important business skills, such as networking, collaboration and interviewing, while offering a primer on high-growth industries and jobs, and the skills required to work in such in-demand fields.
Williams, the METS student and basketball hopeful, said discussion around staying positive in the face of adversity was reassuring.
“It motivated me,” she said. “Hearing what they had to say makes me want to push myself forward, to do even better.”