Mentors Helping One Young Woman at a Time
April 17, 2014
Getting shot at 14 is an experience few can imagine.
Born in New York City, Olabisi Boyle, Director—Engineering Planning and Technical Cost Reduction at FCA US LLC, spent part of her childhood in Lagos, Nigeria. Her father, who is from Lagos, was an engineer with IBM and sparked her interest in math and science. After her parents divorced, she moved with her mother back to New York.
It was in Harlem, as a young teenager, that she was a victim of a gunshot wound during an armed robbery. While this event was traumatizing, through hard work and perseverance, Boyle went on to graduate from Columbia University and achieve professional success in the automotive industry.
“Though education, many things are possible;” a message Boyle conveyed to a group of students from Osborn College Preparatory Academy in Detroit as part of the Women of Tomorrow Mentor and Scholarship Program.
Empowering Young Women
The Women of Tomorrow program pairs students with professional women for monthly mentoring sessions, field trips and campus visits with the hopes of encouraging these young women to stay in school and pursue higher education. Scholarship opportunities are also provided for those with at least three years in the program.
Arvis Williams, Head of New Model Center—Advanced Stamping Manufacturing Engineering at FCA US, said she brought the students to the headquarters to help teach them professional skills necessary for life success.
“We want to give the girls opportunities that might not otherwise be available to them,” Williams said. “Children born in communities with sparse resources are at risk of reproducing those circumstances as adults if they don’t become aware of their alternatives.”
Denise Anne Taylor, a Professional Development and Etiquette Trainer Director for Competitive Advantage Inc., who also serves as a co-mentor, said the best part of the Women of Tomorrow program is seeing those “ah-ha” moments when you can tell a transformation is occurring.
“They don’t necessarily happen as a group, but when someone is affected by something they see or hear, they open up to additional possibilities for themselves,” Taylor said.
Osborn College Preparatory Academy administrator Javelle Hawkins said the students benefit from the program because it introduces them to different experiences.
“Students who are touring this facility might otherwise never leave the couple of blocks of their neighborhood,” Hawkins said. “It allows them to see another part of life that exists outside of their current zip code.”
The Michigan Connection
The Women of Tomorrow was founded in 1997 in Miami by television journalist Jennifer Valoppi, originally from Allen Park, Mich., and Don Browne, retired Telemundo Network President, as a way to help young women live up to their full potential.
With support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Women of Tomorrow program expanded to Detroit in 2011. Its relationship started with FCA US that same year.
Currently eight women from FCA US who are also Women’s Forum members, mentor more than 120 young women at seven public high schools in metro Detroit. Now in its third year, the Detroit program will celebrate its first class of high school graduates and scholarship recipients this May.
With a network of more than 450 mentors, Women of Tomorrow has served over 3,200 young women annually in 151 public high schools throughout Florida and Michigan.
The organization has also awarded $3.4 million in scholarships to more than 1,300 young women in pursuit of higher education. As part of a national expansion, Women of Tomorrow will launch in Philadelphia this fall and roll-out to Charlotte, N.C., in 2015.
Williams said the best part about the program is the moment a mentor connects with the students, earns their trust and realizes they are beginning to “see themselves in their potential versus their circumstance,” a motto she repeats each mentoring session.
“This visit allowed them to see the rewards of excelling in school and pursuing a college education firsthand,” Williams said. “By exposing them to the numerous types of careers and opportunities available, they can make better choices.”