FALL 2008 VOL. 9 NO. 2

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School Girls Unite 

Most Smith MBA students spend their time in the classroom learning from top-notch researchers. But a March 2008 event with School Girls Unite (SGU), a nonprofit advocacy group for global female education, gave students a unique opportunity to teach and mentor future community leaders.

A team of Smith MBAs coached 45 female attendees in public speaking and taught useful presentation skills. The day included lessons on addressing an audience, making an elevator pitch, and the “dos and don’ts” of speaking in front of people. Breakout sessions asked students to give elevator pitches in front of the group, identify their own public speaking weaknesses and create a skit that would help the organization increase its reach.

SGU started in 2004 with a simple goal: “to educate every girl in the world.” The group began with Shannon Sullivan, a seventh-grader from Kensington, Md., five other seventh-graders, four African women in their 20s and several community activists. Wendy Lesko, who was among the original organization members, now serves as SGU’s coordinator.

“Shannon certainly deserves a tremendous amount of credit,” Lesko says. “In the beginning, she invited lots of people to meetings. Now she lives in Atlanta and is a junior in high school.”

Today, a group of 20 Maryland girls whose roots include Bangladesh, Cameroon, Nigeria, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Togo, Turkey and the United States, work to provide scholarships for underprivileged girls in Mali. Their efforts, coupled with donations and sponsorships, have paid for 70 girls’ tuition, textbooks and tutoring.

The event came together thanks to Tiffany Grossman, who is married to former MBA Association president Rob Grossman, MBA ’08. Rob helped connect SGU with the Smith School, recruiting fellow classmates to serve as mentors for the day.

MBA students Loretta Goodridge, Denise Gonsalves, Rob Grossman, Tekisha Harvey, Liz Slobasky, and Corrinne Talley-Hobbs teamed up to teach SGU girls valuable public speaking skills that can be used in both educational advocacy and networking.

“We had a great time teaching the girls different skills we use in everyday networking,” says Goodridge, MBA ’08.

The workshop began with a focus on developing good presentation skills. Attendees were asked to critique an actor’s speaking abilities based on a clip from the TV series “The Office.” Students learned to create unique elevator pitches and presented skits in front of the entire group.

Lesko says the feedback from workshop attendees was positive. “They said things like, ‘I loved it, it was very inspiring,’ and ‘I learned how to be a better speaker,’” she says.

The lessons students learned at the workshop proved invaluable for Melissa Gross, a student at Albert Einstein High School in Kensington, Md. Gross was part of a group of education advocates who spoke with Congress members. At the event, Gross shared her experiences and SGU’s goals with singer Shakira, and her story was featured on the local news.

The members of SGU continually raise money to fund individual growth scholarships for girls in Mali. Along with SGU’s Mali-based sister organization, Les Filles Unies pour L’Education, members visit and encourage political and community leaders to make education a top foreign policy agenda.

On SGU’s future, Lesko says, “I had read UNICEF reports and studies that demonstrated the transforming impact of educating girls. If you educate one boy, you educate one person. If you educate one girl, she will educate the world. That’s what we work for.”


Copyright 2008 Robert H. Smith School of Business