"Sit next to someone you don't know... you will be glad you did!"

Twice a year, the JAKC Future Women’s Leadership Forum (FWLF) brings Kansas City professional women and high school students together for a day of growth, reflection, and mentorship. Past forums have been hosted in-person at the Kauffman Foundation Conference Center. They have included panel discussions, breakout sessions, and keynote speakers on career and personal development topics. This past April, however, the event was forced to find new avenues of connection due to the city-wide COVID-19 lockdown.

Determined to help impact young women, three FWLF presenters graciously agreed to take their previously planned content and transform it into a virtual experience. On April 28th, 2020 Crystal Everett, Adriana Vivas, and Nickey Buzek guided virtual event attendees through strategies for making the most out of their career, planning their future, and learning from those who came before and who will come after. Crystal’s presentation “Partners in Purpose” explored how to intentionally and mindfully design fulfilling mentor-mentee relationships, with an emphasis on communication and boundaries. Adriana and Nickey teamed up to co-present “Representing You,” a session to help women identify the tools they need to manage their professional image during the digital age. It was especially timely given the business world’s shift to remote work and the blurring of lines between home and office life. I sat down (virtually) with all three of these accomplished women to discuss their career paths and see what advice they have for young people coming into the world.

Image caption: Crystal Everett

Crystal holds undergraduate degrees from Drake University in Public Relations and Sociology, as well as a master’s degree in Human Relations from Northern Arizona University. She currently works as the Real-World Learning Coordinator for Kansas City Public Schools where she connects students to unique opportunities to prepare for their future. She summarized her role saying, “My day to day is figuring out how to get students access to assets but also helping them make better decisions and think about life after high school.”

Her biggest goal is to provide kids futures with flexibility. Noting the large amount of change seen in 2020 alone she commented, “We need to teach kids how to pivot. It’s about skills and making them transferable, so it’s not all about one job, one program, and nothing else.” Another JA Champion, Nicole Jacobs Silvey, introduced Crystal to the FWLF two years ago. Her time as a mentor during the event is what sparked the idea to facilitate her own FWLF session in 2020. A concern kept coming back to her. She confided, “I remember worrying if we’d overwhelm the students. That is where I got the idea for my presentation. How do we work with students and not make it feel one sided? The students are looking to get something from the adults, but it’s definitely a two-way relationship.”

She encourages students to be proactive in putting themselves forward and becoming comfortable advocating for themselves, rather than wait for someone else to provide answers. Crystal advises, “Sit next to someone you don’t know, practice standing up and introducing yourself. You will be glad you did it. It’s a chance to grow and expand your network.”

Image caption: Adriana Vivas (L) and Nickey Buzek (R)

Nickey and Adriana met on the University of Central Missouri Campus through participation in the Innovative Public Relations class. The unique program gives students the chance to learn valuable workplace skills in a small-scale Public Relations Agency. Students complete real projects for real clients, reporting to a manager instead of a professor. “They gave us no slack for being students,” Nickey laughed, recalling one project with a disgruntled client. She took skills learned through that program, as well as those gained at two internships, one completed with JAKC, and leveraged them into a position at Ad Astra as a Public Relations Specialist after graduating with a degree in Public Relations from UCM.

After completing her undergraduate degree, also in Public Relations, Adriana wasn’t quite ready to leave academia. Currently she is wrapping up her master’s degree in Communications from UCM but has big plans for the fall. “My passion lies with nonprofits. I’m interested in helping disseminate their message in creative ways.” Through their aligned educational goals, Nickey and Adriana became fast allies. But their path to their calling was quite different.

Nickey initially set herself on the path to become an accountant, like her mother, but quickly found it didn’t resonate strongly as a future career. A career guidance counselor on campus helped her narrow her options, “I went to them and said, ‘Hey I have no idea what I’m doing with my life, can you help me out?’” An aptitude test and a few trial classes later, Nickey was hooked on Public Relations. In contrast, Adriana had a passion for journalism from the start. However, UCM lacked a Journalism school so she took PR classes as the next closest thing. Along the way she has identified other complimentary talents to fill out her resume. “I have developed a passion for graphic design. Now I freelance creating content on the side. I have many paths, but they all stemmed from my love of connecting with an audience.”

The “Representing You” presentation builds on Nickey and Adriana’s successes and struggles during their time in college and beyond, Nickey added insights on how to navigate tough topics. “The things I am most comfortable talking about are those hard workplace conversations. You have to know how to advocate yourself.” Adriana provided knowledge on how to cultivate a strong personal brand, “I’m there to help with your logo, your website, what kind of content you’re posting, and how to maintain a professional presence online.” Together the women hope to give tools that are useful for women at all stages of their career.

Nickey stresses the power of focusing on personal development, even if it seems like no one is watching. She said, “If you’re improving yourself, even if you tell no one, I guarantee you there are at least five people looking at you and your accomplishments thinking ‘wow I wish I could be that.’ You will influence others to make changes in their own lives.” Adriana wants to make sure that women, especially young women, stay true to themselves saying, “You can connect with anyone if you just be yourself.” Nickey finished by explaining why she chooses to invest her time with FWLF and JAKC, “Junior Achievement showed me it doesn’t matter where you start. It matters where you want to go, and that there are always people there to help you get there.” 

Our three presenters created a valuable and impactful experience for attendees of the first ever completely virtual Future Women’s Leadership Forum. We value their trailblazing attitudes and inspiring mentorship for high school girls in our community and hope to welcome them back as mentors and session leaders for future events. You can view recordings of both sessions by visiting this link. The next FWLF is tentatively scheduled to be held in-person again at the Kauffman Foundation Conference Center on Tuesday, October 20th, 2020, with a contingency plan to return to a virtual setting if needed. Keep an eye out for calls for mentor sign-ups in August!

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