At Notre Dame Prep (NDP), the mission of “educating girls to transform the world” is lived every day, in and out of the classroom. What better way to accomplish this than to send students out into the business world, giving them the opportunity to both work with and learn from women executives. This was part of the inspiration behind NDP’s most recent on-campus club, Rising Women. Co-sponsored by Junior Achievement, Rising Women partners NDP students with female mentors from Stanley Black and Decker. With a Shark Tank-like format, the 17-week program challenges a selective group of high schoolers to develop, pitch and produce a product to a group of businesswomen mentors.
The expectations are high and JA Rising Women underlines the importance of commitment. In its literature, it claims, “The program is great experience, but relies on the effort of the students involved to make it successful.”
NDP AP Econ teacher, Barbara Mantler, who helped spearhead the program at NDP, could not agree more. She notes that she has been “incredibly impressed with the students, with Junior Achievement and with the commitment of Stanley Black and Decker,” adding the personal reward for her is to see what she is teaching in the classroom take shape.
In fact, she drew many of the participants from her own AP Economics class. For senior Maggie Jones, one of Mantler’s AP Econ students, the fit was natural. Already intrigued by business, Jones was looking for hands-on experience to influence her choices in college. After completing an essay, she was one of 12 girls selected to NDP’s Rising Women Club, of which seven are seniors, three are sophomores and two are freshmen. The participants agree about the value of collaborating across grades.
Collaboration involved brainstorming in small groups of four or five students to come up with concept ideas that the group would present to a board of Stanley Black and Decker female executives. Both Mantler and Jones likened the presentation to Shark Tank. In their presentation, the girls are tasked with not only revealing a concept but also showing a price analysis and distribution plan. The board offers feedback to help the girls further their idea.
Sammy Ogundare, an NDP sophomore, took the lead in this next phase of the project. As part of NDP’s WIN (Women In) initiative, Ogundare spent her summer doing a “WINternship” during which she learned about aspects of engineering. She reasoned that participating in the Rising Women program would provide a glimpse into the business side. As a result, she has helped her team explore manufacturing options at the lowest price point for their proposed idea.
Together, the team narrowed their idea to a koozie. Dubbed “Sip Smart,” this drinking sleeve prevents the sweating and puddling that happens with plastic drink cups from places like Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts. Now, purchasers can enjoy an iced beverage without leaving a wet ring behind. As part of their research, they decided to design the drink sleeve in neoprene with a silicone rim. Ogundare explained that the best supply chain originated overseas. The team has already ordered their product and anticipates its arrival in a few weeks. They will rely on social media and a network of supporters to purchase them.
“Really, anyone who will buy them!” exclaims Ogundare.
Marrying interests in engineering and business, the program also tasks students to come up with financing for their concepts. The girls sought out “investors” from friends and family to fund their project and push it to the next phase of production.
But the arrival of the custom koozies does not end the program for these NDP students. Mantler is quick to remind that the program is ongoing and culminates in a regional competition which will take place March 20 at University of Baltimore. Here, five members of the Rising Women club will compete against seven other schools for accolades like Top CEO and Best Employee. NDP will be one of only two all-female teams represented and will be judged on their marketing strategy and sales approach.
Mantler especially likes the broad base of award categories. In her classes, she stresses that while in most businesses, success is defined by profit, “success is also defined by other intangibles.”
She calls the connection with Stanley Black and Decker “extraordinary,” adding that teachers can only provide so much context as compared to real life, hands-on learning and experience.
For the NDP students involved in the Rising Women program, the interaction with female executive role models was invaluable, helping them to develop a skill set unmatched in the classroom. Mantler feels certain, “We have some future business leaders.”
Founded in 1873, Notre Dame Preparatory School is a Catholic, independent, college preparatory school for approximately girls in grades 6-12. The School Sisters of Notre Dame sponsor the school, which is dedicated to educating girls to become young women who will transform the world.
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