For many young women, getting ahead in life means finding a mentor who will guide them in the right direction.
Barbara Passero had one such mentor when she was growing up as a child in Cleveland in the 1950s. It was an aunt who exposed her to careers in fields not traditionally taken up by women.
“My aunt believed in me and saw the potential in me to do better than she did,” Passero said. “When I was growing up, women could only be librarians, teachers and secretaries. [My aunt] told me that I should consider a career in engineering or science…”
Passero decided that she wanted to give back to other girls the same way her aunt did for her. During the early 1980s while working as an information manager at MIT, Passero put together her first mentoring program for young girls interested in careers in marine biology.
Passero is particularly interested in seeing young women pursue careers in the sciences, technology and engineering not only because they are non-traditional fields, but as President Barack Obama has said since his historic election last year, the next generation of Americans need to think about pursuing careers that will help them stand out in the increasing competitive global economy.
According to Passero, the difference between poverty and financial stability often rests on a mother’s education and/or training.
“Women need to be mentored to move ahead, and they need to see other women in those careers to feel comfortable about that move,” Passero said. “Having a program like this can only make a positive impression on girls and their futures, especially girls from under-served communities.”
Recently, Passero became the founder and director of the Career and Mentor Kit (CAMKit) program, which encourages middle school-age girls to explore traditional and non-traditional careers. She said the goal of the CAMKit program is to introduce careers that are “financially rewarding and personally satisfying through creative, highly effective methods.”
Passero presented a series of workshops in February to 5th and 6th grade girls in the METCO Program at Belmont’s Chenery Middle School.
“Barbara approached us about doing an innovative program about career development for girls,” said Belmont METCO director Diane Wiltshire. “We are glad we did it because the girls and their parents loved it. We are looking into bringing the program back next year.”
In each workshop, Passero presented laminated poster cards showing pictures and stories of real women discussing their various jobs. All the women featured in the CamKit cards are from the Boston area and were interviewed by Passero. At the end of the program, each girl was expected to create a poster card with their own prospective career aspirations.
Naimah Russ, 10, of Dorchester was a participant in the program, and said it opened her eyes to seriously pursuing a career as a scientist.
“I love the program because I didn’t know women could be scientists, and now I think it is something I want to do,” she said.
Bianca Molina, 11, of Boston and Shakera O’Bryant, 13, of Dorchester both said they were impressed by the program and now believe that they have many career options.
Molina said she wants to become either a doctor or a veterinarian, while O’Bryant is choosing between working as a dancer or a hair stylist.
These are the exact results Passero said she was looking for — giving girls different options and making them think about doing whatever they wanted.
“It is so exciting to know that I am helping girls reach for the skies,” she said.