A study that showed by eighth grade, girls had a tendency to throw in the towel when competing academically against boys, caught the attention of Sue Smedstad, a longtime resident of Snowmass Village.
Smedstad was aghast to learn that young women were potentially compromising their academic aspirations in certain school settings and used that to plant the seeds for a one-day program she called “Girls to Women, Women to Girls.”
That was 22 years ago and since then, “Girls to Women” has expanded to include a boys component as well as other initiatives beyond a career fair and positive role modeling.
More than 150 Aspen eighth-graders are expected today at the Aspen Center for Physics and Snowmass Conference Center for the “Boys to Men” and “Girls to Women” programs, according to Jeff Tippett, who is organizing the boys’ component.
“The idea is kids at the ages of 13 and 14 need to be exposed to a wide variety of careers that are available to them,” said Tippett, a former Snowmass Village mayor.
Tippet’s wife Sue Smedstad was consumed with last-minute preparations for Thursday’s programs at the conference center, which has been the girls’ home for years. She is an ex-Aspen Skiing Company executive assistant who worked with former president D.R.C. Brown.
Invited speakers to today’s conferences include a lawyer, doctor, architect, firefighter and members of the law enforcement community, according to Tippett. Journalists, designers and accountants have been part of the diverse career fairs in recent years.
The boys event, now in its 14th or 15th year, launched after the schools started to posit: “What are we going to do for the boys?” Tippett said.
Three schools, the Aspen Middle School, Aspen Community School and Aspen Country Day School, will send their eighth-graders to the complementary programs that run all day Thursday; between 80-85 attendees are anticipated at each venue.
Eighth-grade teacher Mike Wessler said “Girls to Women” and “Boys to Men” are now augmented by two weeks of classroom programming at the Aspen Middle School.
“This year, we partnered with a nonprofit, YouthEntity out of Carbondale who have been coming into Aspen Middle School over the past few weeks to work with our students,” Wessler said.
“They were part of two items. First, they assisted with instruction on the financial literacy piece, and secondly brought a new idea to us that will occur on Friday morning which are two-hour, hands-on internships with professionals in our valley,” he said.
Wessler said that facet will be called, “My Career, My Life.” Basic financial literacy skills will include a discussion about checkbooks, debit cards, credit cards and taxes.
“There are small pieces of financial literacy built into career day. We’ve grown those things to be more multi-day for kids,” he reiterated.
Gentle guidance is offered during today’s packed schedule, including what are appropriate questions to ask professionals, cautionary advice about digital footprints and the basics of privacy settings.
“Who should you trust to give away your logins? No one,” Wessler said he tells students.
Before the economic downturn, Valley Partnership was a key funder for the “Girls to Women” and “Boys to Men” programming. The Aspen Youth Center is now a primary sponsor; both Tippett and Smedstad provide some of the financial support out of their own pockets.
At the Physics Institute, each of the professional men station themselves in a classroom and the boys then move from room to room for the informal discussions. Tippett said the number of professionals typically ranges from 14 to 18 people.
At the conference center, the setup is slightly different, with professionals gathered around round tables in several rooms to host the young women.
As evidence of the program’s staying power, some of the people who participated as eighth-graders have returned but to the other side of the table to pass along their knowledge and expertise from the working world.
Some high school juniors, who just three years before participated in “Girls to Women” and “Boys to Men” are invited back for a panel discussion to share with the younger students everything from time management to hazing to the importance of grades during the first semester of freshman year.