Now in its second year, Exploring Entrepreneurship, a two-week summer program for girls, remains a popular opportunity for rising juniors. The program launched last year as a partnership between Sacred Heart Schools, Atherton (SHS) and Convent of the Sacred Heart “91st Street” in Manhattan. This year’s program recently concluded, with about 10 students from each school spending one week in New York City together followed by a week in the Bay Area.
As the program focuses on experiential learning across industries “native” to New York and the greater Silicon Valley/Bay Area, the group got to engage with young industry leaders; participate in daily field visits with expert panels, workshops, and hands-on design sprints; and attend networking dinners with women entrepreneurs.
In New York, the group visited financial corporations on Wall Street, as well as a health and wellness company. Next, heading to the San Francisco Bay Area, they visited tech and bio-tech companies, as well as a maker space business, and a coalition that created a hiking trail spanning across San Francisco.
Program directors Dan Brady, SHP assistant principal for strategic projects, and Charlene Chuang, Convent of the Sacred Heart director of network programs, spoke about how students’ entrepreneurial spirit was ignited through the program.
“A sense of purpose is a really important ingredient to creative thinking, creative work, and in cultivating an entrepreneurial mindset. Integral to that is being a part of making the world a better place,” said Brady. “A word we use is vocation or calling—for a student to have a meaningful life, they need to feel purposeful in their career. This program is one of the many things we’re doing as Sacred Heart educators to help students imagine themselves in careers and learn about the new and emerging possibilities of the future world.”
Brady explained the program was geared toward sophomore girls for two reasons—as a practicality because 91st Street is an all-girls school, and to “empower young women by giving them direct access to young women entrepreneurs.”
“The world would benefit from more women entrepreneurs, and if you empower young women to be leaders, that is what will make the world a better place,” said Brady.
Along with interacting with young leaders in various fields and learning how to network, students learned emotional intelligence, empathy building, and community building within their cohort.
A central part of the program was a series of “design sprint workshops,” which were based on methodologies from Stanford’s Design Thinking; a high school program called Project Invent; the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship; and LaunchX, a high school summer program from MIT. For this, the cohort was split into five design groups and posed a challenge to “redesign an experience for the older population,” explained Chuang. “We sprinted through five design phases—to find a need by interviewing elderly people, synthesize what they learned, ideate a prototype, test their prototype (which they did by meeting with the RSCJ at Oakwood), and then tell the story.”
Entrepreneurs meeting with the students all emphasized the importance of hard work, passion, being curious, and asking good questions, she added.
“I think what makes our Sacred Heart entrepreneurship program distinct, is students lead from their heart. Each student understands that they can help co-build a better world,” said Chuang. “They’re equipped to trust themselves, learn how to ‘fail forward’ and learn from their mistakes, and how to center humans—to really listen to others and understand their needs.”
Makena Tom (SHP ’24) spoke about what resonated most for her about the program. “I enjoyed [spending time] with the nuns, getting to hear their feedback on the projects we’ve been working on for the past week and a half, and then everything coming together—from the lessons we learned in the finance world, to the community building that happened.”
In terms of that one “nugget” of knowledge she’ll draw upon in the future, Tom said there was a “recurring theme” among the businesses visited, and a common piece of advice given by many of the women entrepreneurs: Learn by doing.
“You shouldn’t be afraid of trying something just for the purpose of figuring out you don’t like it, so whether that’s through internships, or a job you try because you want to learn—nothing is a bad experience, because you learn from everything you do.”