This past weekend, I had the privilege of attending USC Own It, an on-campus, all-day leadership summit organized by some incredible USC students. Own It is actually a national organization, centered around empowering women to become leaders in their communities and respective career fields. A friend of mine had attended a similar event at Georgetown University while doing a semester in Washington DC; when she came back, she knew she had to bring it to USC. She encouraged me to attend, promising me a rewarding, inspirational experience, complete with great food, great speakers and great networking opportunities.
I came into the event a little hesitant, mainly since none of my friends were willing to buy a ticket and commit 9am-4pm “listening to other people talk.” My friend was counting on me coming, so I obliged, but as I stood in line to check in, completely alone and underdressed (apparently “smart casual” does not mean a nice shirt and jeans and it definitely doesn’t mean birkenstocks), I began to wonder if I had made the right decision to come. I’m not necessarily the most extroverted person, and I had just signed up for a day of networking and talking to new people. I had a midterm on Monday, I could still leave and get in a few hours of studying. I considered making a break for it, but then I saw the breakfast spread: scattered baskets of yummy pastries and fruit, along with coffee, tea and hot chocolate. I decided to stay.
I sat on the steps of Bovard, armed with a plate of fruit and a chocolate croissant, when someone came up and sat with me. She introduced herself, clearly much more comfortable with this interaction than I was, and asked me where I was from. Before I knew it, we were chatting about school, academic interests, and student orgs. She was a graduate student, working in the Brain Body Dynamics Lab– a lab that actually correlates very well to the work I do at the Biomechanics lab. We traded notes, added each other on Linkedin, and went inside to listen to the first couple of panels.
I’ve been going into a ton of detail on this, so I’ll summarize how the rest of the day went. The conference was structured into a couple of sessions, consisting of four panels that everyone was invited to attend, along with two breakout sessions. The breakout sessions were focused on a certain field or industry, so people interested in meeting leaders in specific fields signed up for those respective slots. The whole conference was centered around empowering female leaders, so all the speakers at this event were successful women in fields from entertainment (sound designer for Game of Thrones, Nadine from Jane the Virgin) to tech (founder of TechLadyMafia, founder of wogrammer/badass working at Oculus under Facebook) to healthcare (an incredible neonatologist at CHLA and the founder of Heal, a startup responsible for an app kind of like Uber for healthcare providers). The editor in chief of Jezebel spoke, the “godmother of Silicon Beach,” Cameron Kashani, gave a panel, one of the VP’s of Snapchat presented, and many, many more. I got to hear speakers that were experts in many fields besides my little niches of engineering and medicine, and I left the conference feeling truly inspired. I met the founder of wogrammer, Erin Summers, over lunch– we bonded over shade and quality tacos. I was terrified of going into this conference alone, but it was actually really really nice not being tied to a friend; I could explore my own interests and talk to whoever I wanted to without any kind of social commitments.
The conference itself was perfect for networking– reps from Microsoft, Ernst&Young, Siemens and other companies all had recruiters out during lunch, and all the speakers were wandering around and eating with us. I made some great connections with healthcare people (from the breakout session I attended), and met people in completely different fields. The whole experience really reminded me of how diverse the student body is here, and how lucky I am to go somewhere where my peers are passionate about so many unique subjects. Own It was a really rewarding experience for me, and I left genuinely feeling empowered and excited about my academic experience. I linked a couple of videos on the speakers I was most inspired by; check them out below!
Ann Wang, founder of Enrou: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gqJkbWmkpks
Cameron Kashani, Godmother of Silicon Beach: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=01AoTVZ2B78
Emma Carmichael, Editor-in-Chief at Jezebel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HLY0ISlaA0U
Azie Tesfai, Nadine on Jane the Virgin & Social Entrepreneur: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uyej8ViwGDc
There were so many more, but I’ll leave it at that. While this weekend wasn’t necessarily an “engineering” weekend, I explored some of my other interests, and really felt fulfilled. Own It is definitely something I hope to get more involved with in the future, because I really believe in the idea of empowering women in all fields. I had an amazing time, and I’m so glad I didn’t “make a break for it” and stuck out the entire conference!!
Fight on, peace out!!