An astrophysicist, a nationally known consultant and author, a marketing communications specialist, and a senior strategy advisor walk into a high school.

The punchline? Actually, it’s no joke: For a group of teenage girls contemplating their futures, a workshop featuring women leaders in these four roles painted a picture of the possibilities—and the mental strength needed to realize them—as young women leave high school.

“Building Self-Confidence and Resilience: Fostering A Growth Mindset That Helps You Bounce Back,” was the topic of a special panel discussion hosted by the Women’s Leadership Center at Williams Bay on Friday, April 19, 2024, at Williams Bay High School in Williams Bay, WI.  Members of the panel included Donna de St. Aubin, Principal at St. Aubin, Haggerty & Associates, an HR and management consulting firm; Mallory Conlon, astrophysicist and Outreach & Education astronomer at Yerkes Observatory; and Madeline Sukhdeo, Network & Communications Specialist for Lincoln Road Enterprises and a recent graduate of Johns Hopkins University. Moderating the panel discussion was MarySue Barrett, Senior Strategy Advisor for the Women’s Leadership Center.

As they discussed such topics as recovering from setbacks, finding your career path, or making sure your voice is heard when you’re the only woman in the room, the panelists shared personal stories about the choices each made as they went off to college and entered the world of work. All female students in grades 10 through 12 at Williams Bay High were invited; almost 30 young women attended over their lunch hour.

The panelists emphasized the importance of having a growth mindset to cope with the inevitable challenges women face navigating their careers. The term “growth mindset” comes from research by Stanford University psychology professor Carol Dweck into the belief systems and assumptions that shape individual success or failure. The deciding factor, Dweck discovered, is not native intelligence, as is often assumed. Rather, she proposed, what matters more is a person’s belief in their capacity to learn, grow, and bounce back from every experience, including mistakes and failure.

Each panelist has been a leader (and, in some cases, a pioneer) in fields where she had to prove her credibility and value. Each spoke about how she personally cultivated resilience, or the capacity to recover from disappointments and setbacks.

“College and the years that follow are full of change,” said Madeline Sukhdeo, 2023 graduate of Johns Hopkins University. “Investing in your future, achieving your goals, and acting upon your values takes resilience, a trait built over time. As someone only a handful of years ahead of you, my advice is to be generous in the kindness and grace you show yourself as you invest in the woman you are becoming,”

The workshop was hosted by the Women’s Leadership Center at Williams Bay, a place where women leaders at the forefront of public and private enterprise, global supply chain, engineering and technology, infrastructure and design, and space and astrophysics will convene to develop global solutions to complex problems.

For the 2022-23 school year, Williams Bay High School had an enrollment of 208 students in grades 9 through 12, and a graduation rate exceeding 90%.