Marie Paule Woodson, the assistant department director of human services for Miami-Dade County, told students of the Young Women’s Preparatory Academy on Wednesday the story of how she became a woman.
“We are all girls in the room, but we aspire to be women someday,” she informed teacher Ignacio Rodon’s eighth-graders.
Woodson, a guest speaker at the seventh Annual Women’s Symposium, detailed her humble beginnings from Haiti, explaining that her mother could barely sign her own name.
But her parents wanted more for her. Woodson moved to America when she was in her early 20s to pursue an education and learned to speak English without her parents by her side. She enrolled in Miami Dade College, and eventually attended Florida International University and St. Thomas University as well.
Digital Access For Only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
“Education is your passport to getting better,” Woodson said during the symposium, a Women’s History Month event.
Today, Woodson oversees a $48 million budget. In addition, she is the chair of the Haitian Women of Miami and is also a member of the Miami-Dade County Commission for Women.
“Make a commitment to yourself to reach your goals and reach higher than you thought you could,” Woodson said.
The annual event, which is similar to a career day, is important to the nearly 400 students. YWPA, which is nestled in Little Havana, was established in 2006. The school is the first sixth- to 12th-grade single-gender preparatory academy in Miami-Dade County.
Principal Concepción I. Martinez explained that the goal of YWPA is to empower the young women through leadership skills and to teach them to speak up, so that they feel secure and confident. She added that single-gender schooling eliminates the issue of male-dominated classroom settings.
The Women’s Symposium is a day to celebrate the achievements of local powerful women from within the community, as well as to showcase the success of the school.
“The event exposes ourselves to women leaders in the community, so they can see the kind of work that we’re doing here with single-gender schooling,” Martinez said. “At the same time, the women speak to the young ladies about their tribulations and expertise so that they can learn.”
There were 26 speakers at this year’s symposium. Among the speakers were bankers, attorneys, law enforcement officers, marketing consultants and even a pilot.
Each career woman was assigned to speak to a classroom from 9 to 10 a.m.
Marti Mang, senior vice president and a commercial lender for TotalBank, told teacher Elizabeth Jordan’s sixth-graders that today is an exciting time for women. When Mang started banking 44 years ago, she explained that women were not allowed to take out a loan unless they had a male co-signer.
When student Catherine Georges asked, “What does a person who wants to work for a bank need to study?” Mang’s answer wasn’t as simple as “finance or accounting.”
She told the students about the “5 Cs of Credit,” a method used by lenders to determine a client’s creditworthiness. Mang believes there is a sixth “C” — connections.
She informed the girls about the importance of marketing one’s self on LinkedIn, the social networking version of a résumé, through which she has made 3,500 connections.
“Each of you is becoming your own brand,” she said.
Mang is also the President of Commercial Real Estate Women Miami, which is a chapter of the national organization that celebrates the success of the advancement of women in the business. She feels that YWPA’s mission is very in line with CREW.
“I hope you realize how lucky you are that this school gives you the opportunity to shine.”
After the hourlong presentations were complete, each speaker was awarded with a certificate of appreciation.
“Since we’re going to college soon, it’s really nice to hear from women who have reached such a successful point in their lives,” said 17-year-old Melanie Vargas, who heard from Laura Davis Smith, an attorney.
Class president Juliet Flynn agrees.
“It’s a nice preview to see what our future careers can be like in 10 to 15 years.”
Follow @kathdevaney on Twitter.