The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

The pioneers of “Women in Business” provide opportunities for the next generation of women in the workplace

Vanderbilt alumnae launch Summer Innovator Program to supplement lost internships due to COVID-19.
An Aspire to Her Q&A Zoom with Carly Bigi, Vanderbilt alumna and founder/CEO of Laws of Motion. Screenshot by Jo Cheng.

In the spring of 2015, six Vanderbilt undergraduate women founded an organization that sought to empower young women and connect them to a network of opportunities in the business world. Almost five years later, Vanderbilt Women in Business (WIB) continues to foster that mission, and the women behind the initiative haven’t slowed down. 

Jo Cheng (B.A. ‘18) and Sasha Pines (B.A. ‘18), two WIB founders, created a new community of young business women with Aspire to Her. By providing advice from successful businesswomen, Aspire to Her aims to equip the next generation with knowledge that can help launch their careers in their 20’s. 

“During our last year at Vanderbilt, Sasha and I talked about how we could continue the community we built for women in career settings because we were looking for post-grad inspiration and advice,” Cheng said. 

According to Cheng, Aspire to Her began as a monthly newsletter of compiled interviews delivered by mentors with whom they had developed relationships through Women in Business and beyond. These were published alongside articles that delivered advice centered around one’s early career. Cheng and Pines spearheaded the initiative with fellow Vanderbilt alumni Jordan DeTar (B.S. ‘18), Katie Upton (B.A. ‘17) and Carleen Sanchez (B.A. ‘17).  

The team has since moved from a heavily content-based platform to an experiential platform, led by DeTar, Cheng said. In addition to a biweekly newsletter, there are workshops and events (now virtual) for Aspire to Her members which can be found on their website. Through programming within New York City, women are connected with both peers and mentors to grow their professional network and professional skills early in one’s early career. 

When the COVID-19 pandemic canceled many summer internships, the Aspire to Her team decided to take their mission back to where it started—with college students. In partnership with Accenture Women in Interactive (WiN), the Aspire to Her team launched The Summer Innovator program. It consisted of a combination of virtual hands-on learning with a consulting project for college students and recent undergraduates. For four weeks, aspiring female leaders worked on a real business challenge for a female-founded start up and attended virtual “coffee chats” with mentors such as Selby Drummond, Head of Fashion and Beauty Partnerships at Snapchat, Cheng said. 

An infographic plugging the Aspire to Her summer innovator program’s “final pitch.” Graphic by Aspire to Her

“The students got to work on a real business problem. Birchbox pitched us a challenge that they are currently experiencing and students were able to learn from Accenture consultants and work together as a team to propose a solution,” Cheng said. “In June, Birchbox’s President, VP of Operations and Director of Brand Marketing attended the final pitch competition and the winning team got to attend a strategy session with the entire Birchbox leadership team, including their founder Katia Beauchamp.”

In addition to the business challenge, the program also hosted professional development workshops and one-on-one meetings with an Aspire to Her peer advisor. 

“Each participant was assigned to someone on the Aspire to Her team for a one-on-one career conversation,” Pines said. “I really enjoyed meeting the girls in a more intimate setting, really delving into their ambitions and brainstorming career planning. Unsurprisingly, this was a very ambitious group of women, so I had a lot of fun learning about all of their various passions and backgrounds.”

Originally, the Aspire to Her team had only planned on hosting one session. But when an overwhelming and unexpected number of applicants applied, they decided to hold a second session in July with start-up Laws of Motion. The team hopes to continue with this initiative by hosting similar programs in the future, Cheng said. 

According to Cheng, the entire Aspire to Her executive team has full-time consulting jobs outside of their Aspire to Her roles. Despite busy days, their passion for empowering young businesswomen drives them to continue providing opportunities of growth. What started as a newsletter has grown into a community of opportunity and guidance. 

“The best outcome that can come out of our experiences is connecting young women to each other and to mentors that can help share the trajectory of their careers,” Pines said. “We’re committed to continue building our community so we can continue to expand the networks of the women we support.”

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About the Contributor
Sahanya Bhaktaram, Former Life Copy Editor
Sahanya Bhaktaram ('23) is studying Communication Studies with minors in Business and the History of Art. She can be reached at [email protected].
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