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‘They can create their own career path’

Girls learn that ‘glowing up’ can take different shapes

Kentwood —  To a group of ninth-grade girls, attorney Nadia Vann told her story – including the bumps and detours through her career change from teacher to lawyer.

She struggled with the Law School Admission Test the first time she took it. She broke up with her fiance and sold her engagement ring to buy books for law school. She spent a brief stint in design school and discovered it wasn’t a good fit. Always, she persevered.

“I’m excited to tell my story because I believe that girls need to know that it’s not a one-shot deal,” Vann said. “You get to have choices in your life. You get to make mistakes, and you get to come back and do it all over again. 

“If you want to try something else, do something different. You can bounce back and rebound from things, and I hope they can see that resilience in themselves.”

Options are many, and career pathways can zig and zag, explained East Kentwood Freshman Center Assistant Principal Erika Vann and Kent School Services Network coordinator Farris Withers. 

Co-organizing the first Glow Up Conference brought 18 local women in front of 160 ninth-grade girls to talk about navigating education and careers.

Talking Woman to Woman

The women  – including Nadia Vann (Erika Vann’s sister) – represented various professions. In breakout rooms throughout the Freshman Center, they talked about how they got to where they are today and shared words of wisdom. Speakers included a speech pathologist, nail tech, a TV journalist, social worker, manufacturer, dance instructor, water department supervisor and others.

“We want the girls to see women like myself who didn’t go straight to college,” said Erika Vann. “I needed them to hear that you don’t have to go to college, necessarily. You can do a trade. You can go to career school. You can be a mechanic. You can be a plumber. Or you can go to college. I wanted them to hear that from the community.”

It was a message that resonated with freshman Abigail Bello. 

“It teaches girls that they don’t have to follow the social norm of what they need to do after high school and during high school. … They get to choose what makes them happy and feel fulfilled and successful.”

Erika Vann said oftentimes, young people aren’t aware of all that’s out there.

 “I just want them to have at least some other avenues to travel besides just what they hear at home or in their families. It’s just important for them to know there are other ways to do things.”

Added Farris: “They can create their own career path.”

‘I’m excited to tell my story because I believe that girls need to know that it’s not a one-shot deal. You get to have choices in your life. You get to make mistakes, and you get to come back and do it all over again.’

– attorney Nadia Vann

Farris said her goal is to encourage girls to pursue their goals. “I chose the name “Glow up” to empower the young ladies. I wanted a term that was trendy, catchy and fun – something they could relate to. (Glow up means to transform for the better.) I want to make sure they are shining their positive light on the world.” 

Vann said hosting the event for girls was also a way to build unity and camaraderie. She intentionally put girls together who are not in the same social groups. “I wanted them to have time to come together and focus on the message and mingle.

Freshman Nadia Slendebroek said the event made her feel encouraged, supported and got her thinking about the impact of “surrounding yourself with good people and with people who will help you reach your goal of not settling for less.”

Farris Withers, Kent School Services Network community coordinator, hopes girls learn there are many options in life
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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is associate managing editor and reporter, covering Byron Center, Kentwood, Wyoming and Grand Rapids Community College. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013 and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio

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