When little kids dream about their future, they dream big: astronaut, musician, doctor, maybe even president. Their ambitions are inspiring, yet when they grow up, they are often told their dreams may be too far out of reach and are guided down a more realistic job path. However, Marian is encouraging students to embrace passion and purpose in preparation for a fulfilling future.
Marian is working hard to maintain the spark of ambition in students and help them pursue their dreams in a way that’s much more concrete than “what do you want to be when you grow up?” In fact, Marian has been encouraging young women to become “confident, independent thinking leaders” for years, especially in male-dominated fields like STEM and politics.
Take ’01 alumna Sarah Shay Gudeman for example. After leaving Marian, Gudeman attended Iowa State University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree of science in mechanical engineering. Gudeman now works at Morrissey Engineering Inc. as a mechanical engineer and sustainability manager. “I function as a design engineer, sustainability consultant, and commissioning authority,” Gudeman said. “When I started in the industry, there were far too few females in engineering. That’s changing now, but there’s still a huge demand for engineering of all types in general.”
Gudeman encourages Marian girls interested in STEM to take additional math and science classes, and to “investigate different types of engineering and start making connections or following people at companies that would be of interest.” Gudeman suggests that, when pursuing a career in STEM, “be strategic in the courses you choose to take and apply for internships in college.”
Gudeman may be seeing a few Marian girls in engineering soon, as Marian has doubled down in its goal to balance the gender gap in STEM fields. “Despite being in the minority, women have a very important role in STEM and I am excited to be a part of it,” senior Grace Ellis said. She plans to study civil engineering in college.
Morgan Watters graduated from Marian in 2008 and now works as a political operative at Colorado Rising in Denver, CO. Watters’ typical day involves working with many candidates, organizations and other consultants to organize political campaigns. “I love that I get to do work that truly, tangibly matters. I get to be a part of making our communities more equitable and bring real representation to all people in this country,” Watters said.
Watters isn’t alone in her passion for politics. Senior Callie Cavanaugh has dreams of pursuing politics and becoming a U.S. senator. “I’ve volunteered on political campaigns before,” Cavanaugh said. “I understand that the political process is a difficult one, so I plan to spend time working and interning for politicians I align with, running for smaller offices and working for organizations and nonprofits that promote the issues most important to me.” Cavanaugh plans to study political science in college, much like Watters, who received the same degree from the University of Nebraska Lincoln.
Some girls are still unsure of what they want to do with their lives, but they’re not alone. After leaving Marian in 2014, Lauren Koperski Phipps didn’t find her dream career until she graduated from the University of Nebraska Omaha with a degree in computer science, which she uses in her work as an application developer.
“One thing that was challenging, especially as I entered the field, was convincing others that I wanted to and could be a programmer. Some people encouraged me to avoid programming because it’s notoriously a male-dominated field and that I could be better suited for other positions,” Phipps said. “To overcome this struggle, I worked doubly hard and found incredible supporters at school: the teachers who believed in me.”
Since the time that Phipps graduated, Marian has made a great deal of changes, one of which being the addition of STEM-focused classes, such as computer science and programming. “I can’t express how excited I am that tech classes are now being held at Marian,” Phipps said.
Students like junior Jada Williams are benefiting from such classes, which feed into her passion for computer science and software development (her intended career). “I’m interested in computer science because I think that the field is so vast, and it never stays the same. It’s constantly changing with new information and designs, and I think that’s amazing,” she said.
Marian strives to be a place where students can pursue their goals openly and without judgment, but no school is perfect. “I appreciate that young women are encouraged to be independent leaders, but I also feel very judged for being outspoken about my beliefs from time to time,” Cavanaugh said. “I think Marian should work harder to create an attitude of increased acceptance and open-mindedness among both students and staff.”
Still, students are optimistic about the future for Marian girls. “I feel like Marian is encouraging us to use our voices to make change in society,” senior Emma Gunn said, who has plans to study law and eventually become a judge.
Alumnae share this sentiment, and hope to share a bit of advice with current students: “It’s okay to not know what’s coming. You’ll know what you want when you see it, and when you do, go for it without hesitation,” Phipps said. “You lose a lot of sleep worrying about what other people expect from you and the trade-offs of making a decision one way or another. Sometimes the moments of imperfection are the bravest of all.”