Robbie Short

This weekend, more than 60 aspiring female leaders will learn the ins-and-outs of networking and campaigning in the School of Management’s Evans Hall.

Organized by a team of SOM students, the first annual Yale Young Women’s Leadership Launch conference will take place on Saturday, giving female New Haven high school students the opportunity to participate in a series of sessions focusing on career tracks for future CEOs, lawyers, scientists and engineers. These hands-on tracks will be supplemented with several speakers, including Connecticut Rep. Elizabeth Esty. The conference aims to expose the students to these leadership positions and provide them with resources to climb career ladders, said YWLL Founder and Co-Director Angelina Cardona SOM ’16.

“I want everyone walking away from Evans Hall that day to feel like they can literally do anything in the world,” Cardona said.

In each track, the students will work in groups to develop hypothetical campaigns, solve business challenges and build lava lamps to take home with them. The conference will also coach attendees on networking through a practice session at lunch. A panel of women affiliated with the University’s medical and nursing schools as well as other Ph.D. programs will also provide students with a look into panelists’ career journeys, Cardona said. YWLL Co-Director Greg Muecke SOM ’16 said the conference recruited the high school students by reaching out to New Haven Public Schools Superintendent Garth Harries ’95 and guidance counselors at various high schools.

SOM Women in Management Club Co-Chair Laura Fletcher SOM ’16 noted a current dearth of resources for low-income women in New Haven interested in pursuing professional careers, adding that the conference provides an encouraging space to support these female students in their career endeavors and fosters community among women.

“We’ve been really amazed about how much this has resonated with women at [SOM],” Fletcher said.

Cardona came up with the idea for YWLL during her first year as an SOM student, when she began to question how business students could further engage with the New Haven community. She cited her own upbringing — she is a first-generation college student in a low-middle income family who later studied at Stanford and worked at Google — as a factor that inspired her to develop the conference. YWLL is part of what Cardona feels is an obligation to help other women as she climbs her own career ladder, she said. She and Muecke began planning the conference last year and have since gathered a team of about 15 other SOM students to organize this Saturday’s events.

The conference will also partner with the college affordability initiative New Haven Promise, Cardona said. A number of New Haven Promise Scholars, former local high school students who have received scholarships from the organization to attend college, will volunteer at YWLL. Some scholars will lead a session for the attendees, while another — Southern Connecticut State University senior and Promise Ambassador Niasia Mercado —  will be the keynote speaker at the networking lunch. Cardona said the involvement of the scholars is a way for the conference to remain “true to the community” it serves.

“This is a way of being mindful,” Cardona said. “We want to have material that resonates most with the population we’re serving.”

YWLL 2016 attendees, who attend 12 different public and private schools in the city, will fill out surveys before and after the conference, Muecke said. These surveys will gauge how the conference has shaped students’ views on what career opportunities are open to them or interest them. A larger goal of the conference is for attendees to establish connections, not only among peers, but also with conference volunteers, Muecke added.

YWLL is funded by the SOM Dean’s Office and the school’s Clubs & Finance Committee. It receives external monetary sponsorship from the United Way of Greater New Haven and the Community Foundation of Greater New Haven, Muecke said.

Women hold 16.9 percent of Fortune 500 board seats, according to a 2014 report from the Center of American Progress.

Clarification, Tue. Feb 23: A previous version of this article described Angelina Cardona’s family as low-income instead of low-middle income.