Fostering Future Leaders
DBOS PhD student Jennie Giron puts women and teens on the path to empowerment
For Jennie Giron, ending up at CGU wasn’t always the plan.
After graduating with her BA in psychology with a minor in mathematics from New Mexico State University, Giron spent two years teaching seventh-grade mathematics with Teach for America (TFA), a branch of AmeriCorps that enlists recent college graduates to teach in low-income communities across the U.S.
But she did more than impart the quadratic formula while in TFA.
“In my time teaching, I noticed that my female students really clung to me,” said Giron. “They would ask me questions about high school, college, and beyond. I started having lunch with a group of them every Wednesday. During these lunches, I would ask them about what they were interested in, what their goals were, what obstacles could stand in their way of accomplishing their goals, and how they could overcome these obstacles. I encouraged many of them to run for leadership positions as an opportunity to develop their potential, and I personally wrote letters of recommendation for many of them.”
Gradually, Giron said she became an unofficial mentor and ultimately ended up advancing women leadership.
“I could identify with my students because I came from a similar background: Hispanic, low socioeconomic background, first generation in my family to go to college. The difference was that unlike these girls, I had had strong mentors in my life. I felt a sense of responsibility to provide opportunities for my students to feel heard, encouraged, and special.”
Although teaching was Giron’s intended career path, the idea of leadership—especially how to develop future leaders—brought her out of the classroom as a teacher and back to the classroom as a student at CGU, where she just completed her MBA from the Peter F. Drucker & Masatoshi Ito Graduate School of Management and is working towards a PhD in organizational behavior through the Division of Behavioral & Organizational Sciences (DBOS) in the School of Social Science, Policy & Evaluation.
But she didn’t forget her time in TFA and the students who inspired her to return to school.
During her second year at CGU, Giron became co-director of the student-led Women in Leadership Association (WILA) of Claremont Graduate University and, together with co-director and arts management alumna Shanda Domango, created a teen empowerment workshop (a version of which WILA is still implementing, three years later, in local schools).
Based on the success of the WILA teen empowerment workshop, the Pomona Unified School District enlisted Giron last fall to develop a more comprehensive workshop focused on increasing self-worth and confidence through goal setting, strength identification, and resource building for at-risk teen girls.
“I wanted to combine my Drucker business background with everything I had been learning about leadership in DBOS,” Giron said. “Having a background in education, I also knew that the workshops had to be hands on and engaging. So we did activities where the girls thought of themselves as a business by creating a mission and vision statement for themselves. We talked about how companies brand themselves and how our interactions and behavior contribute to our ‘personal brand.’
But for Giron, leadership empowerment isn’t just meant for the young—or the at-risk.
“I’m interested in leadership in women from the whole age spectrum: How do we get women started young, developing the tools, getting them the resources, so when they grow up they will become leaders?” said Giron.
In addition to her community work with students, Giron is also conducting research with her advisor, DBOS Professor Michelle Bligh, to develop strategies to help professional women successfully increase their negotiation outcomes. And this research couldn’t be more timely: According to a June 2014 article in The New Yorker, a recent survey of graduating professional students found that only 7 percent of women attempted to negotiate their initial offers, while 57 percent of the men did so.
“[Giron’s] findings have the potential to reveal strategies that individuals, especially women, can use to increase their negotiation outcomes,” Bligh said. “[This] could empower them to use negotiation as a tool to enhance their careers and their lives.”