- Associated Press - Saturday, March 11, 2017

KINGSTON, Wash. (AP) - On Monday afternoon at a small table in the corner of Kingston Middle School’s library, 14-year-old Celia Williams pondered the right age to get married and have kids.

“Sixteen?” she laughed, and quickly followed with, “Just kidding.”

Across from her, the school’s associate director of learning support programs, Sonia Barry, answered the question seriously.

“I don’t think there’s a golden number,” she said. “It’s just when you have a sense of self.”

The conversation was one of many taking place Monday afternoon as part of the Speed Mentoring workshop, an hour where young women at the school could pick the brains of professionals and community leaders.

Penny Koons, the school employee who coordinated the program, drew the idea from her time in the Coast Guard. Because so many younger enlisted women were working in heavily male-dominated units, Koons and other senior Coast Guard members created an event where they could make connections and have their questions answered.

Now, she hopes it will connect a new generation of young women to already established community members.

“We wanted to start with the girls because we just wanted to empower them,” Koons said.

Like speed dating, mentors sat at tables while students made their rounds, two or three at a time, in six-minute intervals. Any question was fair game. If the conversation faltered, students drew from a deck of pre-written questions. Mentors could throw the ball back with cards of their own.

Questions ran the gamut, from silly to serious: When was the last time you laughed? What does the glass ceiling mean and what can we do about it? Have you ever broken the rules for a good cause? Mentors answered questions about relationship advice, their respective careers and even simply whether they wore the same uniform every day.

At one table, eighth-grader Maighe Williamson asked First Class Petty Officer Jayme DeGooyer whether she had any regrets about joining the military.

DeGooyer, a physical therapy assistant, has served as a health technician in the Coast Guard for 12 years. Koons was once her master chief.

“No, I have no regrets, actually. I looked at it as a growing opportunity,” DeGooyer said.

DeGooyer was one of 10 professional women Koons invited to speak with students. Others included longtime local piano teacher Dianne Johnston, Ultraman endurance competitor Beth Brewster, paralegal Laura Gronnvol and the school’s native education liaison Sacheen Collins.

“I thought that it was great that the young girls could see a variety of women in a range of employment,” Collins said.

Koons said she started with the girls to help them realize the need to work together. Men have mentored men for ages, she said, and she believes young women also should make connections for all the goals they want to achieve.

There are plans to expand the program to the young men at the school. Koons hopes to make speed mentoring a quarterly event.

“I would love to see boys and girls together doing speed mentoring because, again, it fosters cooperation. … We gotta learn to interact and work with one another,” Koons said.

Williams, who was one of the first to volunteer for the event, said she signed up to talk with women who work in science and math. At 14, she already loves math and has her eyes set on Harvard or Stanford. The speed mentoring was useful, but she wished she had more time to dig deeper with the guests.

“I would say the one thing I learned was not to let others choose your path for you,” she said.


Information from: Kitsap Sun, https://www.kitsapsun.com/

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