In fall of 2019, Hewitt’s Lunch and Learn series began welcoming alumnae from a variety of professions back to campus for intimate conversations with upper school students. These gatherings gave current students a chance to connect with alumnae while learning about fields they might not have even known existed. When the Covid-19 pandemic required schools to transition from in-person to online learning in the spring of 2020, we knew we would have to reimagine the Lunch and Learn program. Though everyone was disappointed that we could no longer gather on 75th Street, it soon became clear that we could rely on video conferencing technology to continue connecting current students and alumnae. The success of that spring’s online gatherings greatly influenced our mentality and methodology when it came to planning programming for the 2020-2021 school year, and ultimately changed the trajectory of the entire Lunch and Learn series.
As student organizers of the alumnae Lunch and Learns, we started thinking about how we could maximize the potential of virtual events. We realized that the online format meant we could now invite alumnae guest speakers who lived in other cities and states, and that it would be much easier to schedule several speakers to join us at once. After Liz Jiménez, a member of the Class of 2008 and the Hewitt Alumnae Council, suggested the idea of bringing together groups of alumnae working in similar professions, we decided to reimagine the Lunch and Learn series into our Life After Hewitt career panels. Each panel features multiple alumnae who work in the same field, and because the events take place online, we have been able to expand our audience to include not just current students, but also alumnae, parents of alumnae, faculty, and staff. Like the Lunch and Learn series, our alumnae career panels feature confident and enthusiastic professionals who cite their relationships with teachers, involvement in clubs, and exploration of potential interests while at Hewitt with helping them to develop a sense of purpose and direction. These alumnae encourage members of our community to think about how Hewitt is providing students with learning experiences that will help shape their futures.
For our first Life After Hewitt panel, we worked in partnership with the Hewitt Alumnae Council to invite four graduates to speak about their experiences as women working in the field of finance. To prepare for the panel, we researched our speakers’ backgrounds and career trajectories and surveyed our peers to find out what questions they had for our guests. We also worked with Director of Alumnae Relations Laura Gutiérrez Campbell, Coordinator of Experiential Initiatives Stephanie Dore, and the panelists to plan the logistics of the event. Using our knowledge of each panelist and our understanding of the topics Hewitt students were most interested in, we developed thought-provoking questions that would provide insight into our panelists’ experiences, challenges, and successes at school and in their professional lives.
Olivia Frejka ’17 recently graduated from the University of Miami, where she studied finance. After completing a virtual internship with Citi in the summer of 2020, she committed to join Citi as a financial analyst after her graduation. Liz Jiménez ’08 holds an M.B.A. from The Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth. She has worked at Citi as a financial management associate monitoring treasury, tax, and product control and is currently pursuing a new position with a financial start-up. Elizabeth Gjersvik ’11 graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a major in neurobiology and currently works in equity advisory at Millennium Management. After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania, Natalie Shemilt ’10 took a full-time position at Goldman Sachs, where she currently works in the Natural Resources Investment Banking division.
As ambitious, passionate, and professional women working in the white- and male-dominated field of finance, the panelists shared the importance of carrying themselves with confidence and learning from mentors and role models. Elizabeth spoke about her involvement in the Women of Millennium Network, an initiative that aims to empower and connect the women at Millennium Management through networking and mentorship opportunities. She shared that the group has “lit a fire in [her]” and inspired her to work toward giving young women the opportunity to pursue their own careers in finance. Natalie noted that because the senior leadership of her current team is primarily male, she seeks out female mentors and role models in other teams. In recent years, however, she has seen an increase in women being promoted to more senior roles, and pointed out that many finance companies are actively working to retain and promote female employees.
As a first generation Mexican-American woman working in a field that is known for its lack of diversity, Liz noted that she is cognizant of how imposter syndrome — a phenomenon in which one doubts their own abilities despite clear evidence of their skill and talent — can sometimes make her feel like she needs to be perfect in every professional situation. She shared that it is difficult to feel as though she belongs, but finding the right advocates and mentors who encourage her to challenge herself has helped. She stressed the importance of representation and noted that this is a “critical time for people from underrepresented groups to step up and claim what is theirs.” Although the field of finance is just one profession that needs more diverse representation, listening to these Hewitt alumnae share their experiences in the industry made it clear that they are paving the way for a new generation of women and people of color to lead.
As they discussed their professional experiences, all of the alumnae shared how Hewitt helped them develop the confidence that has led them to succeed in college, social interactions, and their current jobs. Natalie’s recommendation that students who were interested in pursuing a career in finance “do it… and do it fearlessly” spoke to the panelists’ overall message to students to believe in ourselves and radiate confidence in order to overcome any obstacles in our paths. In particular, Olivia urged upper schoolers to build their confidence by accepting and learning from past mistakes. Embracing failure, she argued, allows us to develop trust in ourselves, faith in our own judgement and decisions, and empathy and respect for others. Based on our experiences as Hewitt students, we agree that embracing failure helps us overcome the fear of “being wrong.” By making and learning from mistakes, we are reminded that we don’t need to be perfect to confidently speak our minds both inside and outside of the classroom.
Throughout the panel, each alumna spoke about how their experiences at Hewitt motivated them to be curious and enthusiastic lifelong learners, and one message they all shared was extremely clear: students should take advantage of their time at Hewitt to discover their interests and challenge themselves to grow as individuals. Our panelists all noted that, at Hewitt, they had the chance to explore their interests by participating in diverse opportunities and learning alongside teachers who modeled the joy of discovering new ideas. Elizabeth expressed her appreciation for the way our school “encourage[s] every student, every member of the community to be involved… and to have rich, multifaceted lives.” These recollections of what it felt like for alumnae to learn at Hewitt fits with our experiences of the school today. At Hewitt, our teachers are passionate about their subject matter and our courses inspire us to be curious and excited about learning. Our school motivates us to get involved in our own education, pursue our individual interests, embrace novel experiences, and, as our alumnae panelists demonstrated, seek out opportunities to make an impact on the world around us.