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Charyn Harris Headshot

Imagine That

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I spent an afternoon over my holiday break watching Disney movies with my 9-year-old daughter, Londyn. One of my favorite moments is the opening of each movie. I thought about my childhood and the influence that Walt Disney's films had on me. I told my daughter about the story of Walt Disney being fired from his position as an editor with a newspaper and labeled as having a lack of imagination.

Woah" she said. "Imagine that!"

Imagine that indeed. I also shared with her how Oprah Winfrey was told that she would never be successful in television. Authors J.K. Rowling and Stephanie Meyer also faced more than their fair share of challenges before achieving success. We sometimes bring up famous people and their challenges so that she can understand that the road to success is not always smooth sailing.

A few months ago, I mentioned Prerna Gupta, who is a creator of apps for smartphones. While still in her twenties, Prerna was recognized as one of Fast Company's Most Influential Women in Technology (2011). Interestingly enough, the Forbes listing of the most powerful women in business recently touted the majority of the women listed as coming from the technology sector. What I learned about Prerna that I didn't realize is that although she had a degree in Economics, she had a hidden interest and passion for Computer Science but stayed away because of fear. When we learn about successful people, we are so busy focusing on their success that we rarely understand what it took for them to arrive there. Although highly successful, Prerna had to take the time to acknowledge, nurture and find the courage to pursue her passion. Not only did she pursue Computer Science courses, she took it upon herself to dive in head first, teaching herself the programming languages she needed to develop the software for her first venture, which was a social networking site.

Another valuable lesson was buried as a gem inside of this experience. Prerna's first start-up failed, but her passion and drive remained. Here was the determination to move forward, which would eventually lead her towards the technology for a future venture that became highly successful. What also should be mentioned is that Prerna comes from very humble beginnings. She did not grow up as entitled, and admitted to feeling deprived in her exposure to educational resources. This is a story, among others, that we need to hear and our young girls need to hear.

I am always thinking about the messaging that we are sending our young girls. As an educator and a parent, I have a huge amount of concern about the images that our girls are being exposed to. I am also concerned that many youth feel entitled to instant gratification, rather than understanding that true and lasting success needs to be earned.

If we keep selling something, no matter how horrible it is, that product or concept will gain popularity. Part of what makes our American culture so great is that we promote fun and easy living. We watch reality TV filled with ex-wives and high school dropouts and think they are cool. Next, we want to be like them, drop out of school, divorce our husbands and get our own show. No one ever thinks about what happens when the show comes to an end. That being said, is it so wrong to promote intellect rather than dysfunction? A greater number of our girls are lacking in proficiency in the sciences, technology, engineering and math (STEM). The bottom line is that it all comes down to trends and marketing. Would it be so wrong to promote STEM education among our young girls? Here is an open playing field, full of opportunity.

I would hate to think that we are that socially unconscious to not see what is front of us and continually popularize and romanticize poor images and inappropriate behaviors to our young girls (and boys) while having the sheer audacity to become upset when they mimic what has been thrown in front of their faces. Why do we bother to tell our kids to work hard when everything around them screams something different?

I would like to see the promotion of many more positive and intellectual role models like Prerna and those mentioned above. We need to understand their ups and downs on their paths to success. These are the images that we need to expose our young girls to regularly, rather than the gold diggers, whiny pop divas and badly behaving former child actresses that have become embedded in the pathetic landscape of our pop-culture. We also need to make sure we are encouraging our girls to reach their true potential and to not settle for less. They are more than capable. If we can do that, and I am sure we can, imagine what a wonderful world this would be.
Yes, imagine that!