Written by Samantha Nower

When asked about Girls Inc. Indy’s Young Women in Leadership (YWIL) program, Katie Sperka says, “It was the best thing that could’ve happened to me my senior year.” A freshman Animal Behavior major at Indiana University Bloomington, Katie participated in YWIL her senior year of high school, and says she owes a lot of her confidence to Girls Inc. Katie is currently chasing her dream to be like Jane Goodall. She wants to work as a wildlife conservationist at a wildlife reserve in Africa.

Already, Katie is making her dream of working in her field happen by being a part of ASURE, a research program through her university that allows her to design her own research project. Katie and her lab partner are testing immune responses in crickets to see if information about pathogens can be transferred in the mating process. It’s research that to Katie’s knowledge hasn’t been done before and could very well lead to a new discovery in her field.

Katie says her favorite memories from YWIL were the service projects; she loved being able to help people in her community and have fun at the same time. Her favorite memory with YWIL is when her group volunteered with Project Purse, a nonprofit that packs purses with essentials for women in need. Katie says this event meant a lot to her. “I think it showed me that even though I was just in high school, I was still able to help out and have an impact on my community.”

YWIL also helped Katie get a scholarship for college. She received a $5,000-a-year scholarship from Ciara Arts and Science Foundation through Girls Inc. Indy. Katie says this scholarship helps her continue to afford college, and she is extremely grateful for it.

She’s thankful that YWIL had so many career preparation and professional development opportunities and is especially grateful for the resume reviews and getting to interact with professional women role models. According to Katie, seeing strong female representation in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) careers had a great impact on her. “There were women who were chemists and biologists who were working hard to make things for their companies and to help those companies succeed,” she says. “And it was really cool to say ‘there are women who look like me and think like me in positions that I could do.’”

Katie also says YWIL gave her self-confidence. She says it’s because of this program that she feels more comfortable communicating with adults. She became more extroverted as well, and has an easier time making friends. “Being in YWIL gave me the tools and the confidence to actually motivate myself, get stuff done, and go out and meet people,” she says.

Science is the number one thing that makes her feel strong, smart, and bold; when she’s involved in science, she is totally confident in her intelligence. She also feels proud to be a young woman in STEM in a time where men far outnumber women in STEM professions.

Katie believes every girl should have a Girls Inc. experience like hers. Katie even came back to speak to the current YWIL cohort this January to share about her experience, and encouraged the girls to take advantage of all the resources given to them during their high school career, including the support and mentorship from Girls Inc. Indy.

“The women at Girls Inc. work really, really hard with every single girl they come across. And they want to mentor those girls. They want to help those girls grow, they want to help those girls become more confident and sure of themselves,” she says. “And I think every girl should have access to that. Every girl should be able to go through that.”

About the Author:

Samantha Nower is a junior at Ball State University and the Social Media and Marketing Intern at Girls Inc. Samantha is a journalism major and enjoys telling stories of strong, smart, and bold women because they inspire her to succeed.