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Strong Women, Strong Girls (SWSG) is an organization that engages college women in mentoring relationships with the generations both above and below them. In Boston and Pittsburgh, through 13 college chapters, girls in grades 3-5 receive weekly mentorship from undergraduate women, who in turn can receive one-on-one mentorship by professional women. 

Cindy Pietrakowski, resident director and student in the Community Engagement doctoral program, serves as advisor.  SWSG's mission of empowering women starting from a young age fits well into Pietrakowski's passion for feminism. In the weekly mentorship groups, chapter members teach the girls about a significant female figure using curriculum provided by SWSG.

"The community service aspect of volunteering your time to enrich others and build community is rewarding in itself," said Pietrakowski. "But a lot of these women come from majors like psychology or education, so that student interaction can be helpful in their own development. They can talk about their experience to future employers."

Each year, the mentorship program ends with a "Campus Discovery Tour," a field trip to the chapter's college or university. It's an opportunity to celebrate the end of year and have the girls from the different elementary schools meet one another, as well as get them on a college campus, allowing them to envision their own bright future. 

The Point Park chapter also hosts advocacy and social events on campus, such as movie showings and discussions, which provide a way for students to be involved if they can't commit to weekly mentorship. 

Point Park chapter co-directors Breeanna Stephenson and Hayley Cowan answered some questions about what it's like to be part of SWSG. 

IMG_6863.jpgBreeanna Stephenson, Senior Forensic Psychology major, Criminal Justice minor

What's it like being a mentor?

Being a mentor allows you to create a unique relationship with your mentees that inspires both the mentee and mentor to grow. I got to watch my girls become more confident and sure of themselves, as well as develop new friendships among each other. Being a mentor to these girls also helped my own confidence grow because I wanted to show them that women can be confident and strong without the stereotype of being “catty.”

Do you have to have experience to become a mentor?

I had absolutely no experience before becoming a mentor, and now I work with kids for a living and have become the chapter director. So, no, you don’t need experience to be a mentor. SWSG is your chance to gain the experience you may need for future jobs.

How has your participation benefitted your college experience?

Being a member of SWSG has helped me become a leader I never imagined I could be. Being surrounded by other women my age and being a role-model for the girls encouraged me to embrace my flaws and my skills to become a strong, confident woman. My experience as a mentor and an executive board member also looks excellent on resumes, and it got my foot in the door at my current job in applied behavior analysis.

What’s been a highlight of being part of SWSG? 

For me, the highlight of SWSG has been working with and befriending other women. Being surrounded by such a supportive and accepting group of women feels absolutely amazing and has allowed me to come out of my shell.

I also had a mentor when I first started. She worked at Duquesne Light and we met a few times for brunch. She told me about her experience as a professional, as well as with mental health. In addition to that, we have administrative members from SWSG Home Office who come to certain events, and talking with them has been amazing. Over the summer I tabled at the Cultural Arts Festival with Christine Gameos, the Program and Community Engagement Manager for the Pittsburgh region of SWSG. She told me about her professional experiences and how she came to be where she is today. Listening to her story and getting to know her as a friend and mentor was really memorable for me. Professional women like these inspire me to continue working hard and push myself to new limits.


IMG_6879.jpgHayley Cowan, junior Public Relations, Advertising and Social Media major

What is it like being a mentor?

Being a mentor is a lot of fun and it’s a great way to reach out into the community. For me, it almost makes me feel like a kid again and it makes me remember what life was like at that age. It definitely makes me laugh when they talk about these little issues like they are the biggest thing in the world, but I have to remember that for them, it is the biggest thing in their world. If anything, being a mentor has made me a more patient and empathetic person.

Do you have to have any experience to become a mentor?

You do not need any experience to be a mentor. I walked into SWSG as a full-time mentor my first semester and had little to no experience working with kids. It could help to have previous experience, but you don’t need it.

How has your participation benefitted your college experience?

Career-wise, SWSG has given me real experience in event planning, which is what I hope to do when I graduate. In my position as chapter director, SWSG has allowed me to gain good managerial experience as well. Overall, SWSG has given me lifelong friends and relationships that I cherish deeply.

What’s been a highlight of being part of SWSG? 

The best part of being in this club is the people. We might not have a large group, but the people that we have are some of the best I’ve ever met. I genuinely enjoy being with the members of SWSG and I look forward to meeting and bonding with new members next year.

Why should someone consider joining SWSG?

Just like joining other clubs, SWSG is a great way to meet new people and get involved on campus. I would say the one thing that sets us apart from other clubs is that we do off-campus work (mentoring), which allows you to get involved in the community. I find that to be the most rewarding part of SWSG. I feel like I’m making an impact on these girls and teaching them that they can achieve anything, and that feels so good.

More About: Student Organization Spotlight, School of Education, forensic psychology, public relations and advertising