What began as a discussion among a small group of women employed by Marcellus Shale drilling company Range Resources, recently led to the establishment of the region’s first Junior Athena Workshop for young women from Washington County. 

For decades, professional women across the country have been recognized locally with Leadership Awards known as “Athenas”.  In Washington County, the Chamber of Commerce presents local Athena Leadership Awards to nominees who demonstrate excellence in their profession, improve the quality of life for others in their community, and actively assist other women in achieving their full leadership potential. High school juniors and seniors are regularly invited to attend the Washington County Athena Awards, but this was the first year they were also provided with an opportunity to participate in a same-day workshop with local professional women from a variety of business sectors and backgrounds. 

In the weeks leading up to the Junior Athena event, organizers from Range partnered with a local professional women’s group known as POWER of Southpointe. POWER is affiliated with the Washington County Chamber of Commerce, and actively works to celebrate diversity and recognize the importance of building strong and effective women leaders in the business community.

“We were looking for an innovative way to build on the momentum of the Athena Awards, and connect high school students and young women from Washington County with professional women who can serve as mentors and provide valuable advice about being a woman in the workforce,” said Range’s Laural Ziemba. 

Ziemba is part of women’s mentoring group at Range that regularly volunteers with nonprofit organizations like Dress for Success that seek to better women’s lives. She and her coworkers also organize and participate in high school job shadow and mentoring events. 

“We have great partnerships with local school districts, and we’re also strong supporters of the annual Athena Awards here in Washington County, so putting together this workshop was sort of a natural progression for us. There are so many strong, capable women in leadership positions in Washington County—and they all have a story about how they achieved their current level of success,” said Ziemba.  “We wanted the young women we invited to the Junior Athena event to hear those stories and meet professional women who can serve as mentors down the road.” 

At the event, a panel made up of local professional women, along with other professionals seated among the students, answered questions and shared information about their backgrounds—from where they went to school, to how they landed their first “real” job.

Sara Schumacher, Vice President of Fund Development at Monongahela Valley Hospital, was one of the panelists. “I was excited to participate in this workshop because I have so very many people in my life who have supported me and mentor me to this day. I wanted to share some of those lessons with other young women.”

Sara also wanted to make sure the students understood that the path to success may not be smooth, but the end result is worth it. “There are struggles along the way, and those are the life experiences that make us stronger and who we are today. Young women need to see success, but they also need to know that it doesn’t happen overnight and it is not without effort, dedication and supporting one another. We need to work together as professionals to strengthen our region and this county.”

At the workshop, women from Range, POWER, and the community also answered questions about how they ended up in their current job, how they’ve changed since high school, and challenges they’ve faced professionally. Students were asked what careers they envisioned for themselves right now, and were given advice on how to make connections now that could impact their futures later. 

For the young women from Canon-McMillan, Trinity, Avella, Bentworth, Peters Township, McGuffey, Washington, and Charleroi High Schools; along with local scholarship recipients from Wheeling-Jesuit and Waynesburg universities who attended the workshop—hopes for the day ranged from “meeting successful women and feeling empowered!” (Bentworth) to “connecting with professional women and hearing their expertise on how to further my career,” (Peters Township) to “gaining insight about different careers as I get ready to graduate from college and head out into the real world,” (Wheeling-Jesuit University).

Local guidance counselors and administrators were also in the audience, and happy to see students making connections.

“The workshop at Range Resources provided relevant information to the young women,” said Lorien Moyer, Assistant Principal at Canon-McMillan High School. “The panel was particularly helpful; providing candid, honest responses to the students as they get ready to embark on their post-secondary journeys. And meeting women from so many different professions enhanced the students' vision of what it really means to be a leader. Canon-McMillan looks forward to a continued partnership with Range Resources and all involved in the Junior Athena workshop!”

After the Range event, the group headed to the Athena Awards and Luncheon at the Hilton Garden Inn in Southpointe.  This year’s winner, Carole DeAngelo, Marketing Director at the Observer Publisher Company, gave a moving speech that included nods to her mother and her partner as women who supported her, and helped her move forward in her life and career. 

Planning for next year’s Junior Athena workshop is already underway. 

“We’d love to see this become an annual event, and we are looking at how we can make it even bigger and better,” said Ziemba. “Improving lives in the communities where our employees live and work is part of the culture of Range Resources and among our most cherished values. Finding ways to support and encourage young people who are among the next generation of local leaders is critical for communities, and we’re so glad to a part of that effort with events like the Junior Athena workshop.” 

This article is sponsored by Range Resources.