Diversity & Inclusion
Delaware / Events / Youth

Here’s how a group of high school juniors pulled off their first entrepreneurship panel

Planning an event is a big undertaking. High school entrepreneur Dorcas Olatunji shares lessons from co-organizing her first panel with the Student Leadership Initiative Program at Charter School of Wilmington.

L to R: Mac Nagaswami, Pamela Tate-Draper, Matt Meyer, Margaret O’Dwyer, Thanvi Dola, Olivia Beddow and Krish Matta. (Photo courtesy of Mac Nagaswami)
This is a guest post by technologist Dorcas Olatunji. Find her "My First" series here.
Let me tell you about the first panel event I co-organized.

In mid-April, four Delaware leaders joined students at the Charter School of Wilmington (CSW) for a morning discussion on the future of innovation and politics. The panel, led by the Student Leadership Initiative Program (SLIP), was the inaugural event for the program and was organized by juniors Deborah Olatunji, Rachel Wang, Thanvi Dola, Hugh Underhill and Dorcas Olatunji (yours truly).

The event was attended by a number of CSW classes and some students who received a pass from class. For this first event of an ongoing series, these four community members participated in the discussion:

  • Margaret O’Dwyer, founder and director of Delaware Youth Leadership Network (DYLN)
  • Mac Nagaswami, CEO of Carvetise
  • Matt Meyer, New Castle County executive
  • Pamela Tate-Draper, business manager and lead founder at Gateway Lab School

But it took us a lot of work to get there. Here’s how we made the event happen:

Preparations for the event started back in March, when it club leaders initially wanted to schedule three events before the end of the school year.

“After meeting with Dr. Samuel Paoli, CSW president, we learned that there was a lot more to do in planning just one event,” SLIP President Deborah Olatunji said. “We got the approval for one event in April, along with a list of dates to choose from.”

Roles were then delegated through two committees, the planning committee and outreach committee. Having three leaders on each committee, the SLIP members were randomly assigned to work on each committee. In order to motivate creativity and excitement for the event, the members who showed the most engagement were selected as interviewers for the panelists: SLIP freshmen Olivia Beddow and Krish Matta, along with SLIP Leader Dola. Other roles included MCs, mic runners, floaters, pamphlet greeters, seaters and the PowerPoint controller, all of which helped the event run smoothly.

(Another incredibly important piece in making the event a success was our program moderator, Sarah Fleetwood. She helped with getting classes to attend the event, auditorium logistics, and ideation to propel the event forward. It would not have been as successful without her support.)

The weeks leading up to the event were filled with committee preparation, speaker training, and brainstorming other ideas to get the student body involved. It was in a weekend video call, for instance, that the idea of inviting other CSW club leaders to the event came about.

SLIP members also created a long list of potential questions for the speakers and eventually got them down to their top 10. These are a few from the list:

  • How do you think students should get involved in their communities and further expand their interest in perspective careers?
  • If you could go back and give your high school self some advice, what would you say?
  • How do you manage the balance between your personal life and career, namely the stress?

Members of SLIP then reflected on the event and discussed ways to make future events success. The reflections ranged from what they learned from the panelists to the next step for future guest speakers:

“I learned that almost all of our panelists changed their career paths at one point or another in their life,” SLIP freshman and panel interviewer Beddow reflected. “Also, practice coming up with good questions on the spot, because you never know where the conversation will go.”

“I realized that you have to sell yourself to promote your idea,” SLIP sophomore Elana Agarwal said. “Also, it is important to research the people you are meeting with and come up with questions/topics to talk about while networking.”

“I would start planning the event two months into advance instead of one and be open and prepared to have quick changes to the schedule,” Deborah Olatunji said. “I would also try to find a better technique to get the student body interested in events like these!”

This is one of the many ways we SLIP leaders plan to engage with the community. With the culture of leadership from our weekly Wednesday meetings, we hope the connection between ourselves and the CSW student body will expand. Other activities held during SLIP Wednesdays include public speaking exercises such as debates, short speeches and personal pitches. The program has an emphasis on creating networks and building professionalism and public speaking to make those connections.

But after the panel, the members of SLIP highlighted it as one of their favorite events of the year. Students who were not members of the club stayed back after it ended to connect with the speakers. We believe is events like these that enable students to grow their networks and learn how to communicate with adults in their community.

Through this first event and the ones to come, the SLIP community hopes to empower the CSW student body and become an emblem of what it looks like to have a strong partnership between students and their agency.


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