VANTAGE Program Empowers Teen Girls through Mentoring and Career Exploration

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – Artist, social worker, dancer, and respiratory therapist are just some of the career aspirations of a group of bright and outgoing teen girls who participated in VANTAGE, a new summer camp hosted out of the Antonio E. Garcia Arts & Education Center. VANTAGE, which stands for Vocational Awareness and Team-Based Girls Empowerment, challenged the young ladies to explore career opportunities, gain leadership skills and establish meaningful relationships with high-achieving women in the community.

“The camp was exciting and opened my mind to a variety of jobs that I may want as a career,” expressed Krystal Aumada, a 15-year-old who attends West Oso High School. “We learned life lessons that made me feel like I can do anything no matter what obstacles are in my way.”

Facilitated by faculty and graduate students in the Department of Counseling and Educational Psychology (CNEP) and staff from Career Services at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, VANTAGE catered to six girls during week one and seven girls during week two. Each week included intensive career training plus mentoring field trips to visit women in leadership roles including a university professor, healthcare professional, military servicemember, television anchor and member of city council.

“We typically learn about careers through our small social circles, which can be limiting, especially when there are more than 20,000 different job options out there,” said Dr. Stefani Schomaker, Career Services internship coordinator, who assisted at VANTAGE.

One of the mentor stops included a visit to the office of Island University President and CEO Kelly Quintanilla. There, President Quintanilla shared her path from first-generation college student to university president and answered questions posed by the young ladies – questions like, “How do you handle the stress?” and “Do you ever get nervous?”

“The women we visited are independent and driven leaders who didn’t give up when people underestimated them,” shared Zoey Castillo, a 17-year-old senior at Veterans Memorial High School. “They convinced us to go beyond people’s expectations and not let anyone bring us down.”

A favorite activity at camp, called the Cool Seat, invited each girl to take a seat in front of her peers, while they enthusiastically shouted out different career paths and personality strengths that each girl in the “cool seat” embodied. Another activity included the creation of “vision boards” which helped the girls focus on their future aspirations.

“A few weeks ago, I had no idea what I wanted to be,” said Myriam Whatly, a 15-year-old at Gregory-Portland High School. “After attending VANTAGE, I’ve narrowed down what I want to do with my life and career.”

VANTAGE was funded by a Texas A&M-Corpus Christi Impact Multiplier Grant, which covered program costs, including a stipend for Nora Maza, an Island University CNEP doctoral student, and Brenda Cavazos, an Island University CNEP master’s student.

“VANTAGE was a great opportunity for us to impact the community by planting seeds of inspiration into the hearts of young women,” expressed Cavazos, who is seeking a Master of Science in Counseling at A&M-Corpus Christi. “This was a wonderful hands-on learning experience and I hope I can bring a program like this to my local high school when I become a counselor.”