Authentically Owning It

By Emily B. Cyr

As many of you know, the second annual Own It Summit took place last Saturday, March 28th 2015. Though only in its second year, the summit, co-chaired by Helen Brosnan and Kendall Ciesemier, has already become an institution at Georgetown. As stated on the Own It website, their mission is “to bridge the gap between female leaders and the millennials who admire them.”  When you have a line up including Norah O’Donnell, Kara Swisher, and Mary Jordan (I could go on, check out the whole list at ownitsummit.com), “admire” seems like an understatement. Not only do attendees get the chance to hear from these incredible women in Gaston Hall but also in breakout sessions, office hours and workshops. During these smaller sessions, attendees have the chance for a more intimate conversation with speakers and as a volunteer this year I had the luck to moderate Madison Maxey’s office hours.   

When I was assigned to Maxey, I casually started googling her name in order to prepare some background questions. It took me maybe five minutes of online stalking before I became her biggest fan (ok maybe not biggest, one of the attendees already had her cell number). But for those of you who do not know, her claim to (modest) fame is that she is the first fashion Thiel fellow and a pioneer in wearable technology (check her out on madisonmaxey.com). Not only are her creations revolutionary (the Tribe is my favorite), but she is also concerned with creating affordable wearables, mindful of the economic gap. Fashionable, tech savvy and fiscally conscious, did I mention she is only 21?

However, it was not just her incredible vision and innovation that impressed me, but her enthusiasm and modesty. Since she dips her toes in both fashion and technology, she was asked how she identifies herself. She responded as curious, and went on to explain that it is her curiosity that drives her experiments; she does not need a clear outcome when she starts a project, if it interests her, she is ready to go.  For someone that is so successful and so young, it seems crazy to think she has gotten to where she is out of curiosity. As I was reflecting on this thought, office hours ended and we were off to Gaston Hall for more panels.

The afternoon panels covered the topics of innovation, identity and impact. Every one of these panels had an all-star cast (again, check out ownitsummit.com), and I could go on about every single one of these women but I will focus on the Own It 2015 award winner, Megan Smith.

Megan Smith is the current United States Chief Technology Officer. The role of CTO was created during the Obama Administration and Smith is the third person to hold this position AND the first woman. Looking at her experience alone, Smith is an incredible woman but it was her gracious presence and optimism which made her a new role model for many young women, including myself. Pursue what you’re obsessed with she said, you can do whatever you want! This may seem like age old advice, but when it is coming from a woman who holds a position that did not even exist when she was in college; it really resonates with the audience.

For Smith, Maxey and all the women at the summit, authenticity was their greatest weapon. In Makers, Kara Swisher acknowledges this can be hard but none the less encourages young women everywhere to be authentic, even “aggressively non-normal”. These women pursued their interests and success came with it.  Even though technology is not my field of study, I was thrilled to be hearing from Smith and Maxey because their passion was evident in every word. They made me consider instead of thinking about a career path, think about a passion path. I know, it’s cheesy but the question “where do you see yourselves in ten years” is a lot easier to answer when you think about your interests instead of a specific job.

As I said, this advice may seem old but coming from these women, it has a fresh look and one day, I hope to be giving this same advice to young college students ( Own It 2025 here I come!).

I would like to congratulate the entire Own It staff on an amazing summit. Your accomplishments are astounding and I am already looking forward to next year.