Leadership program mapping road to success for parish students

For some time, Alisha Nash has spent many of her weekends mentoring local students, sharing stories and experiences in hopes of helping set them on the course to success.

“It’s a major time commitment, of course – but the rewards are so much greater,” Nash said.

And Nash was proud recently as she and her fellow mentors with the Dow Leadership Academy program were able to watch 18 St. Charles Parish high school students they’ve worked with put on red “trailblazer” jackets presented to them at a ceremony held at the Professional Learning Center in Luling.

The jackets signify the students growth and progress through the leadership academy program, in which Dow company mentors are paired with underrepresented high school students to augment training in communication, social skills, leadership, and financial literacy, as well as facilitate STEM career exploration and experiences.

Dow and the St. Charles Parish public school district partner for the program, which is managed by T. Simmons and Co., an organization specializing in coaching and development.

“(The program encompasses) almost two years worth of activities focused on leadership, social skills, financial literacy … just a whole plethora of skills these kids learn,” said St. Charles Parish Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Ken Oertling.  “It really provides an opportunity for kids to grow in their own leadership, to become a better person and hopefully influence the community as well.”

A room full of proud parents and other family members took pictures and celebrated the milestone with those honored on the afternoon – and many of the students themselves beamed with pride as well.

HHS student Shealyn Ford is among those participating in the program, and she says she’s learned plenty so far.

“It’s been a really great, fun experience … we’re learning about teamwork, learning a little bit about finances and right now we’ve been diving more deeply into career paths,” Ford said. “Basically, what we want to do, what it’s going to take to maintain that path. I’ve really enjoyed it so far … you’re getting to hand out with friends and go places, seeing new things and trying new stuff.”

As someone on the fence deciding between two career paths – Ford aspires to be either a labor and delivery nurse or a veterinarian – Ford said the guidance from the program mentors is welcome.

“Hopefully they can help me figure that out,” Ford said.

Among the key skills the students are learning about is the importance of being able to present oneself in a professional manner.

“I’d say anywhere you go, you need to be able to speak … to learn how to be social, respectful and professional at the same time,” Ford said. “If you can’t do that, you won’t get anywhere.”

The program expanded to Hahnville after successful launches elsewhere, including at White Castle High School. The mentors include Dow employees from varied backgrounds and who have diverse jobs that include chemical engineers, research and development, finance, production and maintenance.

Nash participated in the program at White Castle and really enjoyed it, and when the opportunity to work with the students at Hahnville arose, she was all for it.

“I saw the progress the students at White Castle made, and I wanted to be part of that for our local kids here,” said Nash. “You’re able to help them navigate life. We’ve had life experiences and we’re able to help them approach some things that maybe challenged us. It can only help them transition to adulthood.”

Lionel Gauff, likewise a mentor, said working with the younger generation is a passion of his.

“I’m always trying to do that if I can,” Gauff said. “My child recently graduated high school, and I wanted to try and make a difference in someone else’s life (at that stage) if I could. So, this was a natural choice.”


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