Guest Column: ConocoPhillips Girls Talk Tech Summer Program Inspires a New Generation of Young Women

By Kathryn Donelson, ConocoPhillips Senior Communications Analyst

The hallways of ConocoPhillips’ headquarters in Houston were alive with the sounds of laughter and excitement as 12 high school girls met in person for the first time after a month of virtual interaction. The girls were there to give their final presentations, the culmination of four weeks of learning a new technical application and using data to tell a story linked to the energy industry.

IT Summer Program participant Grace Ung, a senior at Glenda Dawson High School, left, and Senior Communications Analyst Kathryn Donelson 
About the IT Summer Program
– Virtual meetings twice a week.
– Students worked on one real-world project throughout the program.
– Students give a final presentation to program participants and ConocoPhillips staff.
– Job shadowing provided for IT roles.
– Certificate of completion awarded at the end of the program. 

The young women were chosen from among a pool of applicants to participate in the 2021 ConocoPhillips Girls Talk Tech IT Summer Program. Half of the participants came by way of ConocoPhillips’s relationship with EMERGE, a nationally recognized organization focused on underserved communities that empowers and prepares high-performing first-generation students to graduate from college.

In its second year, the program gives participants an opportunity to gain exposure to a variety of new Information Technology experiences. The program is open to qualifying juniors and seniors in Houston-area high schools.

The 2021 participants were paired with someone from a different school to encourage them to get to know each other and form bonds. Each of the six teams was assigned a ConocoPhillips mentor to guide them through the program, assist with the project and offer encouragement and support.

“Being a mentor for the IT Summer Program was an amazing experience,” said Analytics Analyst Chaquette Blanks. “I was impressed by how inquisitive, engaged and enthusiastic they were about the project, and by their ability to quickly gather insights using the technology. There were challenges along the way, but the girls stayed with it. It was such an honor and privilege to be able to guide these outstanding young ladies through this experience.”

Analytics Analyst Chaquette Blanks leads members of the ConocoPhillips Girls Talk Tech IT Summer Program on a tour of ConocoPhillips Center.

Over the course of the four-week program, the girls were treated to a variety of enriching activities.

“A key part of our IT Summer Program is job shadowing,” said Corporate Staffs and Shared Services IT Supervisor Keleigh Maire. “The girls were able to learn about a variety of technical and functional IT roles, as well as the company’s Sustainable Development program. Job shadowing gives the girls a first-hand look at what it’s like to work in a company like ours and what they could do in an IT career. One thing that often comes as a surprise is that IT is about so much more than coding, and there are many different paths to a career in IT.”

Hosted by IT and Human Resources, the interview and resume workshop was also a fan favorite. Many of the girls brought their own resumes for review and improvement, while others were able to create one from scratch.

Corporate Staffs and Shared Services IT Supervisor Keleigh Maire, left, and Auditor Kristen Petry

“The resume workshop offers a huge advantage to the girls,” said Auditor Kristen Petry. “They get one-on-one help with IT leaders, and they leave with a professional resume that can be used for college, job opportunities or internships. I wish I had access to that kind of expertise when I was their age!”

At the heart of the ConocoPhillips IT Summer Program is the real-world project. Each pair of girls is tasked with creating an analytics solution using public data. Presentations had to be 15 minutes in length, with five minutes for questions. The girls presented their projects using a Power BI report (a robust business analytics and visualization tool) and a PowerPoint presentation.

“The girls knocked it out of the park with their presentations,” said HR Analytics Manager Paloma Urbano. “They had autonomy to choose a topic they were interested in, which we believe helped them feel more invested. We were all so impressed by the variety of topics and depth of analysis. They presented with poise and professionalism and were clearly well prepared. These girls are going to be great Analytics Analysts some day!”

HR Analytics Manager Paloma Urbano

The girls celebrated their last day of the program by attending an Astros baseball game, along with Girls Talk Tech members, program mentors and other ConocoPhillips employees. Along for the fun was the company’s outgoing Chief Information Officer, Mike Pfister.

“In my opinion, Girls Talk Tech is one of the most rewarding things we do in IT,” said Pfister. “Helping inspire a new generation of young women to consider technology as a part of their future career options is not only fulfilling, it’s imperative. We need the talent and ideas these young women bring. What we’ve found is that sometimes all it takes is for someone to tell you that you can do something you didn’t think you were capable of. We want to be that voice of encouragement for these girls.”

Mike Pfister, outgoing Chief Information Officer

While this year’s IT Summer Program was mostly held virtually, the team hopes to expand to a hybrid format in 2022, with a mix of in-person and virtual events.

“One of the areas of opportunity we heard from the girls this year was they wanted more – more in-person interaction, more job shadowing opportunities, and more time with us,” said Data Security Senior Architect Aji George. “We are already beginning to think about how to enrich the program going forward, based on the great exit interview feedback we received. Their suggestions will help make our 2022 IT Summer Program even better. We can’t wait to take this to the next level.”

LEFT: IT Summer Program participant Jada Ramey watches a presentation during the final day of the program. CENTER: Tony Davalos, Director IT Audit, quizzes the girls during their presentations. To his right is IT Director Corporate Staffs Christy Clark; Operations IT Analytics Senior Analyst Amber Simoncic; and Operations and Aviation IT Senior Business Analyst Cari Faulds. RIGHT: Arlette Camacho, left, and Grace Ung discuss their project on food supply and GDP in Colombia.

Feedback from the girls was overwhelmingly positive:

  • “It was great to see there’s such a wide variety of people in the IT field.”
  • “I learned a lot about the different IT jobs. I also learned that ConocoPhillips is more than just oil and gas.”
  • “IT is a very broad field, and anyone can go into it.”
  • “I learned I don’t have to have everything figured out!”
  • “I learned a lot of things about teamwork and collaboration, time management and social skills.”
LEFT: Daisy Astello is a senior at Mount Caramel Academy CENTER: Norma Callejas is a senior at Bellaire High School. RIGHT: Data Security Senior Architect Aji George, left, and Operations and Aviation IT Senior Business Analyst Cari Faulds visit with participants after their presentations.

Sydney Jimenez, left, a graduate of St. Agnes Academy and incoming freshman at Texas A&M University, and Adriana Garris, a senior at Glenda Dawson High School, discuss their analytics project about STEM majors.

This column originally appeared as a feature story of ConocoPhillips’ Spirit Magazine.

About Girls Talk Tech

The program was created by a group of passionate women in ConocoPhillips Information Technology (IT). Formalized in 2018 with the mission to educate, encourage and empower young women to embrace technology for the future, Girls Talk Tech reflects ConocoPhillips’s strong commitment to diversity and inclusion. GTT’s key programs include panel discussions at schools, an annual GTT Fest, the IT Summer Program, the High School Ambassador Program and participation in STEM-related camps and after-school programs. For inquiries, please contact GirlsTalkTechHouston@conocophillips.com.