Value of Extracurricular Activities

Seven Insights

Series Note: Career Girls founder and CEO Linda Calhoun shares insights distilled from her in-depth interviews of over 800 women role models. Each article is dedicated to exploring the skills and attitudes that advance girls’ intellectual, social and emotional learning for success in both life and career.

At our core, Career Girls crowdsources the hard-fought lessons learned by an inclusive and diverse group of women. Our Role Models define the skills you need to be successful, not only in the world of work, but in your life as a whole.

Why Extracurricular Activities? You’re making a statement about the kind of person you are when you put forth your energy, efforts and time to embrace new pursuits. You’re enhancing very important life skills such as being a flexible and proactive team player who is capable of working towards and achieving goals. And, you’ll make a positive impression on colleges and prospective employers when you create a life beyond the walls of a classroom structure.

When you devote time to extracurricular activities outside the regular school day, you get to dive deeper into things you already love or try something completely different. And — whether it’s sports, the performing arts, student council, coding club, science camp, volunteering at a community garden or for a social cause, hosting a podcast, or something else that meshes with the ‘real you’ — you get to have fun and feel refreshed without feeling the need to earn an official ‘A.’

Along the way, you’ll absorb important life lessons such as how to stick with something even when you encounter challenges. You’ll build your confidence, boost your self-esteem and awaken a sense of adventure that can last you a lifetime.

My own experiences beyond the classroom helped make me a more well-rounded person and shaped my future. I am certain that when you branch out and participate in extracurricular activities, you’ll discover talents and skills that you didn’t know you had. And, as I have discovered, your life will be so much more interesting and meaningful.

1) Relationships Matter.

When you choose to volunteer for a school-based fundraiser or walk the neighbor’s dog, for example, you’re forming relationships with people you might not otherwise get to know. Nurture your connections. Be open to learning something from every new person you meet.

“Start working on networking and being a people person. Making friends and talking to people will further your career. Talk to people if you go to science club or camp… talk to somebody who’s into science or whatever you’re into.

“Develop relationships. Learn to meet people, befriend them, follow up, stay in touch. All of those skills will greatly improve your chances of meeting and connecting with the right people later on in life.” Taylor Moyer, Biotech Executive

“Surround yourself with amazing people that lift you up and help you live up to your fullest potential. The ability to surround yourself with people who can help you achieve your goals faster is probably among the most important skills you’ll ever have.

“I often tell girls that just because you might have come from a rough background, it doesn’t mean you can’t surround yourself with people outside of that world. It just takes a little bit of courage.”Elizabeth Yang, Founder of Hmong Women Take on the World

2) Join a Group.

Participating in organizations such as Girl Scouts, Black Girls Code, Girls Who Code or community service groups will help you learn useful skills and how to work with others towards a common goal.

“Get involved with different club activities or a community cause. Be part of something. Start small. Start somewhere. The life skills and career skills you learn as a volunteer will help you in any job. You can learn something at the same time you’re giving something. That giving spirit is very important and will help you in your employment as well as in your life.”Sara Tadiwos, Founder and Managing Director of iCANJOBS

“I was always very active from a young age. I was a Brownie and a Girl Scout. As a teenager, I was very involved in the interracial peace movement and other cultural groups in the city. I saw young people from every walk of life together and it was really an incredible experience. I gained so many skills from that. I spoke at rallies when I was 16 or 17. It was incredibly important.”Andrea Prasow, Attorney

3) Boost Your Skill Set.

Engage yourself in many different activities through school, your community and work. Well-rounded people get more opportunities.

“My take on after school activities is this: In order to build your skills, you have to do it. There’s no way around it. You cannot read 10,000 books on how to be a successful real estate agent or a successful scientist. You have to go and do it. You should do after school programs, after school volunteering. The life skills you’ll learn are so important.”Christina Nguyen, Licensed California Real Estate Broker

“One thing that helped me was being part of a science organization outside of my normal studies. So, when I applied to jobs and internship programs, it’s something that set me apart.”Mikayla Thompson, Ph.D., RAC, Associate Director, Global Regulatory Affairs, CMC, Biogen

4) Athletics. More Than a Game.

Team sports are a great way to get exercise and have fun. Plus, being on a team teaches you the importance of cooperation, strategy, hard work, competition, resilience and having a positive attitude. Even after you put down the ball, you’ll carry these skills throughout your career.

“Sports for girls teach you so many amazing fundamentals and skills in the workplace. To be able to strive for greatness gives you drive, it gives you the work ethic that you need to compete. A true competitor puts in a lot of work. It doesn’t come easy.

“How do you lift up your team? Being a team player is so critical to the success of women and girls throughout their lives and careers. I have to lift them up so we succeed as a team. I learned that through sports.”Christine Simmons, Chief Operating Officer of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

5) Free Your Creative Spirit.

Music, dance, acting and all of the visual and performing arts are wonderful ways to channel your creativity, express yourself and inspire others. You’ll discover it’s okay if you’re not so great at playing the cello or painting a mural immediately. Make a commitment to not give up. The arts offer joy — and lessons in self-discipline and perseverance that you’ll apply in any career.

“A theater teacher goes, ‘you know what, you have so much going on and you can express yourself. Why don’t you come and join the speech team and why don’t you take some acting classes?’ Thanks to her, I actually started taking my first theater classes where I learned to perform and be in front of an audience and feel comfortable with myself and to think outside of the box. And, the speech team literally changed my life.”Lee Ann Kim, Media and Event Producer, Consultant, Storyteller, Instigator

6) Get Real-Life Work Experience.

Hiring managers look for individuals who bring a range of skills and experience to their team. Look early on for ways to start acquiring work experience. Consider a part-time job or babysitting, pet walking or plant care for your neighbors, internships, or fellowship programs for teens.

“Young girls who are looking to their future should look now for opportunities to get work experience and internships. Unpaid is great. Over time, paid is wonderful. A mixture of paid and unpaid is extremely important.

“You can find people to shadow. You could spend a day doing that, you could spend the summer. I think, with creativity, young women can find ways to get exposure to people, ideas and experiences.” Betsy Cohen, Futurist

7) Remove Barriers.

If there’s an extracurricular activity you want to do, but a friend discourages you or the pathway seems blocked, don’t lose hope. Be creative, seek advice from others and you’ll find ways around those obstacles. Don’t give up before you begin. The effort will be worth it.

“If you have after school programs that are offered to you, or there are other extracurricular activities that you could do — do it. They’re going to teach you about something new, teach you how to talk to people, and how to become a leader. It will give you all these skills.

“What if your family can’t afford to pay a fee or can’t drive you somewhere? There’s always a way to figure out how to do it. Number one: Ask. If you can’t afford it, ask the program lead: ‘Can you cover my fee?’ Most likely, they will say yes, and you know why? Because they want strong, great girls like you to participate.

Or, if you don’t have a ride, just ask the question. Say ‘hey, can somebody ride share with me?’ I’m sure you will find a teacher, a school administrator or a parent that is willing to do so. The main thing is to participate in your life.”Amanda Martinez, STEM Director

“The first recommendation I have for young girls is: do not let your friends be your warden. What do I mean by that? You friends can keep you from exploring and discovering who you are.

“Sometimes you’re curious about something that your friends are not and they put you down or they say, ‘why would you want to do that?’ I’ve had that happen so many times. ‘You’re studying history. Why would you want to go on a dinosaur expedition?’ Don’t let anyone put you in a box of what you’re ‘supposed to be.’ Explore yourself.”Gabrielle Lyon, Ph.D., Educator Activist

The Last Word

We’ll let our Role Model Gladys Henderson, Mechanical Engineer, have the last word:

About the Author

Linda Calhoun is an entrepreneur, activist, and community leader based in San Francisco, California. A graduate of Boston University with a B.S. in Mass Communication, Linda’s career path led her to work in international policy coordination, media, technology, and data management. Her work has met the unique and increasingly important intersections of STEM and Social Justice.

Linda is the Founder and CEO of Career Girls, a nonprofit that was created as a response to the inequality of opportunity that Linda encountered in her story. Linda is the President of the Career Girls board and Co-Chairs the board for the Alliance for Girls.

Series Background

My own lived experiences as a Black woman today, and as a Black girl growing up in the United States, shape how I see the world — both its problems and potential solutions.

The problem I most wanted to address is what I’ve come to call the Imagination Gap. Something was holding girls back from meeting their full potential — and it wasn’t a lack of ability. For many girls, the dots were simply not being connected.

My solution was the creation of Career Girls, a nonprofit organization that now has its wings throughout the world. Its global platform speaks to girls around the globe and empowers them to take control of their lives. And, it offers useful tools for the adults and educators in their lives.

I conducted video interviews with over 800 women and now share the hard-fought lessons from this inclusive and diverse group of women we call the Career Girls Role Models. In down-to-earth, realistic videos, these accomplished Role Models clearly explain the skills needed in an array of careers. They take a deeper dive into the concepts behind these skills and provide insights gained from their own education and careers. Ultimately, they answer the all-important question as to why those skills are needed to be successful in work and in life overall.

Career Girls is founded on the dream that every girl around the world will have access to diverse and accomplished women role models — to learn from their experiences and to discover their own path to empowerment. Our mission is to Close the Imagination Gap™ for girls everywhere.

Contributors

To all of the women who contributed to this article, we are inspired and grateful.

Contributors to the ‘Why Extracurricular Activities’ article are: Taylor Moyer, Biotech Executive; Elizabeth Yang, Founder of Hmong Women Take on the World; Sara Tadiwos, Founder and Managing Director of iCANJOBS; Andrea Prasow, Attorney; Christina Nguyen, Licensed California Real Estate Broker; Mikayla Thompson, Ph.D., RAC, Associate Director, Global Regulatory Affairs, CMC, Biogen; Christine Simmons, Chief Operating Officer of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences; Lee Ann Kim, Media and Event Producer, Consultant, Storyteller, Instigator; Betsy Cohen, Futurist; Amanda Martinez, STEM Director; Gabrielle Lyon, Ph.D., Educator Activist; Gladys Henderson, Mechanical Engineer; and Megan Taylor, Producer/DJ.

Our role models who participated in the ‘Why Extracurricular Activities’ video are (in order of appearance): Vanessa E. Wyche, Director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center; Donna Blackshear-Reynolds, Financial Manager; Stacy Shuker Reece, Strategic Connector; Shreya Dave, Ph.D., Mechanical Engineer; Gladys Henderson, Mechanical Engineer; and Erica N. Bozeman, Ph.D., Senior Scientist (Oncology Scientific Innovation) at The Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson

Additional Resources

And… You’re not on your own! Visit the Career Girls website for our Why Extracurricular Activities video and related discussion guides, activities and resources. There are no ads, and everything is completely free.

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Career Girls is a career exploration platform featuring videos of hundreds of diverse, successful women role models to inspire the next generation of girls.

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Career Girls®

Career Girls is a career exploration platform featuring videos of hundreds of diverse, successful women role models to inspire the next generation of girls.