Roughly 160 high school students from all over the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area came to Van Munching Hall for the Future Women in Business Conference on Nov. 17, 2023. The annual event has been bringing future and current female business leaders together at Smith for a day of empowerment for the past decade.
“The conference was initially designated ten years ago to increase the number of women in our undergraduate business community and eventually in the field of business as future CEOs, entrepreneurs, and business leaders,” said Melanie Ashton, associate director of undergraduate programs and conference host. Ashton said as of fall 2023, the Smith undergraduate first-year class welcomed 55% women, a change from the 60-to-40 men to women ratio a decade ago.
Participants in this year's conference competed in a case competition supported by current Smith students and heard from Smith alumnae about how the school has helped get them to where they are today. This year’s case competition was centered around Sweets by Caroline, a start-up business founded by Smith alumna Caroline Ta ’21.
Caroline Ta ’21 CEO and founder, Sweets by Caroline and Foluké Tuakli ’16
"It was truly an honor to be a part of the Future Women in Business Conference! It is programs like this that can empower young women to embrace themselves and their true potentials,” said Ta.
The conference attendees were not the only ones moved by the day’s events. “I was so inspired by my fellow alum Caroline who started her own business,” said keynote speaker Foluké Tuakli ’16, a creative strategist with Meta.
Tuakli viewed her role as speaker as an opportunity to pay it forward, saying many speakers in the past have played a big role in her career trajectory. “To influence them as a keynote speaker at this time in their lives is a privilege, so I hope they found at least one nugget helpful from my clumsy story of becoming who I am today.”
“These women have everything to give and absolutely nothing to prove. I hope they walk away [from the conference] knowing the power of their presence. The power of their voice and perspective can affect people, systems and institutions in positive ways,” said Tuakli.
Ashton added that it is remarkable to witness young women who attended “the conference as high schoolers and after beginning their journey at Smith, return to serve as mentors”.
The students were charged with developing a case to help Sweets by Caroline increase revenue by 20% and decrease operating costs by 5% to 10%. Students had to assess competition, map a supply chain and recommend marketing tools while building a socially conscious business plan. They also had to consider whether additional financing would be needed in order for Sweets by Caroline to achieve its goals.
International business and marketing major Keola Evans ’26, one of several Smith students who mentored participants, worked with the winning team. She said she enjoyed seeing how teams learned to work together during the course of the event. “Even in just those few hours, I saw the girls flourish and become confident in their work. I was and still am very proud of my team for winning the case.”
Cases were judged by Ta, and current Smith students Randi Whitehurst ’25, vice president of The Women’s Empowerment Institute; and Michelle Castro ’24, president of the Association of Latinx Professionals for America at UMD (ALPFA) and a QUEST Honors program student.
Though one group was deemed the winner, each participant was appreciated and all left with some Smith souvenirs and a sample of Caroline’s macarons. Ta hopes that her “journey can inspire others to pursue their passions, push out of their comfort zones, and be fearless!"
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About the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business
The Robert H. Smith School of Business is an internationally recognized leader in management education and research. One of 12 colleges and schools at the University of Maryland, College Park, the Smith School offers undergraduate, full-time and flex MBA, executive MBA, online MBA, business master’s, PhD and executive education programs, as well as outreach services to the corporate community. The school offers its degree, custom and certification programs in learning locations in North America and Asia.