When she arrived at Junior Achievement (JA) Business Week several years ago, Carol Skelton immediately felt a sense of connectedness with her fellow entrepreneurial-minded peers, a rare experience for a once painfully shy young woman. In Skelton’s words, the “incredible energy” was the reason she attended JA Business Week three years in a row. Now she carries that positivity and validation to others, especially female engineers like herself, through mentorship and professional networking.
JA Business Week pushed Skelton outside of her comfort zone and introduced her to brand new concepts. She learned that confidence was the key to creating successful products and meaningful connections. Today, Skelton is a networking expert, regularly hosting professional happy hours and client dinners. As an adult she returns to JA Business Week to encourage the next generation of leaders. “I see myself in those students,” says Skelton.
Skelton’s dream of pursuing higher education came to fruition through the JA Inspiration Scholarship, which gave her the opportunity to earn a B.S. in engineering from Colorado School of Mines. Her education prepared her for restoration projects such as the US-34 flood recovery project and various post-burn projects in the Black Forest area. In 2012 she saw firsthand the devastation of the High Park Wildfire and was inspired to leverage her engineering talents to rebuild communities.
“I’ve wanted to be an engineer since I could take apart the family toaster,” Skelton says. “I have always been good at math and science, so my decision to pursue engineering was an easy one.”
Her career choice may have been simple, but Skelton constantly encounters unique challenges as a woman in a male-dominated field.
“Often times, I am the only woman in a meeting. I am the only woman on a construction site. I am the only woman at a professional luncheon…but it doesn’t intimidate me at all. I see myself as an emerging leader in my industry. I work just as hard as any of the guys. I am just as aggressive about asking for raises and promotions. I speak up when I have questions or concerns. I take my seat at the table.”
Supportive networks and mentors help Skelton navigate her nuanced path.
One of her formative role models was JA-Rocky Mountain President & CEO Robin Wise. Skelton continues to look up to Wise for her leadership and is inspired by seeing a businesswoman who is “so on top of her game.”
“We are both confident, driven women, deeply committed to gratitude. And she’s leading this huge organization, impacting thousands of people. Why couldn’t I do the same?”
Last year during JA Business Week, Skelton had a particularly rewarding conversation with a student with whom she identified. She related to the young woman’s shyness, fears about paying for college, and love for math. Skelton spoke with her about civil engineering and watched as “her eyes lit up.”
“Someday, I expect to see her on the cover of Forbes, leading a multibillion-dollar engineering firm. And she’ll do it…because JA planted those seeds. JA told her it was possible, just like JA told me it was possible.”