Fireside Chat with Jennifer Yu Cheng, Founder of JYC Girls Impact Foundation

By Tallie Lieberman

Under Jennifer Yu Cheng’s leadership, JYC Girls Impact Foundation is empowering teenage girls to fulfill their boundless potential and make a positive, lasting impact everywhere they go.

Jennifer took time out of her busy schedule to share some insights:

Q: What have been your biggest challenges as an education leader?

A: My biggest challenge is that there are so many needs in education, that I find myself always wanting to do more to effect a positive change: from education access to bringing about greater diversity and equity, to leading digital transformations in schools, to innovating curriculum approaches, to launching a new K-12 school project in Greater Bay Area. At times, finding that work-life balance can be a challenge, but I find purpose every day in the work I do. Every time I walk into our schools or meet with a student, I know I am doing something that matters.

Q: Having majored in engineering yourself, you know that there is a real gender gap in the STEM pipeline. What can be done to fix it?

A: STEM will be an integral part of every field, industry and sector and will drive our future world. Being future ready means being equipped with the tech-forward mindset and skills to pursue all 21st century opportunities. Having tech knowledge, skills and mindset will position teen girls to be able to have more career options, make a greater impact in their future workplace, and become leaders in a digitalized economy.

I strongly believe that it is imperative to first change teen girls’ mindset. In many education systems, especially across Asian countries, students need to select their major before or upon entering university. Due to various reasons including stereotypes, lack of confidence and career path misconceptions, many teen girls rule out the college STEM path prematurely and this impacts even their high school subject choices and pursuits.

Teen girls need to see that majoring in STEM and subsequently pursuing STEM careers is only one of the many career options. Despite majoring in engineering, I first ventured into the finance industry and now work in the field of education. My engineering background influences the way I lead and the way I think – it is the way I approach and solve problems, and the way I imagine and innovate.

Q: What do you think makes for a ‘good leader’ per se?

A: True leadership is the ability to build leadership capacities in others and mobilizing people to lead. Good leaders nurture people to find their passions and enable them to grow. To me, having a vision and inspiring others with that vision through important soft skills is the best kind of leadership. I find that one needs soft leadership skills – communication, collaboration, and creativity – just as much as, or often more than, hard skills.

Q: What lessons have you learned being a leader yourself?

A: People often take the safe road, but when you’re young, you should take the courage to step out of your comfort zone. Whether it is pursuing a passion or taking some risks, do something you care about. It’s okay to make mistakes – it is how you learn. No matter if you succeed or not along the way, these invaluable lessons learned early are what will give you the experiences and perspectives to become a strong leader.

Q: As a successful woman entrepreneur, can you share with us your motto?

A: Impact is a consequence of passion, courage and action. It takes courage to be an entrepreneur – to create something from a conviction and vision, because you never know how it is going to exactly work out. But if we live in a world where no one takes risks, then there is no progress. If we stop creating, we stop dreaming.

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