August Volunteer Spotlight: Michelle Bao


By: Kirsten Handler, Community Relations Intern

When she first started college, Michelle Bao knew she wanted to volunteer at a place that supported girls and gender equality. Bao believes working with Girls Empowerment Network is one of the most important organizations she is currently involved in. We are thankful she is dedicated to our mission of empowerment and self-efficacy and know she will be successful in med school after she graduates from UT-Austin.

Bao has worked closely with Claudia Arellano, the Program Engagement Manager, at both our Girl Connect program and the Girls Empowerment Network office. Arellano was impressed with Bao’s responsibility, openness and patience.

“Michelle was everything we need in volunteers. She was someone who you can count on, as well as someone who went with the flow of group. She was able to work with a diverse group of girls ranging from 3rd-6th grade. If Ms. Michelle was gone for the week, the girls would notice and ask about her right away.”

Can you tell me about what got you interested in getting a minor in Women’s Studies at UT?

I’ve always been really interested in women’s issues and gender equality. I never really had a chance to learn about it in high school. I took a seminar for my honor’s program, and it was about women’s experiences in academia and higher education. I knew I wanted to pursue and take more classes in that.

Besides going to med school, which will be great, is there anything else you have as a future goal?

I want to continue being involved in women’s issues through Girls Empowerment Network and an organization I’m involved in on campus, called Girl Up. I’m the president of that.

How does Girl Up differ from Girls Empowerment Network?

Girl Up is more internationally focused. We raise awareness for lack of quality in education for girls across the globe. Girls Empowerment Network is more local to Austin.

Can you tell me about an experience you had while volunteering that stuck with you?

My most recent Girl Connect group was at a middle school. There were two girls who were shy and had less interest than the other girls in our group. During our Career Week, they were closed off from speaking with and engaging with our guests. I went over to them and make them feel more comfortable with the conversation. They were eventually able to speak to us about how they felt different and how to make close friends. The fact girls that may be shy and uncomfortable feel like they can talk to us about such a personal talk makes me really proud of them and also proud of Girls Empowerment Network for providing the space for that to happen.

What kind of space do you think Girls Empowerment Network creates through these programs?

It provides a safe, nonjudgmental space for dealing with there feelings and interacting with girls they might not interact with on a daily basis.

What is your favorite part of volunteering with Girls Empowerment Network?

I like the Girl Connect program … I also do some volunteering in the office and learn about what goes into the curriculum building. Working with the team is great because everyone is so nice and passionate about what we do.

How important do you think it is to have that passion when you’re working with young women?

It’s important because you have to remember why we got involved and why we’re doing the things that we do. I think one of the most important things for girls growing up is seeing a role model who has diverse interests and invests with them.

In your studies and daily life, what’s an issue you’ve seen girls deal with? How do you think we can solve that?

I think the biggest issue is the conflict between what girls want to do and what society expects them to do. Girls are taught to like certain things and behave certain ways. Girls Empowerment Network teaches girls to reach their potential, and whatever that may be, and to do that with confidence. For example, during Career Week, we bring in guests who have a wide range of jobs. It shows the girls they aren’t restricted to anything specific.

If you could travel back in time to talk to your middle school self, what would you want to tell her? What would you have wanted to hear?

I would tell her to worry a lot less about what other people think. Confidence is hard to gain and navigate, especially at such a young age … It’s one of the most important things you can develop for your sense of self-worth and happiness in life.