Students Look to "Inspiring Women" for Lessons on the World of Work

Laura Garcia-Cannon is a ball of energy compressed into a tiny frame, and she needs all that energy for the work she does.

To prepare for her job anchoring NBC Bay Area’s “Today in the Bay” show, which goes on the air at 4:30 a.m., the 1991 Saint Mary’s grad and Emmy Award winning journalist starts her day with a conference call at 2:30 a.m. What time does she get up? “Around 2:28,” she says with a grin.  Laura Garcia-Cannon in the NBC Bay Area studio with SMC students

Garcia-Cannon is one of about a dozen women who met with students in a January  Term class called “Inspiring Women in the World of Work,” taught by Accounting Professor Virginia Smith, who was inspired to teach the course after reading an article about Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook, who has urged women to reach for the top.

She decided to teach a Jan Term class, in which students and teachers alike are encouraged to step outside their comfort zone. She want the students to see these women in action and hear from them the true story about how they deal with issues women still face in the workforce today, such as wage discrimination and the challenge of juggling work and family life.  

Women Role Models

The students picked up nuggets of wisdom from successful women in a wide range of fields, including attorney Janine Ogando ’89, three female Chevron executives and the executive directors of the Lesher Foundation and the Contra Costa Crisis Center, among others. On a visit to San Francisco’s City Hall, they also heard from political insider Angela Calvillo, a 1995 SMC graduate who is clerk of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, which must be the next hardest job to herding cats.

Isabel Camacho, a sophomore politics major whose goal is “to be in the White House,” was thrilled to meet these real-world role models. “I wanted to learn from these women who are leaders and become inspired,” she said during a class trip to the NBC studios in San Jose, where the students met with Garcia-Cannon and got a rare glimpse of the controlled chaos that is life behind the scenes at a major TV studio. SMC Junior Melanie Smith (left) tries out the anchor's desk at the NBC Bay Area TV studio.

Before the class visit, the students had read several articles about the “Mommy Track” that dealt with the issue of whether women can really “have it all” – a successful career and a satisfying family and home life.

Garcia-Cannon has tested that theory to the extreme. Nearly four years ago, she and her husband, fellow NBC-Bay Area anchor Brent Cannon, acquired an instant family when she gave birth to triplets. She jokes: “Most people have one child at a time – I had a litter.”

A First-Class Juggling Act

The students asked her how she manages a high-powered career and a handful of toddlers, and she admitted that it’s a juggling act.

“I devoted so much of my life prior to having them to my career. It made up my morning, noon and night. Now I had to incorporate multiple children into that morning, noon and night,” she said. But she added: “What I do for a living helped me to prepare for that balancing act. In TV news, it’s always changing and evolving. You could have the most beautifully laid out show and ... forget it – the cameras go down, the lights go off, you have the wrong script. That’s how I adapt. Just by being flexible and juggling - and not sleeping!”

After more than 20 years in the business, she clearly still savors the adrenaline rush of the TV business. “I love breaking news, helping people understand,” she says.

And with that, she invited students to sit at the anchor desk and try out its high-tech gadgets. Melanie Smith, a junior, eagerly took a seat at the desk, after admitting that TV sportscaster “Erin Andrews is my idol.” Surrounded by banks of cameras and staring into the glare of TV lights, she admitted to a touch of nerves.

Not so for Garcia-Cannon. The anchor desk is her native environment, and she’s a multitasking master, even in front of the cameras. “Viewers will tweet me during the show. If I can, I’ll tweet them back,” she says.

Garcia-Cannon left the students with these words of advice: “If you have that goal, go for it. There’s nothing you can’t achieve if you go for it – and maybe make some sacrifices along the way.”

Story and photos by Teresa Castle
Office of College Communications

View more photos of the "Inspiring Women in the World of Work" Visit to NBC Bay Area TV.