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    The Portrait

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    When Nico Thom was a 15-year-old student at Highlands High School, in Fort Thomas in northern Kentucky — a place where, she says, “the mindset, whether people want to admit it or not, is like, ‘Marry a doctor; don’t be a doctor’” — she took an idea to her elementary school guidance counselor. What if high school students mentor youngsters? With one caveat: Girls only.

    Thom started small, with about six mentors and maybe nine or 10 students working on crafts, learning about things like anti-bullying. Now the self-described feminist is 19, studying political science and public-health policy at the University of Louisville, and her work has expanded into an after-school program called She Became. It serves five schools, including Fern Creek Elementary and Coleridge-Taylor Montessori within JCPS. Every other week on Friday afternoons, a team pulled from about 75 female U of L students (and about 30 high school students in Fort Thomas) work with girls in third through fifth grade. Over the past three years, guest speakers have represented just about every field, including accounting, architecture, dance, dentistry, fashion design, medicine and nonprofit work. Thom says the students at Fern Creek lit up when state Rep. Attica Scott spoke. “Some of them asked questions like, ‘What’s it like being a black woman in government — the only black woman?’” Thom says. “You really don’t know eight-year-olds think about this.”

    She Became begins each semester by asking girls what they want to be when they grow up. YouTuber is a popular answer. But Thom says that, when they ask the girls the same question at the end of the semester, they often get different answers: I want to be an engineer; I want to be a chef. Her plan is to export She Became to Ohio and Alabama and more schools in Louisville. “I hope that by the time I graduate, we have She Became in 40 schools here,” she says.

    This originally appeared in the February 2019 issue of Louisville Magazine as the Portrait. To subscribe to Louisville Magazineclick here. To find us on newsstands, click here.

    Photos by Jessica Ebelhar,

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