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Young Cleveland Women Empower Each Other to Dream Big at John Carroll University

“I came here with no idea what I’d like to do in the future, but now [I] have a very clear idea of a path that’d make me happy” — Dare to Dream Retreat Participant

The Dare to Dream Retreat Women

With the slogan The time to dream about tomorrow is here, the Dare to Dream Retreat had a simple goal — to enable Cleveland female high school students to own their scary goals and to be confident to take the next step toward one of them. The Retreat brought over 100 high school women together, giving them the opportunity to meet like-minded peers and participate in hands-on confidence-building activities. The sessions and speakers helped students recognize their strengths and further develop their understanding of and passion for entrepreneurship.

The event, presented by the Muldoon Center for Entrepreneurship, is part of John Carroll University’s initiative to enable young women to leverage their innate skills and passions through entrepreneurship.

Events organized to promote entrepreneurship and female empowerment are too often focused on the “experts” and the goals of the organizers rather than adding value to the participants. “We wanted them to leave the event feeling empowered while taking a very small step forward, which is the hardest part,” says Dr. Doan Winkel, the John J. Kahl, Sr. Chair in Entrepreneurship at John Carroll University.

“Many of these young women have never told another person about their goals in life. After today they feel confident enough to not only share them with someone, but they are already taking steps to accomplish those goals.”

The one-day event began with students arriving to a photo booth, a Dare to Dream Wall, a room filled with the smell of a freshly-cooked breakfast, and lively music provided by Rock the House Entertainment.

A photo booth makes any event fun!

The Dare to Dream Wall

Once they settled into the vibe, the students were treated to an empowering kickoff conversation with GrooveRyde founder Anjua Maximo about how and why to embrace failure along their journey. This introduction invited the students to be vulnerable and to deeply engage in the experience.

Anjua Maximo of Grooveryde kicking off the day!

Dr. Winkel hired four young women entrepreneurs to organize and lead the day. John Carroll University senior entrepreneurs Katie O’Connell and Julia Ruggiero, Laura MacMinn from the Flourishing Leadership Institute, and John Carroll University alum entrepreneur Leah Berdysz of Empowered & Poised LLC created the incredible experience.

Our amazing organizers (L to R): Katie O’Connell, Julia Ruggiero, Leah Berdysz, and Laura MacMinn

“With over 100 high school students in attendance and no one with their phones out, it was clear that the young women who organized the event did an amazing job engaging the students,” says Dr. Winkel.

One of the many dance parties that broke out during the day

Students progressed through four interconnected experiences on their journey toward confidence:

  • Dare to Be Curious

  • Dare to Be VulnerABLE

  • Dare to Reflect

  • Dare to Take Action

One of many breakout activities during the Retreat

Students daring to dream

In a post-event survey, students shared takeaways from the event, including “Owning your own business is possible!” and “You should be positive [because] doing nice things for other people doesn’t hurt you.”

Julia Ruggiero shared an inspiring observation of students doing nice things for others from the event:

“Toward the end of the event, a group of girls wrote a letter to one of the other students who mentioned her passion of wanting to model and act. The letter encouraged the student to keep reaching for her passion, expressing confidence that she can follow her dreams. I thought it was absolutely beautiful how the girls were acknowledging each other’s passions, giving each other advice, and listening intently to learn more about one another.”

Leah Berdysz also recognized this inspiring moment:

“The coolest thing that I saw was . . . a group of girls writing a letter of encouragement to another individual. The individual who received the letter was almost in tears. She was so grateful that she asked if the entire room could give the girls a round of applause. This act warmed my heart!”

Students also explained that their experience at the Retreat caused them to be less fearful of pursuing their goals. “I felt way more empowered to chase my dreams and try to pursue what I want to, even if I am afraid to,” said one participant.

As organizer Katie O’Connell said,

“Girl power! Put a group of young women in a room together, set a positive intention for your time together, bring the energy, and a special dynamic is cultivated!”

Dr. Winkel already has plans to grow the event next year:

“Next year I want every female high school student in Cleveland to attend the Dare to Dream Retreat. Seriously!”

He also envisions short modules that John Carroll University female students can deliver to middle and high school young women at their school to make the experience more accessible and scalable.

“I was inspired by what these women were able to organize and execute, and the impact they had on these 100 students,” said Winkel. “We look forward to helping more middle and high school students attend this event in the future so that they, too, can understand what they are capable of and take that first step,” shared Dr. Winkel.

The Dare to Dream Retreat was generously funded by the Veale Foundation, which offers student programs, events, and experiences to develop an entrepreneurial mindset.

For more information on the Dare to Dream Retreat, contact Dr. Doan Winkel at

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