The Women Influencing the Next Generation through Sports (WINGS) mentor program prepares female student-athletes to lead their communities while providing opportunities to be mentors themselves. 

An idea hatched by one of CSU Bakersfield’s very own, the WINGS program is designed to advocate and improve the education of female scholar-athletes while preparing them for the shift from college to workplace through the mentorship they receive. The idea of the program was to not only provide real-life examples of what work-life looked like after sports, but help these young women network as it benefits them during and after their time at CSUB.

Women Influencing the Next Generation through Sports was established in 2014 through a mentoring event and, soon enough, female leaders within the athletics department felt that their athletes should connect in formal settings that could lead to beneficial relationships beyond graduation.

The program hosts approximately five events per year and its mentor database has grown to over 100 female leaders since WINGS began at CSUB.

Meghan Thomason, CSUB’s director of golf, said the program has benefited many of the athletes by getting them to interact with other female professionals and has been an inspiring opportunity for them. Mentors of the program are local women who represent a variety of professional backgrounds, from education to business to law enforcement and health care.

“I have discovered through conversations with our scholar-athletes that they love hearing about the journey each mentor has taken to this point in her career,” said Thomason.

In addition to the mentorship events, WINGS puts on an annual event that is celebrated throughout the country. National Girls & Women in Sports Day is distinguished within the program as CSUB’s women’s teams host small clinics for the participants, who are younger girls.

“This is an opportunity for our scholar-athletes to pay it forward and become the mentors to young girls from the Bakersfield community for the day,” said Thomason.

Kate Tokuhara, who is a redshirt junior on the women’s basketball team, expressed that the program has helped her tremendously on and off the court for the past three years.

“You gain a lot of connections and meet new people through the program,” she said.

Because there are many mentors involved, these young female athletes learn that there are different paths to success and one does not need to have their next step figured out on graduation day.

Not only does the program gives an opportunity for female athletes to be inspired by others but these young women are also inspiring younger girls.

“Our scholar-athletes know the girls who come to their games look up to them as role models, so the ability to have so much time to interact with them and hopefully inspire them to achieve their dreams is really important and an impactful aspect of the WINGS program,” said Thomason.

Tokuhara also encourages younger girls to get involved in sports and join the program.

“Every young girl should pursue anything and chase their dreams. (The program) helps us learn how to be professional and grow as (women),” she said.

Thompson hopes that these female scholar-athletes will go on to become leaders in their communities, wherever life after graduation takes them. She also adds that because a large number of graduates stay in Kern County after graduation, the WINGS program is a great way to bring current and future leaders of Bakersfield together for the betterment of the community. 

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