Director | Mach 1 Express Wash
Globalization, Economics and Business Cohort
Q: Why did you apply to the WLP?
Cayla: I think initially when I saw Women's Leadership Program, I was like, "Oh, leadership, I do a lot of that." I'm the captain of my sports team and I'm in the Beta Club and I'm in the student government. I was like, "Leadership, that's what I do." Right? I think that was kind of like the initial thing that popped out to me. But, I think underneath the surface, I'm a first generation college student, so I had a lot of reservations about what college actually looked like for someone because I didn't really have anyone that I trusted and knew on a really deep level in my family that I could ask those questions to. I think also when I saw something specifically for women, I have three sisters, two biological sisters, and one adopted sister. I always played sports growing up, so I was always surrounded by girls. I really think I wanted that community and I knew that having the WLP team, that I automatically had a place that I belonged, a group that I could be a part of.
Q: Did the program provide a supportive envrionment to transition to University?
Cayla: Literally from day one my parents dropped me off. I've felt that support. There was a hurricane coming the weekend that I moved in, so my parents had to basically throw my stuff out and then get on the road to try and try to miss all the bad weather. My parents walked out the door, the door shut, and I just remember crying my eyes out. I'm thinking, Holy crap, what have I done? And I turned around and my roommate, Danielle Noel, was standing there and she just like wrapped me in this big bear hug, which I came to love over the next year and she's like, we'll get through this together, we can do this, we can do this. That first day of Danielle giving me that hug and saying "we can do this together", that carried over and just manifested tenfold over the last couple of years. I was really, really lucky to meet such an incredible group of women day one. That was my first day and I still have those relationships with the women that were in the program with me.
Q: Which cohort were you a part of?
Cayla: I was in the globalization, economics and business cohort. And I think what was so unique about that cohort is because you kind of have three distinct, but still very interconnected disciplines there. When you talk about globalization, that's something that affects every industry. That was really kind of cool that we've brought in a lot of girls with different interests.
"I'm a first generation college student, so I had a lot of reservations about what college actually looked like for someone. I was really, really lucky to meet such an incredible group of women on day one, and I still have those relationships with the women that were in the program with me."
Q: Tell me about your studies at WLP and beyond?
Cayla: It was really great having 14 girls that I took ECON with because it made something that I had no idea about, I didn't even really understand, I didn't even know if it was going to be accessible to me, intelligible. I went on to study international business. I also think that international business helps me and it helps me now, even though I'm still located and dealing specifically within the United States, it helped me learn how to listen for people's stories and what they're saying. I think that was a skill that I've definitely picked up from, again, kind of that day one in the WLP after Danielle gave me her big bear hug, we went into our room and there was six or seven of us. We were the small cohort, so we had 14, so we all sat around and kind of told our stories and how we got there. And so like day one I was learning how to listen to other people's stories and listen to how that affects the way that they see things and think about things.
Q: Are there experiences outside of the classroom that WLP connected you to?
Cayla: While I was at GW, I co-founded a nonprofit called Lemonade Day DC and the premise of that is teaching entrepreneurship to kids in the fourth through seventh grade. When another WLP woman came to me and said, "Hey, I have this idea to start this nonprofit, I hear you kind of like doing stuff like this too. Maybe we can do it together." Her name is Emily Mussel. She was actually in the arts and culture cohort work. I was like, "Yeah, that sounds great. Let's do this together." We started a Lemonade Day DC, and from there that really made me want to do something where I can continue to mentor and give back to a community because I saw the impact that it had in my personal life.
Q: What did your path look like after GW?
Cayla: After school, I joined Teach for America and moved to Boston and I taught there and I taught seventh grade math. After doing Teach for America, my family's business has been the Express car wash business. My dad had 30 Express car washes and someone had approached him to actually buy out his company. I decided it was a good time to transition over and at 23 take part in this process, something that you don't get that experience working for a larger corporation. From Boston I moved back to Alabama and since 2016 I've been overseeing operations for my family business, which is Express Car Wash Company.
Q: How has working at your family business been for you professionally?
Cayla: It's been awesome. I think the great thing is I genuinely love my family. What motivates us isn't always profit, it's people. My dad is a big proponent for helping people find their voice and helping people go on to something bigger and better for themselves. I went from being in a classroom learning about different kids stories, assessing how they thought about things, and how they saw things. And now that's kind of what I do in my day to day. I oversee all the hiring and training for each of our locations
Q: Do you think the WLP prepared you for your career?
Cayla: I think that the relationships that I made that first year of school were so instrumental into everything else that I did throughout my college career and then also throughout my career now. So my advice to anyone joining the WLP would be to be vulnerable and learn how to listen to other people's stories. It's about having those deep conversations and that safe space to be able to find yourself at 18 years old. And to make mistakes. I think that was probably the best thing about the group is that we were able to say our thoughts out loud or say while we thought something and we had created that space where it was okay if we were still learning and thinking through things and growing and if saying something out loud would help us grow then no one was going to judge where we were coming from on it.
Q: Have you stayed connected with the women in your program?
Cayla: We've all kind of traveled the world together after graduation. I went to Cuba with one of my WLP girls, I've been to London with another one of my friends from the WLP and they're doing the cohort trip later next month, and we're also really close.
I was like, "Yeah, that sounds great. Let's do this together."