UW Majors: Journalism and Mass Communications; Political Science
Age: 28 | Chicago
Co-founder and President of Smarty Pants Yoga
When Jill Carey sets her mind to something, there’s no stopping her.
Case in point: she decided to attend UW-Madison because she read about the best university leadership positions in a college guide, and saw that editor-in-chief of the Daily Cardinal topped the list. The Minnesota native decided right then that she would move to Madison and become the newspaper’s editor-in-chief. The first day of freshman year, she grabbed a red pen and sat down at the Daily Cardinal’s copy desk, and she worked her way up until she assumed the editor-in-chief position her senior year.
But Carey knows that not every young girl shares her confidence. That became clear after graduation, when she joined Teach for America and taught second grade on Chicago’s south side. Carey and her coworker, Annie Warshaw, noticed that their female students often sat on the sidelines and engaged in negative self-talk.
With the same determination that served her so well in college, Carey decided to do something about it.
In January 2013, Carey and Warshaw co-founded Smarty Pants Yoga, an eight-week program for elementary school girls that teaches emotional, social, and physical health. The “mobile girl-power business,” as Carey describes it, offers after-school programs, in-school emotional-support programs, and professional development workshops for teachers.
In just two years, Smarty Pants Yoga has grown to reach more than one thousand girls in the Chicago area. Now Carey and Warshaw are making plans to take it nationwide, beginning with Indiana, Minnesota, and Florida.
It’s more than just an exercise program. Carey, a registered yoga instructor who was first introduced to yoga by fellow alum Jeana Anderson Cohen ’08 five years ago, describes it as “an incredibly challenging and life-giving practice.” The yoga sequences are accompanied by age-appropriate stories and crafts. Carey, who also has a master’s degree in elementary education, collaborated with Warshaw to write and illustrate the eighty books that make up Smarty Pants’ original curriculum. All of the stories feature girl protagonists who are wrestling with issues that Carey’s young yoginis can relate to: conflicts with friends, sibling rivalries, body image, and more.
Carey gives back to young people in other ways, too. She has created writing workshops for 826CHI, a nonprofit writing and tutoring center for students in Chicago, and she has been active with Girls on the Run, among other organizations.
“Jill’s career has been driven by her mission to enhance and empower the lives of young people,” says Warshaw. “She believes deeply in providing high-quality educational resources to all children despite race, ethnicity, or income status.” Carey says that her experiences on campus turned her into the leader she is today.
“The Daily Cardinal made me a hardworking, agile-minded leader. And when it comes down to it, no matter what you do, you need to be a leader,” Carey says. “Through my work as president of Smarty Pants Yoga, I pass on this gift. I empower girls to advocate for their rights, to champion worthy causes, and to be a voice for the voiceless. These are Badger qualities; these are Cardinal qualities; these are leadership qualities.”