The Story of An Outlier Scientist

never limit your interests

I’d like to share my story with you so that you can understand my passion for entrepreneurial learning.

I am an outlier: a female scientist and technology entrepreneur from the unlikeliest of circumstances. My father was an orphan, living on the streets of Mexico City at the age of 10. Like many American children—like children everywhere, in fact—my first words were “mama” and “dada.” But mine were in Spanish.

For the first five years of my life, I spoke Spanish. When I entered first grade, my English was so deficient that I was assigned to a class for slow learners. However, my father intervened, insisting that school officials move me to a class for regular kids, never mind the language gap. His intervention changed the trajectory of my life.

I found I took to math, which had this benefit: The language of math is universal. Even more, I loved taking things apart to figure out how they worked. Putting things back together was harder.

Once, I picked up a screwdriver and took apart our mustard-yellow rotary telephone, years before the boom in cell phones. Our house phone was our only means of outside communication, so no phone meant that we were essentially cut off from the outside world. For a few moments after my parents found me on the floor in a pile of phone parts, they were horrified. But here’s the amazing thing: rather than scold me for what I had done, they let me experiment and explore the inner workings of our phone. My dad got on the floor and helped. Together we eventually put the phone back into working order.

My sisters and I had the great advantage of a hands-on childhood.

I could get messy, dirty and greasy because my single dress was strictly for church. My dad encouraged us to do all kinds of “boy” activities—to build things, change tires, mow lawns, and repair the house. I learned how to lay tile, change a car battery, and try to fix all kinds of things.

By not limiting my interests, my father gave me the tools that allowed me to be comfortable being the only girl in male-dominated classes—and later, in male-dominated fields. His curiosity is baked into my DNA and I’ve worked tirelessly to infuse VentureLab’s youth entrepreneurship programs with this same mindset. 

It naturally led me into science projects, contests, and the scientific method. With my “try, try again” approach, I needed no safety net. I was a science-smitten girl, almost oblivious to the fact that most of my fellow geeks were guys.

I’d love to hear from you in the meantime, about how your parents encouraged you. And how you encourage the girls in your life to fearlessly explore. Thank you for sharing!

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