HOLA! USA wants to empower the Latinx community with narratives about the contributions that Latinos have made in the U.S. across the full spectrum — music, fashion, entertainment, business, health, beauty and wellness. It is time to celebrate our Latinidad in all its glory. These are our stories; this is Latinx.
While Latinas are one of the fastest growing groups of women in the U.S. workforce, they are woefully underrepresented in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Despite their rapid growth in corporate america, Latinas only represent 3 percent of the industry. While some Latinas are already breaking barriers in the field, Sylvia Acevedo, Chief Executive Officer of the Girl Scouts of the USA admits it’s an “incredibly troubling statistic.”
“It is important that Latinas provide their input and perspective as we represent 25% of the rising generation in the US,” Sylvia told HOLA! USA, adding, “STEM is the future, and it is a national imperative that we fuel the female STEM leadership pipeline with visionaries, out-of-the-box thinkers, and true problem solvers.”
We caught up with the powerhouse who spoke about creating occupational opportunities for Latinas and how we can get children engaged in STEM at an early age.
HOLA! USA: You've had an amazing and inspiring career path! Can you tell us a little bit about your journey?
Sylvia Acevedo: I began my career working as a rocket scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where I developed unique algorithms to analyze the data collected from the Voyager 2 spacecraft that taught us more about Jupiter and its moons. I also worked on the Solar Polar Solar Probe, now known as the Parker Solar Probe, which finally, decades later, launched in August 2018. Since then, I’ve worked as an engineer and an executive at tech companies like Apple, Dell, and IBM. In June 2016, I started the job I have found the most fun and fulfilling when I became CEO of Girl Scouts of the USA.
You joined Girl Scouts when you were just 7. How did that experience impact your life?
My pursuit of engineering and rocket science is a direct result of my Girl Scout experience. As a young Brownie I discovered my passion for space and astronomy during a camping trip when one of my troop leaders came up to me and showed me how to identify constellations. Later, she remembered my interest in the stars, and encouraged me to earn a science badge—which I did by building an Estes model rocket and launching it into the sky, after much trial and error. I’ve never forgotten my roots as a Brownie gazing up at the stars, fascinated by the beauty and mystery of the night sky.
As CEO of Girl Scouts what do you hope to accomplish with the organization that hasn't been done before?
Over the decades, Girl Scouts has continued our mission of preparing girls to meet their world with courage, confidence, and character, and I really want to continue to further expand our programming into exciting, cutting-edge areas that girls are interested in. Under my tenure, Girl Scouts has introduced badges and programming in robotics, coding, engineering, space science, environmental advocacy, and cybersecurity. We know that girls have a mobile device in their hands every day, and we want to make sure they have the skills and savvy to be not just informed users of technology but designers, developers, programmers, and creators of new tech.
Sadly, Latinas account for only three percent of the STEM workforce. How do we increase minority presence in these fields? STEM is the future, and it is a national imperative that we fuel the female STEM leadership pipeline with visionaries, out-of-the-box thinkers, and true problem solvers. Every day the world is being rewritten and recreated, one line of code at a time, and girls need to be active participants in creating this future.
At Girl Scouts we are dedicated to increase the presence of Latinas by reaching girls who otherwise would not have access to this kind of programming and giving them a one-of-a-kind experience that builds on the values of their community while developing the skills they need for their next step.
What can parents do at home to help support and boost STEM learning?
Make sure you sign up your daughter in Girl Scouts! It’s also important for parents to expose their children to STEM in a way that makes them aware of all they can accomplish and all the good they can do. Many kids don’t know the types of careers that fall under STEM. STEM skills are used in all types of industries, not just engineering and medicine but in agriculture, fashion, and even in marketing and communications.