Commentary & Perspectives

GHC 19 Featured Speaker: Sylvia Acevedo

“When I was a young girl, I realized through Girl Scouts that I was good at science and math,” explained Sylvia Acevedo. Her love for the STEM fields later led her to work as a rocket scientist on two projects at NASA: The Solar Polar Solar Probe (now known as the Parker Solar Probe) and the Voyager 2 flyby of Jupiter and two of its moons. Soon after, Sylvia got her master’s degree in Industrial Engineering at Stanford, and got a job as an engineer just a few months later.

Despite her aptitude for engineering, Sylvia found that she did not seem to fit in at her new job. “I noticed that men would always huddle with other male engineers on my floor, but they would never include me or any of the other women engineers,” she said. She also struggled to be taken seriously by her male colleagues, and was even denied international assignments because “it wasn’t safe for women.” However, like a true Girl Scout, Silvia was not one to give up so easily.

Persistence and Adaptation

“Never lose your persistence, resilience, and determination.” Sylvia credits this as one of the most important lessons she learned as a Girl Scout, and states that it helped her immensely throughout her career.

“One of the fundamental things I learned from selling cookies was not to take ‘no’ for an answer until I’d heard ‘no’ three times,” Sylvia said. She applied a similar trick at her job, going to the very countries she was told were “unsafe for women” to prove she was capable of taking on the assignments. “Doing market analysis of those places on my own would show that I could dramatically increase sales in those markets,” she revealed.

Another helpful lesson Sylvia learned was the importance of adapting new skills – a lesson she learned from her mother. “My mom was a lifelong learner, constantly teaching herself new skills,” Sylvia said. “I understood from her the value of being a lifelong learner, and of continually branching out and tackling new subjects and challenges. This fundamental life lesson served me well as I moved through my career because the higher up you go, the more you have to adapt.”

The Next Generation of Girl Scouts

In 2017, Sylvia’s journey came full circle as she returned to the very organization that inspired her to become an engineer. She became CEO of Girl Scouts of the U.S. and is currently finding new ways to encourage young girls to enter the STEM fields.

“It’s my personal mission to make sure girls and women are included in this re-creation of the world around us,” Sylvia revealed. “There absolutely must be more girls’ and women’s voices at the table because the outcomes of tech creation, design, and development impact everyone, in the U.S. and globally.”

Over the last three years, Sylvia and Girl Scouts have developed programs in cybersecurity, mechanical engineering, robotics, space science, environmental stewardship, and more. These programs are adopted one girl at a time, and must be taken in order to earn a badge. So far, 3 million badges have been earned.

“I get so excited thinking about how girls are learning these important skills,” Sylvia said, “and maybe even discovering a new passion just like I did when I first discovered my love of space and astronomy, gazing up at the stars as a young Brownie on a troop camping trip.”

Spaces of Our Own

Sylvia will discuss her work during her featured session at the 2019 Grace Hopper Celebration (GHC 19). She argues that resources such as GHC and Girl Scouts are important for women as it provides them with a safe space where they no longer have to feel like a minority.

“There are more women today in all different industries, but I do think it’s still important for us to have spaces of our own where we can do our own informal networking, make those connections, build those relationships, and exchange information of our own,” Sylvia said. “Those networks are key. They can support you and help you steer through the challenges.”

We encourage all of you to find your support network, take on new challenges, and (like Sylvia) reach for the stars.

Attending #GHC19? Sylvia Acevedo will present her Featured Speaker session at the Celebration. 

Learn more about our featured and keynote speakers.