Rocket scientist and Girl Scout CEO Sylvia Acevedo was at our St. Louis County Library today inspiring an audience full of girls to reach for the stars, aided by skills learned in scouting. Her memoir, Path to the Stars: My Journey from Girl Scouts to Rocket Scientist, is a testament to the value of scouting. Girls, in particular, can really benefit from the opportunities to learn and achieve on their own and as a team, building confidence in their own skills and their leadership abilities. Ms. Acevedo broke ground by becoming the first Hispanic person to graduate from Stanford with a master’s degree in engineering, and one of the first women to work for Sandia Labs – when there was NO bathroom for a woman to run to during breaks (if you’ve seen the Hidden Figures movie). She needed a bicycle! She was also one of the first women to work for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab. If you have a chance to see her on her book tour, go—she is a delight.
Ms. Acevedo said she started writing her memoir four years ago because people kept lining up to talk to her after her speaking events with the Girl Scouts. She has been on the Girl Scouts board for many years, became interim CEO, and a year later given the permanent position. What a journey she’s had from being a lonely new girl in a mostly white school to excited Brownie Scout to university and career in engineering, now giving back to the scouts. Coming from a home of poverty, troubles, and traditional expectations of women, she learned through Girl Scouts that there was a wider world of possibilities out there. She learned to set goals and achieve them by steps, to manage her money, to be prepared, to be persistent. Selling cookies door-to-door is a bigger learning experience than you may think!
Sylvia’s mother was a supportive figure, and I love how being involved in Girl Scouts empowered even her to break from the traditions of her culture to become more assertive, independent, and fulfilled. Sylvia’s troop leaders were encouraging and supportive to both mother and daughter, one being responsible for turning Sylvia toward a career in science after noticing her looking at the stars. “You can earn badges for both cooking AND science.” (As you might know, cooking IS science.)
I read most of Path to the Stars while waiting for the program to begin and while waiting for my turn to get in the (long) autograph line. The last several chapters finished at home are just the best! This is a book for girls (or boys) reading at about the 4th grade level or above, or it’s a great book to read aloud. It is a rich story of trials overcome, the value of mentors, of having persistence, and—most of all—girl power!
By the way, Ms. Acevedo’s favorite Girl Scout cookie is Thin Mints because the scent of a broken cookie is so calming, and her favorite planet is (was) Pluto – yay!
[Mom brag: My older daughter has an aerospace degree, but NASA wasn’t hiring during the recession so for a few years she became a petroleum engineer working with all-male crews in New Mexico’s desolate landscape, and, yes, similar to Sylvia’s story, the company had to find a uniform small enough to fit her. Now she has an engineering office job and is a Girl Scout leader of two troops and helps manage a service unit for program and training support, despite being young and not having any children. She is also a regional field director for Phi Sigma Rho, a women’s engineering sorority. I am very proud of my busy girl!]