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Lean In: Sylvia Acevedo

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Sylvia Acevedo shares career updates since her 2005 cover story and how she’s leading the charge for gender equity in STEM.

Photo courtesy of Sylvia Acevedo

This month, like countless other small businesses and local companies, Austin Woman was faced with the financial ripples of COVID-19. A May issue was no longer a guarantee—without some help. Our founder, Melinda Garvey, turned to the women who have always been our loudest and best cheerleaders: our former cover women. She asked if they would lean in and support us, so in turn we can continue to support all Austin women. The responses were immediate and humbling.

Sylvia Acevedo, CEO of the Girl Scouts and a 2005 cover woman, was one of the many women who leaned in. We’re so grateful for her support and we hope as she supported us, you will support her. We asked Acevedo what she’s been doing since her cover story and how she’s leading the charge for gender equity in STEM.

Austin Woman: What have been some career highlights since your 2005 cover story?

Sylvia Acevedo: I’m very grateful for my success as a tech executive, which culminated in my being part of a startup in Austin that was successfully sold. The grassroots mobilization campaigns that we started in Austin, called the Feria Para Aprender (Learning Fairs), became a national campaign. This work in education led me to serve as a commissioner on the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics, where I chaired the Early Education subcommittee and changed federal policy of funding for dual language pre-K materials.

Governor Ann Richards asked me to be a founding member of the Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders, a school I am still proud to support. She nominated me for the National Board of Girl Scouts of the USA, where I served for eight years before being asked to serve as CEO in 2016.

As CEO of Girl Scouts, I really feel like I’ve come full circle. It was at Girl Scouts that I first discovered my passion for space and astronomy when I was on a troop camping trip. Because of the interest I’d sparked at Girl Scouts, I started taking science and math electives in school. The confidence I developed at Girl Scouts enabled me to be confident to pursue engineering.

AW: During your time with the Girls Scouts, you’ve encouraged more STEM badges and initiatives. What progress have you seen in the STEM field and what more needs to be done to achieve gender equity?

SA: In the past three years, Girl Scouts has created more than 100 new STEM badges as well as challenging outdoor badges that include rock climbing and snow camping. The importance of early exposure to STEM subjects cannot be overstated. By third grade, girls have formed their STEM identities—that is, they develop awareness of their level of interest, and their feelings of confidence and competence. This is a critical time when girls unfortunately start to pull away from STEM, for various addressable reasons, so early and sustained engagement is critical.

I’m so excited by the response we’ve had from girls across the country in urban, suburban and rural communities. In 2019, girls earned 1 million STEM badges in everything from robotics to space science exploration, citizen science, digital game design, app development, cybersecurity and more—129,000 in cybersecurity alone!

AW: How can Austinites support the Girl Scouts right now?

SA: Last month Girl Scouts made the tough, but absolutely necessary, decision to suspend in-person cookie booth sales nationwide for the safety of our girls, volunteers and their families. The Girl Scout Cookie Program is the primary way local Girl Scout councils fund the life-changing programming for girls, so it’s critical that the cookie sale continue virtually. During our current health crisis, I invite all Austinites to support Girl Scout programming and the service and entrepreneurial goals of Girl Scouts by going to girlscouts.org/en/cookie-care.html, putting in your zip code and finding a local council to buy cookies from. You can also donate cookies and we will safely distribute them to bring comfort to first responders, volunteers and local causes in need.


WHAT IS MAKING YOU SMILE RIGHT NOW?

I’ve been so inspired by the actions of Girl Scouts across the country who are stepping up to support and give back to their communities, whether they’re organizing cookie donation drives for the truckers who deliver all the things we need, creating food drives or sewing masks for hospital staff on the front lines. There’s even a robotics team in Austin that has pivoted from 3D-printing robots to 3D-printing face shields for frontline workers. Just amazing!


Read more stories of our former cover women who joined our Lean In campaign.


READ MORE FROM THE MAY ISSUE

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