EXCLUSIVE NEW LEARNING TIMES INTERVIEW
Question: How did your educational trajectory (background) affect your current work?
Answer: My trajectory was once described by a staff member as chaotic, which in hindsight has given me great freedom and especially TRUST that there is something to be learned no matter the path. Starting with my mother refusing bilingual schooling even though I couldn't speak a lick of English, to skipping grades and starting college early, vacillating between art and engineering and finally dropping out of grad school to run my first dot com only to return to school in 2012 to study playwriting at Columbia, my educational trajectory makes no sense and all the sense in the world. I couldn't be doing what I'm doing (teaching the art of startups and leadership) if I'd done it any other way.
Question: What professional experiences have been most formative to your current work?
Answer: Being a woman in tech, being a woman CEO, being Latina in an increasingly xenophobic country, being an artist in tech, being a technologist in the arts, being a business person in academia, etc. Ultimately I think identity factors into everything that we do, and it's why teaching leadership, when done well, is largely about facilitating a shift in helping people identify themselves as leaders. If my professional experiences have taught me anything it's that when you're the only one in the room, it's your job to make yourself heard and bring more people like you into the room, for everyone's benefit.
Question: How do you hope your work will change the learning landscape?
Answer: I am a storyteller and a translator, which comes in handy when bridge building, which I think is the best description for what I do. Bridge building is increasingly critical as the problems we're solving grow in complexity and become impossible to solve without systems of collaboration across disciplines, geographies and ideological camps. Whether I'm bringing Broadway actors to teach high schoolers to pitch businesses or teaching social science students to code, the future depends on transgressing borders, and like any immigrant would, I think all landscapes are much improved by the process.
Question: What broad trends do you think will have the most impact on learning in the years ahead?
Answer: Having grown up most of my adult life in the world of globalization consulting, I think the market of ideas and innovation is about to be turned on it's head. Globalization has been rather one-directional; while we use the raw material of the developing world, ideas and innovation in modern times have mostly been driven from the developed West outward. But today, while the most brilliant minds in the West are developing the next iPhone app, the scrappy, innovative digital native youth of the developing world are solving critical problems with global implications, and doing it with little capital, free of the bureaucracy of research and development labs and corporate boardrooms. The West will need to begin learning from the world around it, and our first-world learning mindset and systems will need to adapt accordingly.
Question: What are you currently working on & what is your next big project?
Answer: I'm co-founding (along with the Athena Center for Leadership Studies at Barnard) Entrepreneurs@Athena, a project focused on providing resources, research and advocacy to level the playing field for women entrepreneurs. We've already launched a number of well-received initiatives collaborating with top entrepreneurs and investors in the space, and we have a number of even more impactful projects launching in the coming year. Also, I'm graduating from Columbia with a degree in Playwriting this May, which means my 2-year sabbatical is coming to a close and the real work now begins!
Image: Courtesy Nathalie Molina Niño