We asked Olympia LePoint about her path to becoming a rocket scientist, and her advice for young women aspiring to the same career path.
Tell us a little more about your story and your progression from being a kid who struggled in math to where you are now.
I had a lot of issues growing up. We lived in the middle of gang violence, and walking home from school, we didn’t know if we’d get home alive. This fear translated into difficulties at school. I took fear with me and allowed it to stop me. At 16, I was tutored by a calculus teacher who volunteered to help struggling students, and it was during that time that I realized that I was smarter than I thought I was. What stopped me wasn’t a lack of intelligence, but just the fear in my head. In that moment, I decided that I was going to do things that were really hard. I owed it to myself to do that. We all fail, but those who change their frame of mind create success in the end.
Techbridge Girls excites, educates, and equips girls* from low-income communities by delivering high-quality STEM programming that empowers a girl to achieve economic mobility and better life chances.
What has been your proudest achievement throughout your life, both professionally and personally?
Achieving my bachelor’s degree was definitely my biggest achievement. I grew up in inner city LA, where your inevitable future is to become a drop-out or a victim of gang violence. I defied those statistics and decided my own future: to become a rocket scientist. When you have a degree, you earn it, and no one can take that away from you. You can take the degree and use it to choose your own future. That’s why I’m such a passionate supporter of education.
STEM classes have not been popular amongst women and young girls. Why do you think that is, and how do you think it’s progressed in the last 10-20 years?
When I first started my career in 1998, I would be the only woman in a room of 200 men. My mentor, Steve Hobart, showed me how to communicate effectively with those men so they could improve the engine design with my knowledge. I learned that women communicate differently than men, and women and minorities bring a new viewpoint to STEM that benefit the workforce. Women have brilliant systems thinking and can find one solution that will solve many different problems. Minorities have a brilliant ability to think outside of the box. Both groups bring a tremendous benefit to STEM fields, and I’m happy to say that now I’m no longer the only woman in a room of 200 men. More diversity is still needed, however. So many people across the planet have brilliant ideas, and tapping into how people think in different ways can create solutions that last a lifetime.