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February 11th, 2019

Girl Scout to Rocket Scientist back to Girl Scouts: Sylvia Acevedo

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Written by: Greg Cali
Sylvia Acevedo

Sylvia Acevedo was born near Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota. As a child, Acevedo and her family moved to New Mexico, where she became involved in her local Brownie troop. Acevedo’s grandparents were from Mexico and she said her family was close but they “didn’t fully assimilate into the community.” However, Acevedo found her comfort in her girl scout troop. As a girl scout, Acevedo was encouraged to pursue her interests in science, even though her school’s faculty disapproved. She says that her troop leader was the person who encouraged her to pursue her interests in science after the troop leader caught Acevedo gazing at the stars one night and pushed her to get her science badge. Acevedo bought a hobby rocket kit and after a few tries she successfully launched the rocket, and earned her science badge. Acevedo says that her troop leader was the reason that she realized she could set her own goals and create opportunities for herself.

And Acevedo did just that: she set goals for herself and created opportunities. In 1979 Acevedo earned her Bachelor of Science at New Mexico State University studying industrial engineering.

After graduating from New Mexico State University, Acevedo started working for NASA as a rocket scientist at their Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Here, she worked on the Voyager 2, a space probe launched by NASA to study the outer planets.

Eventually, Acevedo left her position at NASA to go to Stanford for her Master’s degree. Attending Stanford was something that Acevedo had dreamt about since she was in fourth grade and her teacher showed her a photo of the campus. She went on to earn her Master’s of Science in systems engineering from Stanford University, making her one of the first Hispanic students to earn a Master’s of Science at the school. While attending Stanford, Acevedo worked at International Business Machines Corporation (IBM), a multinational information technology company. IBM is responsible for producing and selling computer hardware, middleware, and software.

Once Acevedo graduated from Stanford, she was hired by Apple as a technology executive for the Asia-Pacific region. She also worked as an executive for Dell and Autodesk.

In 2016, Acevedo was asked to step up and be the interim CEO of the Girl Scouts of America, an organization with over 2.5 million members. She happily accepted the offer, and one year later she was named the permanent CEO of the organization. According to the Girl Scouts of America, Acevedo is “an enduring champion of girls’ and women’s causes who brings to the organization a deep understanding of the youth leadership market and the evolving needs of today’s girls.” Acevedo has been a big part in reversing the declining numbers of Girl Scout members by supporting targeted outreach to African American, Hispanic, Asian, and other U.S. minorities.

Acevedo is excited to hold such an important position in the organization, because of how much the organization helped her when she was just a little girl, and she hopes that she can help girls who are in similar positions to hers. Acevedo claims that “the Girl Scouts give you skills that enhance your life” and help girls to become successful. Since, becoming the CEO of the Girl Scouts, Acevedo has implemented a number of science related badges like cybersecurity, robotics, mechanical engineering and many others. By adding these STEM related badges, Acevedo hopes to provide a wider variety of badges so that all girls in the program can pursue badges that are interesting to them.

Acevedo also currently serves as a Commissioner on the White House Initiative for Educational Excellence for Hispanics. While in this position, Acevedo has created sports and fitness activities that provided entertainment for 27,000 children in Austin and Los Angeles. She has also implemented distributional programs that provided over 250,000 books, over 25,000 toothbrushes, and over 1,000 pairs of eyeglasses to families in need.

Throughout her entire life, Acevedo had to overcome the difficulties of being a woman in a male dominated environment and to make herself heard. Acevedo set goals for herself and created her own opportunities for success just like her troop leader told her to when she was only seven years old. And now, Acevedo hopes to instill that same message in the minds of girls across the country so that they know that they can accomplish whatever they set their minds to as long as they work hard and push themselves.

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