As the first Iacocca Leadership Speaker, Sylvia Acevedo visited the Iacocca Institute's campus in October. Acevedo is a trailblazing entrepreneur, executive, and engineer. She began her career at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory of NASA and most recently held the position of CEO of the Girl Scouts of the USA.
As a leader in fields as diverse as science, government, big tech, and education, Acevedo joined Richard Verma. She joined the former U.S. ambassador to India and Lehigh trustee, to discuss what she has learned, how she is working to increase access for women and people of color, and what aspiring young leaders need to know to succeed in a world that is changing.
Educating the Next Generation
The Iacocca Leadership Speaker Series celebrates the legacy of leadership, persistence, and social responsibility to the worldwide education of auto industry legend Lee Iacocca. It brings to Lehigh creative leaders and thinkers who are changing the world, supported by the Iacocca Family Foundation and hosted by the Iacocca Institute.
“Sylvia’s choice as the inaugural speaker was an easy one to make,” said Mendez, director of the Iacocca Institute. “Her interdisciplinary career journey, her passion for change, her engineering mindset and role as a champion and mentor for the next generation embody all the facets of the Lehigh ethos and the Institute mission.”
Acevedo talked about her early years as a child growing up speaking Spanish in a multigenerational home in Las Cruces, New Mexico, where her family was living paycheck to paycheck. She recalled some significant events, including being a member of the Head Start pilot class where a teacher encouraged her love of reading, and joining the Girl Scouts as a grade-schooler a few years later. Acevedo found her love for science and engineering there. Her scout leader also taught her how to set goals and get a "yes" through the annual cookie sale.
“A lot of times in my career, I would be told no, because I didn’t look like what they expected,” said Acevedo. “So it was always, how do I get to a yes?”
After spending several years working in engineering, Acevedo made the decision to switch to business and set out to develop the abilities required to succeed in the new industry. According to her, ambitious people must constantly be learning to be prepared and equipped with the appropriate skills when new opportunities arise.
"I believe I belong," Acevedo stated when asked what advice she would provide to young women or minorities entering the business field. “I don't consider myself to be an ‘other.’ I think of myself as a leader or whatever other position I’m going for.”
Acevedo has fought for early childhood education and STEM education for girls throughout her career and in her volunteer work; these causes have helped in her success.
“I consider what I’m doing now to be as like laying bricks behind me because I don’t want to be just a trailblazer. I really want to create a pathway or a highway of opportunity behind me.”
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