Hayat Sindi talks science and leadership with high school girls

Hayat Spark Event

As part of PopTech’s Spark youth initiative, biotech entrepreneur Dr. Hayat Sindi visited Coastal Studies for Girls in Freeport, Maine this past Thursday. Sindi shared her story about how she became a world-class scientist and innovator and discussed challenges the participating 10th grade students face in achieving their goals.

Sindi recounted how, as a girl growing up in Saudi Arabia, she dreamed of becoming a scientist. Despite significant social pressure to remain at home, Sindi moved to the U.K. to pursue her studies. Once there, Sindi said, many doubted her ability and resolve. Undeterred, she earned her PhD in biotechnology and achieved international recognition for her work. Not content to just succeed in the lab, Sindi has become a social innovation leader, helping to develop a portable, low-cost diagnostic tool that makes it possible to monitor patients in even the most remote settings.

While her work could transform global health worldwide, Sindi revealed that she still faces significant challenges. She told the students that some critics have dismissed her accomplishments, suggesting that true science is only practiced in the lab. Sindi brushed off this criticism. “We need to extend the social benefits of nanotechnology to the poorest in this world,” Sindi explained. “They are the ones who could benefit most from this kind of work.” Sindi is also developing more opportunities for scientific research, and for women in the sciences, in the Middle East.

The students eagerly participated in the discussion. As the second class to attend Coastal Studies for Girls, they are pioneers themselves. It is the only semester-long experiential program in the country that is developing science and leadership skills for girls in the 10th grade.

Hayat Spark Event 2

One student asked Sindi about whether she saw a conflict between religion and science, noting that her own family had expressed uncertainty about this subject. Another student asked Sindi how she responds to people who are apathetic about helping others. Sindi shared that her religion has given her the excitement to learn as much as possible about the wonders of nature and faith that even one person can have a dramatic impact on the world.

Encouraging the girls to have faith in themselves above all else, Sindi told the girls, “Always reach for the top. Dream about becoming prime minister. You might not get there, but it might be because you’ve discover that something else is better and more interesting. Always believe that you can be the best.”

The Coastal Studies for Girls class will graduate on December 17 and return to their respective high schools around the country, ready to become leaders themselves.

Photos: Annie Leahy

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