TED WAITT TO STUDENTS: AIM HIGH, WORK HARD
Ted Waitt, the original founder of Gateway computers, spent an hour with 30 Country Day Upper School students Thursday. This class could have been called “Entrepreneurship 101.’’Waitt, 48, who revolutionized computer retailing from a barn in Sioux City, Iowa, spoke as part of Head of School Chris Schuck’s new Entrepreneurial Leadership Lecture Series, which will bring a series of speakers to school to trace their remarkable careers.
Waitt, true to his energetic and casual style throughout his business, arrived dressed in denim and told his story to students who hung on every word.
Waitt acknowledged being a less than stellar student, but one who could focus intently when he needed to and tested well.He told of growing up in Sioux City, Iowa, in the shadows of the family’s cattle business. He assumed he would eventually enter that business, but learned otherwise when he tried to tell his father he wanted to drop out of college.His father informed him that the family business wasn’t available to him and went further, telling him that his faith in his son’s abilities also kept him from arranging for any future financial support for the boy.“I got the message,’’ Waitt said, returning to college and eventually taking a job in a poorly run local computer store. There he learned a lot about computers and even more about how not to run a business.“I learned the three things that became my approach to business: Treat your employees right, treat your vendors right, pay your bills and treat your customers right.’’Waitt then sketched the sometimes harrowing route through the early years of building and selling computers over the phone. He told of times he worried whether or not his bank account was empty. He talked of the importance of partnerships and having employees who grow to fully represent the company culture.
He rattled off the rapid growth in yearly revenue — $1 million the first year, $1.5 million the next, then $12 million, $70 million, $275 million, $600 million and then more than $1 billion.But he also talked of the sacrifice. Early years, in which he was paying his employees more than his own salary, banking on the eventual value of the company as his pay off.Waitt acknowledged making mistakes along the way and said successful entrepreneurs and successful companies depend on the ability to acknowledge making wrong turns and correcting them.Waitt said, in retrospect, the biggest mistake he made was when he moved the company from Sioux City to San Diego. Moving the company from its Mid-Western roots challenged the company culture that had been a big part of its appeal to customers.
The move, he explained, was made for rational reasons – the need to hire more talent in an increasingly competitive computer market and his plans to position the company for his own looming retirement. But it was a wrong move, he acknowledges now, saying he should have stuck to Sioux City the way Wal-Mart has stayed in Bentonville, Arkansas.
During a lively question and answer period that followed, senior David Flicker noted that Waitt, like several famous entrepreneurs of the Internet boom era, left college before graduating. Flicker asked whether he thought there was a cost to entrepreneurs who stay in school.
Waitt smiled but quickly explained that all the ideas that fueled his success and the ideas that fueled those other entrepreneurs’ success were generated in the college environment.
“When they dropped out, they had the idea, and at that point there may be an opportunity cost to consider,’’ Waitt explained. “But the genesis of their idea happened in college.’’
Waitt said there are still opportunities for smart, younger entrepreneurs. He mentioned composite materials, nano-technology, bio-sciences and wireless communications as fertile targets.
“What is the next internet?’’ he told the students. “I don’t know. It is up to you to figure it out.’’
The lecture series continues next month and will include visits from:
— Robert Noble, founder and CEO of Envision Solar.
— Fernando Aguerre, co-founder, with his brother Santiago, of REEF surf and sportswear and current president of the International Surfing Association.
— Dr. Ivor Royston co-founder of San Diego’s first biotech company.
— Robert Wilder, CEO and founder of Wildershares LLC, and manager of Wilderhill Clean Energy Index.
Article and photos posted by the La Jolla Country Day School on Torrey Times.
TINA NOVA: Desire and drive is key
Tina Nova is a farmer’s daughter. She grew up among the irrigated fields of California’s San Joaquin Valley in a time when girls took homemaking, boys took science courses and most never left the farms.
Nova’s father beileved in hard work and her vacations from school were filled with early mornings and hours mowing fields on a blue Ford tractor.
“I had a lot of time to daydream on that tractor,” Nova told a group of Upper School students Wednesday in the third of this year’s Entrepreneurial Leadership lectures.
Those daydreams envisioned a different future. Nova talked her way out of homemaking and into mechanical drawing — the first girl in her Delano school to take that class. When offered a junior college route, she risked an application to the University of California at Irvine and, once there, took remedial courses to make up for what she didn’t get in high school. “I just kept working,” she said.
Today she is a successful scientist and entrepreneur, heading maturing bio-tech start-up Genoptix and is helping revolutionize the way diagnostic medicine is executed in America. She told the students not to be dissuaded from their goals by academic challenges or less-than-perfect grades.
“I do a lot of hiring,” she said, “and I will take drive over grades anytime.” (See video below.)
Nova’s message, like that of Ernest Rady in Tuesday’s lecture, was to find what you love and dedicate yourself to that work. Originally planning to be a medical doctor, Nova realized she much preferred the science of the laboratory to the clinical work and she changed to pursue a doctorate rather than a medical degree.
“I am so glad I did that and chose what I wanted to be,” she told the students, ”instead of pursuing what others wanted me to be.”
As a young scientist working for San Diego-based Hybritech, she was awarded the patent for the now-famous “PSA” test doctors still use to diagnose prostate cancer in men.
“I got $100 for winning that patent,” Nova says and laughs. “It meant many millions of dollars to the company.”
Nova learned at each stop along her work career and moved from bench scientist to director of research, and eventually to chief operating officer and now chief executive officer. Along the way, she pioneered better tracking of medical samples, adding diagnostic analysis to laboratory testing services and is now working to link medication use with patient’s genetic predisposition.
Her message to the students was as grounded as the farm work of her youth: “Do what you love. Work hard. Worker harder than anyone around you.”
Nova believes her modest beginnings brought a focus and determination that has led to her success and she advised the Country Day students to take full advantage of the education they are receiving.
“In the end, your life and your work is what you make of it,” she said. “You need to enjoy the journey, to enjoy everything it takes to get you where you want to go.”Nova was the third entrepreneur in this year’s lecture series. Earlier Judy Muller-Cohn and Ernest Rady met with Upper School students.
Photos By Andy Hayt.
Article and photos posted by La Jolla Country Day School on Torrey Times.
IRWIN JACOBS: GUIDANCE FROM A WORLD CHANGER
The students arrived early and sat waiting quietly and with so much reverent attention that Irwin Jacobs, the one wearing the jacket and tie, had to help the students relax.
Grabbing a chair at mid-table, Qualcomm’s founder Wednesday sat between two students, popped open a Diet Coke, tossed a few text-books and a silicon chip on the table and began the kind of lecture you’d expect from the college professor that he was.
But it was clear from the start that this was a special episode of Head of School Chris Schuck’s Entrepreneurial Lecture Series. The building in which this lecture was being held carries Jacobs’ name. His grandchildren, Country Day students, sat among his listeners. And of all the business leaders who had preceded him in these luncheon discussions, Jacobs had pioneered work that these students knew first-hand had transformed their own lives. The cell phones in their pockets and the many wireless devices crowding their homes stood testament to the impact of this man’s entrepreneurial idea.
Yet, Jacobs did not come across as a business tycoon. He was scholarly and, like a good teacher, began with the big picture.
“I have always felt one needs to understand the very theoretical aspects of a subject to produce a product you can put out successfully into the market,’’ he told the students. He started with textbooks – on probability and random process theory; another written in collaboration with fellow M.I.T graduate students who were trying to make sense of a difficult professor’s lectures on communication theory.
Then Jacobs took the students along as he recounted his transition from University of California San Diego professor into the early entrepreneurial years of the digital communication revolution. In many ways, it was a transition in substance, but not in style.
Jacobs described the collaborative style that he had mastered in academia and showed how he applied the same approach among colleagues and co-workers in business. Seemingly overnight they developed the methods for splitting the spectrum and managing the delivery of increasingly large amounts of data through the complex computer chips that made modern cellular phone traffic possible.
Of course, Qualcomm didn’t develop overnight and Jacobs shared the details of the intense scientific work and competitive business challenges that needed to come together for a company like his to grow to its current 22,000 employees with more than $20 billion in annual revenues. He acknowledged once estimating to his wife, Joan , that perhaps Qualcomm would grow to 100 employees.
“Of course it takes a lot of work, a lot of drive and a little luck to make things happen,’’ Jacobs said.
Jacobs traced the evolution of his company through its early days when smaller, initial products produced the revenues to fund the research and development on what would become the breakthrough cellular phone technologies. He recounted the details of the opening of the Chinese and Indian markets and the on-going struggles against Europe’s competing technologies.
Jacobs encouraged students to study engineering. There is still so much work to be done, he said, as wireless advances revolutionize medicine and education the way they have changed the paradigms in more traditional forms of communication.
Today, Jacobs is retired, having left the day-to-day management of Qualcomm to his son, but he keeps in touch, particularly with the medical and educational developments. He said he spends about a third of his time managing his many philanthropic efforts.
Jacobs’ philanthropy and his civic engagement extend to virtually every aspect of San Diego life, including Country Day, the Jewish Community Center, the San Diego Symphony, Balboa Park, the San Diego Opera and the La Jolla Playhouse among others.
Jacobs was the fifth of six speakers in this year’s luncheon series. Previously, Jeff Church, Judy Muller-Cohn, Ernest Rady and Tina Nova met with Upper School students.
Article and photos posted by La Jolla Country Day School on Torrey Times.
ERNEST RADY: SUCCESS REQUIRES LOVING WHAT YOU DO
Ernest Rady has started insurance companies. He has headed oil firms. He has invested in skyscrapers and apartment complexes. He is one of San Diego’s leading philanthropists. And still, as he waited to talk to a group of La Jolla Country Day Upper School students Tuesday, he admitted to being nervous.
“My palms still get sweaty when I do these things,” he said.
Moments later the students arrived and Rady quickly eschewed the podium and the lecture style. Grabbing a seat among his young audience, he began a 60 minute discussion that was part business lesson, part life lesson and another reminder of the special spirit that moves the entrepreneurs that have made up Head of School Chris Schuck’s Entrepreneurial Leadership Lecture Series.
Rady, a Canadian by birth, traced for the students a life that required, because of his father’s illness, that he assume early responsibility for the family’s finances. A self-described “deal junkie,’’ Rady discovered a gift for building projects, selling them and transforming companies to best meet the market circumstances. He found himself interested in the “logic, percentages and the risk and reward’’ of the insurance business and began building his wealth, diversifying into oil and eventually into real estate investments. He invested in apartment house construction in El Cajon and La Jolla and eventually into holdings from Hawaii and throughout the Western U.S.
Rady took questions from students and in answering revealed a business style that seemed remarkably built on humility and appreciation for the talents of others. “As my father said, ‘The three most important things in business are people, people, and people,’’’ he said.
In recounting his career, Rady mentions “starting a business’’ as if it was a decision made in passing, but as he describes the process, it becomes clear that he had a keen eye for opportunity and was a clear-eyed judge of the talents with whom he partnered. “Opportunity,’’ he describes “comes in a series of circumstances that arise both from the people and the economy. I had a lot of confidence in the people I was working with and, for the most part, it has worked well.’’
Rady, who has become an American citizen, credited the meritocracy of the American market economy as the foundation of the country’s greatness. He believes the government was right in stepping in so aggressively during this recession, though he worried aloud with students about continued government intrusion into the market and told them that in many ways the outcome of the current U.S. economic malaise may rest with them.
“The only way for us to work our way out of this is for you, young students, to find a way to make America competitive – through ingenuity, entrepreneurial efforts – competitive in the world markets.’’
Students asked Rady if he had foreseen the 2008 market crash and his answer was both honest and surprising.
Not only had he not seen it coming, he was paralyzed in his own business decisions in trying to fashion a response. “I actually lost confidence in myself because I didn’t see it coming,’’ he said. “I was scared and I hired a couple of MBAs to come in and test my thinking on what I thought we should do.’’
Today, he is still rising every morning with a desire to attack the problems and fashion the next deal.
“Most people get up in the morning and they need a cup of coffee to get going,’’ he said. “I need a sedative.’’
Rady, like virtually every speaker in this lecture series, told the students to make sure they find something they love to pursue in their work.
“I have never met anyone who is successful who didn’t love what they do,’’ Rady said.
Rady is 74, in great health and, many might think, would be plotting his retired years. He has no plans to do that. “The people I see who retire don’t do as well as those who stay active in business,’’ Rady told the students.
Rady has diversified his activities, adding major commitments of time and his personal resources to community endeavors. He has spent more than a decade on the board of a hospital that now bears his name, Rady Children’s Hospital, and has worked closely with UCSD to build a business school that he hopes will give others the kind of opportunities he has had in business.
Rady describes his philanthropic work as his most important.
“I will not be remembered for this transaction or that transaction,’’ he said. “Hopefully, I will be remembered for the help I gave an institution that cares for 150,000 children each year.’’
In ending his talk, Rady read to the students a series of lessons that came from a life in business, but will not be found in any economics text book.
“I’ve learned,’’ he said in part, “that the best classroom in the world is at the feet of an elderly person. . .
“I’ve learned that being kind is more important than being right. . .
“I’ve learned that we should be glad God doesn’t give us everything we ask for. . .
“I’ve learned that money doesn’t buy class. . .
“I’ve learned that everyone wants to live on top of the mountain, but all the happiness and growth occurs while climbing it. Enjoy the climb – and treasure your opportunities.’’
Rady was the second in a series of business leaders visiting Country Day this year. Earlier Judy Muller-Cohn talked to students about the bio-sciences.
Article and photos posted by La Jolla Country Day School on Torrey Pines.
IVOR ROYSTON: CURING CANCER, BUILDING AN INDUSTRY
As a high school student growing up in Washington D.C., Ivor Royston knew he wanted to be a doctor. When he was studying medicine he had an equally singular goal.
“I wanted to cure cancer,’’ he said.
How that single-minded doctor ended up pioneering a bio-tech industry in San Diego and, eventually, becoming a venture capitalist and one of America’s leading medical entrepreneurs was the subject of Royston’s appearance in Head of School Chris Schuck’s Entrepreneurial Leadership Lecture Series on Wednesday.
Speaking to a group of more than 30 students and faculty, Royston displayed both the mastery of the minute details of cell biology and the dogged business tactics it takes to drive a medical idea through the financial and government oversight processes it takes to bring a new drug or treatment to market.
Royston traced the origins of his career through high school years that seemed traditional except he aggressively sought out any sort of summer work that would get him experience in the medical field and he joined an investment club which exposed him to the business practices he would later bring to his medical career.
Royston credited his summer work as a technician at the Walter Reed Army Institute for cementing his decision to pursue medicine and he encouraged students to volunteer, if necessary, to get experience in the fields they are interested in pursuing.
Royston finished medical school and spent years in post-doctoral research including a stint in Palo Alto, where he witnessed first-hand the birth of some of America’s first bio-tech companies, including Genentech.
After moving to San Diego in the late 1970s and, as an assistant professor at UCSD, Royston wanted to push breakthroughs in the development of monoclonal antibodies through to clinical applications so he approached venture capitalists. With their funds, he founded Hybritech, San Diego’s first bio-tech company.
That move, Royston said, irritated some colleagues in academia who questioned whether a professor should be heading such a firm, but he stood by the decision and the company succeeded before being purchased by pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly.
The move from purely academic research into business – “a jump to the dark side,’’ Royston said it was called – allowed him to speed up the movement of good, theoretical work in the laboratory to a form that could help patients. Though the business endeavors clearly reduced his engagement in pure research, he told the students he didn’t see the move as abandoning his dream of curing patients’ ills.
“My whole goal in life was to translate breakthroughs into practical application,’’ he said. “It was never about the money. The ability to move some ideas faster through business arrangements was very appealing to me.’’
Royston acknowledged to the students he erred in negotiating the original deal with his first venture capitalists, but learned a lot from the experience. “I just wanted to get the treatments to the patients. I didn’t care about the rest.”
Royston eventually founded Idec Pharmaceuticals which later merged with Biogen to form the giant Biogen-Idec. He became extremely wealthy for his efforts and has continued working as a venture capitalist.
“When I started in this I didn’t know what a venture capitalist was,’’ he said smiling. “Now I’m a venture capitalist.’’
Royston said he sees the future of bio-tech investing targeting “personalized medicine, targeted therapeutics.’’
“That’s medicine based on individual’s genetics and the genetics of the specific disease you have,’’ he said. “We are quickly moving away from the era in which everyone takes the same drug for a disease. They will be tailored for the individual.’’
Royston also said the application of tests and diagnoses through wireless technologies is another area he believes will offer opportunities for the entrepreneurial scientist and business professional.
In addition to his work in medicine, Royston also shows traits that suggest he would have fit in nicely into Country Day’s culture of “scholar, artist, athlete.’’ Through his involvement with the La Jolla Playhouse, he has invested successfully in Broadways shows like Jersey Boys, which continues to be a world-wide hit. (He acknowledges backing some losers as well.)
And his son Aaron Royston, a medical student now, has shown some of his father’s entrepreneurial spirit as well. Recently, Aaron Royston had an idea for an iPhone application that would allow young, athletic types to quickly schedule pickup sports games through the Internet.
The younger Royston, who attended Bishop’s, turned to Country Day alum Nick Shiftan, ’00, who is a Seattle-based technology expert. This Bishop’s/Country Day collaboration has produced an iPhone app called Sportaneous.
The elder Royston showed it off to the students, but couldn’t predict its ultimate success or failure. He may be able to cure cancers, but he won’t try and predict the social network future quite yet.
Royston’s appearance was the fourth in a series of lectures by some of America’s leading entrepreneurs. Previously, students heard from Ted Waitt of Gateway Computers, Architect Robert Noble of Envision Solar, and Fernando Aguerre, founder of Reef sandals and surf wear company.
Article and photos posted by La Jolla Country Day School on Torrey Pines.
JEANNE LORING: FROM BUSINESS TO BASIC BIO-SCIENCE
For three years, many of America’s leading scientists and business entrepreneurs have visited La Jolla Country Day to share the passion that drove them to success.
It wasn’t until Tuesday this week that one of the speakers brought in a music video featuring her youngcollaborators as part of explaining the work that has driven her into international prominence.
Dr. Jeanne Loring, a leading research professor in neurobiology and regenerative medicine, addressed a crowded room of Upper School science students at La Jolla Country Day, and in the course of an hour managed to share the cutting edge science going on in her laboratory while demonstrating the energy and passion that drove her to her success.
Dr. Loring, whose father was an exploratory geologist who moved her family from job to job, attended three different high schools in four years, but managed to focus on her work and win a National Merit Scholarship and college funding as well.
“It got me out of that last little town,” she said of her move to college.
Once at the University of Washington she pursued her scientific dreams ignoring anyone who told her she could not succeed.
“I’ve been really stubborn,” she said. “I didn’t listen to people who said I couldn’t do it.”
After college and her graduate and doctorate work, Dr. Loring went to work for bio-tech businesses, learning both the science and the process of bringing products to market. She earned enough money to establish her independence when she returned to the purely academic setting that is home now at Scripps.
In her talk with the Country Day students, Dr. Loring’s current work transfixed her audience. She gave a basic and accessible description of stem cells and then showed how she and her team of 20 graduate and undergraduate scientists are using them, seeking treatments for what have been largely insoluble diseases.
A video she shared showed mice stricken with multiple sclerosis then treated with cultured stem cells and returned to largely normal condition. A second video, performed by some of her lab assistants, put the challenges of bench science to music.
Dr. Loring also shared with students a project in which cells from endangered species are being stored in a “frozen zoo” to allow future scientists to replicate entire species as this technology develops.
Following her talk, Dr. Loring toured the campus, stopping in on several science classes and spontaneously jumping into class discussions with students.
DARLENE SHILEY: PHILANTHROPIST AND SCIENTIST WORKING TO HELP
The final Entrepreneurial Lecture Series luncheon of the year brought together two facets of the scientific world in San Diego; the philanthropist and the scientists who rely on them.
Darlene Shiley, widow of Donald Shiley, inventor of several ground-breaking medical devices, Wednesday gave a group of students from throughout the Upper School grades the inside story of the surprisingly challenging job of giving money away.
Sharing the same luncheon, Larry Goldstein, director of the Sanford Consortium for Regenerative Medicine and a professor at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine, discussed the impact philanthropy has had on his stem cell research.
“People ask me ‘Isn’t it fun giving money away?”’ Shiley told the students. “
No I tell them. It isn’t fun. It is satisfying and fulfilling, but it is not fun. There are some who need to be told no and that is never easy.”
The work it takes, she says, to assure that the donations will be put to good use and generate more value for the institution or the community is not easy. She described for the students evenings lying in bed with her husband discussing the relative merits of programs that needed help.
Both of the Shileys had come from modest beginnings in life and wanted to aim their philanthropic efforts to generate things they had been denied in their own upbringing.
Over time, they settled on health, education and the arts and today, after making an estimate $93-million in grants, the Shiley name adorns leading San Diego institutions in all three of these areas, including at the Old Globe and at the Shiley Eye Center at UCSD.
The Eye Center, she explained, started as a request to help fund some equipment for the school’s eye research. The Shileys declined to fund the equipment, but instead offered a much greater amount to bring all the eye researchers into one building where they could collaborate more easily.
Goldstein remarked how his own stem cell and Alzheimer’s research has brought him into collaboration with scientists at the Shiley Eye Center and scientists funded by the Shileys’ other Alzheimer’s support.
“In order to do our science, we count on the kindness of our neighbors,” Goldstein said. “We do get government support, but to really do our science it takes all the elements and philanthropy is part of it.”
Both Shiley and Goldstein remarked on how the unique, collaborative nature of San Diego’s bio-tech community has made it easier to do the science and for the philanthropist to direct giving effectively.
“San Diego’s bio-tech community is not only better than Boston’s,” Goldstein told the students. “But in San Diego there is an openness. We share and collaborate.” He predicted more and more breakthroughs will be coming from San Diego as a result of a more congenial, more modest scientific atmosphere.
Shiley and Goldstein were the final speakers in the fourth year of Head of School Chris Schuck’s Entrepreneurial Lecture Series which has featured many of this region’s business and science leaders.
Article and photo posted by La Jolla Country Day School on Torrey Times.
FERNANDO AGUErre shares his brand of success
When Fernando Aguerre was young, growing up in Argentina, he attended school in Spanish in the mornings before returning home for lunch. When his friends then went out for an afternoon of play and fun, Aguerre had to return to school, where he learned the same lessons of the morning, this time taught in English.
“I hated my father,’’ he told a group of Country Day students. “I begged him to let me go out, but he just said ‘No, you’ll thank me some day.’’
Today, Aguerre does thank his father, for instilling the importance of learning to communicate across cultures and in a number of languages. After moving to join his brother, Santiago, in La Jolla, the brothers founded Reef, a surf products brand that eventually grew into an international company worth millions.
Aguerre was lecturing Tuesday as part of Head of School Chris Schuck’s Entrepreneurial Lecture Series. During his talk, he traced his roots from small entrepreneurial efforts involving surfboards and the surfer life in a politically unstable era of Argentine history to piecing together with his brother a line of sandals and beach wear while learning the art of advertising and marketing.
Aguerre, from his informal dress to the way his professional and personal life story intertwine, offered students a view of an entrepreneurial life that contrasted sharply with the stereotype of hard-driving, cold and calculating businessmen. He explained that his motivation to start a business was to find a way to spend more time with his brother. The operation of his business, from its inception, was built on handshakes, friendships and a desire to appreciate family and friends.
In fact, when the business had grown to more than 5,000 employees – when his brother and he spent months apart, one handling worldwide operations, the other marketing – they decided it was time to sell.
“The reason to do the company – so that we could be together – was being defeated by material success,’’ he said.
Today, Aguerre, the father of 14-year-old triplets, spends his time learning to be the father of teenagers and pursuing his passions – surfing and the oceans – through civic and charitable organizations. Fluent in English, Spanish and Portuguese with a working knowledge of Italian and French, his speech to the students was filled with stand-alone quotes that, well, stand alone:
“It is better to regret your mistakes than regret doing nothing at all.’’
“I love this country. I had learned that freedom, money, your life can all be taken away by guys.’’
“The friendships you are developing right now in school, they are like family for you. You should never lose them.’’
“You have to keep learning. If you are not learning, you’re dead.’’
“Impossible is a world invented by lazy people.’’
“You are lucky; you are born in an English speaking country. Then learn Spanish and you can talk to most people in the world. Learn Mandarin on top of it and the world is at your feet.’’
“Life is short, play more.’’
“Business can’t be the center of life because then you’re not going to have a life.’’
“We had a saying in Argentina, better to be the head of a mouse than the tail of a lion.’’
“Health is the only wealth.’’
CAROL MARCHETTO: FIGHTING AUTISM ONE CELL AT A TIME
Then she noticed ants crawling along carrying what seemed to be, for their body size, massive weights.
“I decided to see exactly how much they could carry, so I started giving them things,” she said. “I seemed to like experiments.”
Fast forward just 30 years and Marchetto stood before a group of eighth through 12th grade students at La Jolla Country Day School Wednesday explaining her latest experiments.They were a bit more complex.As the latest speaker in the school’s Entrepreneurial Lecture Series, Dr. Marchetto described her work on autism as a senior staff scientist at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies. She shared with the students the difficulty of studying a disease when you can’t examine the living brain to trace the characteristics or origins of a disorder.In a 45-minute lecture, Dr. Marchetto explained how she is using human stem cells taken from the skin of someone afflicted with autism and then coaxing those cells to become neural cells that can be examined to identify the nature of the illness and, perhaps, someday develop therapies.Dr. Marchetto told the students that studies of twins have proven that autism is a genetic disorder, debunking the myths that vaccines or other environmental factors have caused the disease.After sharing her latest lab results, Dr. Marchetto then traced her own route from Brazil through school and into the scientific world.She said she was driven by curiosity, but had to learn to deal with the fact that many experiments don’t work.”Stuff fails all the time,” she said. “But you learn from that and come back to try to learn again.”Dr. Marchetto said she uses yoga and dance to balance out her life, giving her a way to get away from the frustrations of bench science. “It is natural to have things to deal with the daily frustrations in the life,” she said.Dr. Marchetto said her success and quick advancement in science is not the result of genius.
“I am not above average,” she said.
When virtually everyone in the room squirmed with some polite sign of disagreement, she repeated herself.
“I am an average person,” she tried again. “I am not that smart. I just work hard.”
Article and photo posted by La Jolla Country Day School on Torrey Times.