“100 Careers to Save Our Planet”: My path to empowering younger generations of women and non-binary people towards a more sustainable future

Blog post
Andrea Aguilar Sanchez

Did you imagine that you would end up where you are now? Did the 16-year-old you have any clue of what you would be doing every day at work and the difference that you would make in others' lives? “100 Careers to Save Our Planet” aims to inspire younger generations to dream and work towards a more sustainable future.

Finding my place in STEMM

I consider myself fortunate to have a mother who instilled in me the beauty of math and science early on, framing them as a fun game. However, when the time came to choose a career, I found myself at a loss, lacking examples of women in research roles. My only role model was a Costa Rican astronaut, an inspiring yet seemingly unattainable figure.

My career path was not straightforward; I went from dropping out of a bachelor's in chemistry to becoming a Packaging Engineer in the medical device industry. Despite the stability of the job and potential for growth, I felt a void. This led me to pursue a master's program in Spain and Sweden, where I first encountered the world of research. It was an eye-opening experience, introducing me to a community and resources I did not know existed. 

Eventually, I returned to Costa Rica, still yearning for a research career. This desire led me to apply for a Ph.D. in Materials Chemistry in Sweden, focusing on sustainable solutions for water treatment. Now, as a Research Scientist at VTT in Finland, I work in the Bioinspired Materials team, focusing on creating functional cellulose materials to replace fossil-based plastics. Simultaneously, I joined the Homeward Bound leadership program, which has been instrumental in clarifying my values and vision, aligning them with my ambitions in both my personal and professional life.

Reflecting on my journey over 20 years, I see the value of having more guidance and role models. My path to research was long and winding, but it has brought me to a fulfilling role that aligns with my passion for sustainable solutions.

Homeward Bound and “100 Careers to Save Our Planet” empower the next generation of women and non-binary people

I was motivated to join the Homeward Bound (HB) leadership program as it specifically targets women and non-binary individuals with a STEMM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math, and Medicine) background across all career stages. This means that the program not only focuses on leadership and strategy, but also navigates through the obstacles faced by these specific groups, such as lack of inclusion, diversity, and glass ceilings.

As part of the HB program, six other women and I, spread over three continents, are developing a collective impact project titled "100 Careers to Save Our Planet”. This is an online guide that features profiles authored by women and non-binary leaders showcasing a variety of STEMM backgrounds, emphasizing their critical role in building a sustainable future. It aims to inspire high school and university students, as well as young professionals on the cusp of making important decisions on school subject selections, university course options and career choices. The guide provides information on the skills and qualifications required for each career path. The initiative was inspired by the need we felt to see ourselves portrayed in STEMM roles while growing up and the limited view of the world one may have without exposure to diverse realities.

The HB network has been a safe space for me to develop as a person. It has allowed me to establish relationships with global leaders sharing the same purpose and feeling the urgency to protect our planet, ensuring equality for all, and committing to leadership for a better world. 

Andrea AguilarSánchez

Next steps for the 100 Careers project

Currently, the guide is under development. We are working on creating a digital platform and making the guide accessible to speakers of various languages. We are also exploring the possibility of sponsorships from STEMM-related companies for further improvements. Once completed, the guide will be a free resource available to assist young people in identifying what impact they want their career to have on the sustainable future of our planet and how to accomplish their goals.

This blog post will be updated with a link to the guide once it is published.

About Andrea Aguilar-Sánchez

Andrea Aguilar-Sánchez was born in Costa Rica, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in Materials science and Engineering at the Costa Rican Institute of Technology. This was followed by a master’s degree with a focus on biobased polymer materials and composites at the Polytechnic University of Catalonia (Spain) and Luleå University of Technology (Sweden). Her Ph.D. studies were conducted at the Materials Chemistry Department at Stockholm University (Sweden). Currently, she works at VTT for the Bioinspired Materials team and is a member of the global HB8 Cohort.

Andrea Aguilar Sanchez
Andrea Aguilar Sanchez
Research Scientist
Our vision beyond 2030

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