Women In Business Q&A: Dr Anna Powers, Powers Education

11/09/2016 09:15 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

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Dr Anna Powers

Dr. Anna Powers is currently a scholar at NYU and has taught science to non-science students. Dr. Powers is an awarded university lecturer, scientist and a mentor. For her work in education, she was the recipient of the Global STEM Leadership Award from the American Chemical Society CM&E Group, the first woman in 50 years to receive such an honor. Her talent at communicating science was recognized by the College of Arts and Science at NYU as she was a recipient of the Distinguished Teaching Award, given to only 6 instructors across NYU's 50 departments. In her doctoral studies, Dr. Powers was nominated for the Graduate School of Arts and Dissertation Fellowship selected as the best doctoral thesis in her department. For her research work, Dr. Powers was awarded multiple research fellowships, travel grants, public speaking invitations at prestigious institutions including Cambridge University and Tel-Aviv University, and the American Chemical Society.

Dr. Powers has helped author a study guide to a textbook to be published by Oxford University Press, specifically written to teach science to non-science students. She has also served as a consultant for New York City high schools in the development of their science and technology curriculum. Her passion is teaching science and mentoring others. Her dream is to be a role model to young women worldwide in the pursuit of their dreams.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
My life experience has been about two things: getting comfortable with change and following my passions. Throughout my life I have always had to adapt to change and different environments, I changed schools a lot and had to constantly find new friends and find comfort in unfamiliar places. It was tough for me, because by nature I am actually shy but today people would laugh at me if I tell them that I am shy. I think this experience has taught me to develop an outgoing personality. Due to constantly adapting to change, I've learned to be resilient and adaptable. It was never in my plans to pursue a PhD, and it was not until college I fell in love with math. I decided to pursue a PhD because I wanted to follow my passion. I did not really know what a career would be like in in an academic setting, or what one does with a PhD, I just knew I enjoyed research, learning and science. Now, I am following my dream of building a company which is going to positively impact millions of women and in general our whole society. I think being adaptable and taking a risk to pursue my passions has made me the leader I am today.

How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at Powers Education?
I started teaching at the university level when I was an undergraduate -- it was extremely rare, I served as Teaching Assistant when I was a junior in college along with graduate students. I have a talent for communicating complex ideas in simple ways, and while teaching I found that students could relate to me well because I was similar to them, they understood me. I knew how to explain things differently -- rather than focusing on memorization and sticking things into formulas, I showed my students how the formulas are related, how they connect. I showed them how to see science as a language, almost like how one could write a poem with formulas. As a result of that, my students could connect concepts and ended up doing really well in the course. I became quite popular as a TA. Later on in my career, I got an award for teaching, which was given to only 6 lecturers across NYU's 50 departments. As I continued teaching at the university level, I noticed that many young women did not have a good foundation in science and had diminished confidence in their ability to succeed. I would often hear 'I am not good in math/science' and 'How do you do this? I can't.' I, of course, believed that they could! So, I started working with young women and became their mentor. This experience led me to create Powers Education -- a company with a curriculum to teach science in a fun and accessible way, specifically focused on building confidence and a strong foundation in the sciences for future use. Powers Education is for women, by women. All the tutors I employ are stars in their discipline, they are women of excellence whom I train in the Powers Method, which makes science accessible and fun! I know from experience that we learn best from those people who are similar us, those we can relate to, and those who can inspire us. Thus by having a company for women by women, I am not only creating academic excellence but a community of incredible women in STEM. And, most importantly my method works as I have seen great results with it!

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Powers Education?
What I love about building Powers Education is the tremendous response I get from the young women about the impact this organization is making in their lives and the community we are building. I enjoy from hearing a high school senior who is studying for her AP exams, that our organization has inspired her to believe that "being smart is beautiful." Or when a college student, who is terrified of science and has absolutely zero interest in it, later comes to me, and tells me that she is inspired to pursue pre-med and is taking a biology or chemistry class! And of course training and interacting with my tutors is always the best because they feel thankful that they can share their deep knowledge to inspire other women, and be a mentor for someone, a mentor they themselves did not have.

As a testament to the community that we create, we did a video campaign, called emPower, where we featured various young women who spoke about the impact the organization is having in their lives. These videos are included and they tell powerful stories.

A challenge for me is having enough time in the day to do everything and to let as many people as possible know about the existence of Powers Education.

What advice can you offer to women who want a career in your industry?
Have confidence, the ability to focus on what is important, and most importantly, finding a mentor. I think finding a mentor is key to mastering a new skill or unfamiliar situation. A person who has been successful in whatever it is you're trying to achieve knows exactly what it takes to succeed, and thus, s/he could guide you in the right direction, saving you a lot of frustration and time. This advice is the founding pillar of Powers Education -- providing successful female mentors for young women in STEM who not only provide academic tutoring to master STEM in high school and college level courses but to inspire other young women to follow in their footsteps.

What is the most important lesson you've learned in your career to date?
Most important lesson I've learned is to not let the outside circumstances control my inner world: happiness, balance and self worth. A lot of times in life we may not get what we really want, which can make us upset. Then there are times when we achieve something that we think is of value, and we are in a state of joy. However, both of those experiences are equally important because they are part of our journey and our growth. If we didn't know some disappointment, we would not know how to appreciate joy. So it is important to keep perspective and to understand that we cannot control all circumstances in life, and therefore, we cannot let circumstances control us.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
I schedule in time for myself as I would any other meeting. A healthy body and healthy mind is vital to making good decisions and staying balanced - which is the key to building a successful company. Thus, as women entrepreneurs, we owe it not only to ourselves, but to our vision to schedule and dedicate time to ourselves.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
I think a career in the STEM is the most exciting thing a young woman can do! Not only is this an intellectually rich environment, it is growing at rate of 1.7X faster than other fields, it is financially rewarding and a space where women can make an impact through innovation. However, it is hard for women to break into these fields, which many thought leaders attribute to negative stereotypes and to lack of female role models. And that is why I created Powers Education, the first company for women, by women, which breaks stereotypes through providing female role models and mentors young women can look up to. Only making up 20% of the workforce, women are much needed in STEM. The goal of Powers Education is to get this number to 50%, and we will do this by leading by example -- showing young women that there are other young women similar to them who have succeeded in these fields! There is a tremendous benefit to our society as a whole to have more women enter the STEM fields: it will bring diversity of thought and will have more people looking at solving challenging problems, which is going to increase our odds at solving them! And, another benefit of young women entering these fields is a ticket to financial independence -- the U.S. Bureau of labor statistics estimates that women earn a 33% premium by working in the STEM fields as apposed to any other. So why should women miss out!

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
I admire my Mom, a medical doctor and my Grandma, a former Chemistry Professor. From a young age my Mom and my Grandma instilled in me an appreciation for the sciences and having them as role models made me feel comfortable with science -- which, I now realize, is a privilege that had a big impact on my career. I remember when I was in graduate school, I was the only female in a class of 27 and in the first class I ever took in graduate school I was the only female in a class of 6. I was not that sensitive to this situation because both my Mom and my Grandma were successful scientists, and so I felt that I would be as well, even though in my classes I didn't see anyone else like me! Many women who do not have such role models in STEM, feel differently. It is scary and intimidating to be the only one who is different. It is like landing in a foreign country, there is no one like you, and you're trying to learn a really complex language to communicate with everyone else. For any human being, whether female or male, this experience is not comfortable. And that is why I created Powers Education -- so that women could be a part of a community, who support each other academically and inspire each other to achieve. And, I would love when men join our mission by offering their support --and I have had great responses from men who express interest in this initiative.

What do you want Powers Education to accomplish in the next year?
My dream is lead by example and to inspire every young woman to have confidence in her ability to succeed! Through Powers Education, I'd like to bring young women closer to successful women in STEM and help parents instill confidence in their daughters. Powers Education offers test prep, and academic tutoring in all high school level science subjects as well as all science courses on the college level. And we are experts in that -- unlike other companies we only focus on STEM and women, and we achieve success. Through Powers Education we build a foundation for knowledge by teaching science differently, emphasizing relationships, rather than memorization. We bring young women closer to people who are like them-- other young women who have walked this path with with confidence and achievement. And we teach young women to build relationships early on in their career, so they are successful in the future. In the next year, I'd like as many people as possible to be aware of such an organization, to participate in it, and to use our services to achieve confidence and success.