At the young age of 21, Olivia Pavco-Giaccia is already the founder & CEO of LabCandy, a social enterprise whose mission is to encourage young girls’ interest in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics). She also wrote and published an interactive children’s book, Ava and the Copper Key, which allows its readers to write in a science journal, create their own hypotheses, and help the main character, Ava, save the day.
When she isn’t running LabCandy, Olivia is a workshop leader at Yale’s Entrepreneurial Institute, a member of the Champions Board of the National Girls Collaborative Project, and a cellist in both the Yale Symphony Orchestra and the Low Strung Cello Rock Group. She has been featured as a national innovator for positive change at NationSwell and as a 2015 winner of Glamour’s annual Top Ten College Women competition. She was awarded second place in a Google pitch contest for business case presentations for start-ups and was a semi-finalist in the Siemens Competition in Math, Science & Technology for her research at Stanford University. And in the past, Olivia founded and organized the first marching band program in the Kibera area of Nairobi, Kenya, the Rock the World Music Program’s Children of Kibera Marching Band.
Beyond maintaining her high GPA at Yale and balancing all of her demanding extracurriculars, Olivia and LabCandy are changing the way that young women look at science and at themselves.
Name: Olivia Pavco-Giaccia
College: Yale University
Major: Cognitive Science
Graduation Year: 2016
Hometown: Arlington, VA
Twitter Handle: @LabCandyLLC
Instagram Handle: OLPG19
Her Campus: What advice do you have for girls entering the field of STEM? And especially for those who love a little bling on their goggles and fear backlash for their femininity?
Olivia Pavco-Giaccia: Whether you are a girl or a boy—no matter who you are or what you look like—if you are interested in science, then you are what a scientist looks like.
HC: Why is it so vital for women to recognize themselves as the world’s next big innovators?
OPG: It is vital that women recognize themselves as the world’s next big innovators because women in STEM jobs earn 33 percent more than those in non-STEM occupations and experience a smaller wage gap relative to men. Not only that, but science provides myriad opportunities for collaboration and creativity. Careers in science allow women to engage in some of the most exciting realms of discovery. Increasing opportunities for women in these fields is an important step towards realizing greater economic success and equality for women across the board.
HC: What do you consider your greatest achievement to date?
OPG: My greatest achievements have come from helping young girls recognize their potential as future scientists and innovators. I’ve worked to accomplish this goal through a number of endeavors, including work with the National Girls Collaborative Project, as well as with LabCandy. LabCandy makes educational toys that help get young girls interested in science.
Our first toy is a kit, which includes a fun, brightly colored lab coat, a pair of DIY decorative lab goggles, and a storybook. When I was first developing the kit, I created a prototype and tested it with hundreds of girls, parents, teachers, and scientists in order to gather their feedback and make the very best product possible. The final tester was my eight-year-old cousin, Ava. I remember being really nervous while she was putting on the coat and the goggles because she is very opinionated and I knew she would speak her mind. After inspecting herself quietly in the mirror for a bit, she asked me, “Is this what a scientist looks like?” I said it was, and she beamed. Her excited face (and the faces of all of the little girls who have worn LabCandy and envisioned themselves as scientists) are my greatest achievement.
HC: What do you think is the biggest factor that led you to where you are today?
OPG: I’ve been lucky enough to have a few phenomenal mentors, and their presence has really made a dramatic difference in my life. For example, I never pictured myself as a ‘science kid’ in high school until I met my advisor, Denise Rietz. She was the school biology teacher and always encouraged me to pursue my ideas, no matter how crazy! She was/is such an important influence in my life, I named the science teacher after her in the LabCandy storybook.
HC: What are you working on right now?
OPG: Right now I am working on expanding LabCandy into the digital media space and on building strategic partnerships to help accomplish that goal. We are planning to develop a YouTube web series and then expanding it into an app or a game. Maybe even a TV show one day! The main goal is to create multiple ways that kids can interact with our characters and get excited about science.
HC: What are your top goals and priorities post-graduation?
OPG: Over the first few years post graduation I plan to work through my social venture, LabCandy, and through other public/private initiatives, to promote new social and business paradigms for inspiring the next generation of female innovators.
HC: What advice do you have for other ambitious collegiettes with a goal/dream?
OPG: My biggest piece of advice is this: don’t be afraid to ask for what you want. It is easy to allow insecurities about age/experience level to prevent you from making a big demand, or asking for a meeting with an influential person, or even admitting that you need help. However, if you don’t at least pose the question, it will probably never happen. So go for it! You might be surprised at what can happen if you just ask.