Two Sides of a Coin
When Veronica and Kasia reflect on their individual paths, some essential common themes emerge: Curiosity. Conviction. Gratitude. Humility. Passion for work and for life, and synergy between the two. Courage and determination to overcome limitations, whether stated or implied. And the deeply rooted ability to be comfortable in a space that’s uncharted, disruptive, and ultimately a driver for systemic change.
Both are children of immigrants, raised with an understanding of mixed cultural experiences and a framework of expectations. They learned to embrace being “at the intersection of many things.” Kasia’s mother is an artist, and they say they were surrounded by art and music at home but always felt drawn to math and craved order. Veronica’s mom is an engineer; she once pulled Kasia aside in high school to explain the pros and cons of that career, and she has remained a powerful resource and role model as Veronica pursued her passion for science and medicine.
Self-described “nerds” at Winsor, Kasia and Veronica were kindred spirits, at their best when faced with a problem to solve in the classroom, or during Math Olympiads, robotics club, and engineering competitions. They recall a defining experience at one engineering competition when, as the only all-girl team, they proved to be a formidable force. “It was so hard! We were certain we did terribly,” says Veronica, who was the team captain. Listening to all the other teams talk about how well they thought they had done, the team feared the worst. “We tried to convince our mentor to let us get on the bus and go home before the awards were presented.” When they learned they had placed second, it was eye-opening. “All the other teams were either all, or largely, male,” Kasia says. “Clearly, there was a difference in the way we saw ourselves in that environment. But we kicked their butts!”
“That was the proudest I had ever been at that point,” Veronica recalls. That kind of experience played out over and over again in her life, first in college, then in her work, and she says it taught her an important lesson about trusting her instincts and abilities: “I learned I had to stop being self-deprecating.”
Eager to help others learn from their experiences, and to support and witness the emergence of the next generation of scientists, both alums mentor students at all levels of learning, and have returned to Winsor to speak with students. Joining one of Ms. Labieniec’s classes in 2020, and a virtual assembly in 2021, they shared insights on a variety of topics including the fallibility of machines, opportunities to address bias in science and technology, and the importance of pursuing a unique career and life path. Embracing opportunities to educate and inspire others about the future of technology, Kasia also frequently joins podcasts, including Youth AI, and gives talks at programs like Girls Who Code; and is working on a children’s book to deliver the same messages to a younger audience.
Veronica, who says she benefited from the mentorship of strong women in science throughout her education and now finds great satisfaction in mentoring medical students, welcomed the opportunity to mentor Alex Gorham ’21 for her senior Independent Learning Experience (ILE) in the spring 2021. Alex worked on a website and a cell phone app in development to help individuals upload images and review AI feedback.
“It was a great project because it was so applied,” says Veronica, and it helped her “get a sense of what the day-to-day life of a scientist is. The lab meetings, thinking about things that don’t go right the first, or second, or third time around.” Alex was awarded Winsor’s Madras Science Prize in June 2021, an acknowledgement of her commitment to science and her dedication and success in her ILE; Veronica beams when talking about Alex’s work ethic and accomplishments.
Full of humor and humility, the two alums also reflect on how their lives—like their work—embody two sides of the same coin, both following their passion, connected by an authentic, supportive network, but with some notable distinctions. “Veronica is on a path I would self-eject from regularly,” Kasia says. “It’s rigorous, and structural, and hierarchical.”
Veronica interjects with a laugh, “In my defense, I text Kasia to complain about those things all the time!” Kasia continues, “Honestly. She’s got kids and a partner, she’s a working mom, a superhero. My life is completely different, even though we have the same beginnings really. We went to the same schools, studied the same things—though she studied more!—in undergrad. And then, we meet again.”
“We graduated 20 years ago. It took us as long as some of the students we work with have been alive to reconnect and start working together! And all of those meandering paths are really informing what we are doing now,” Veronica says. “I don’t think I would be doing this if I weren’t also a doctor, and also an engineer, and also all the parts of all of the other things I’ve learned.”
Find What Fits
Kasia offers this advice for students interested in studying science: “I wish someone had told me that you don’t just get one shot to be a genius—make it or break it by the time you’re 21. That is something you see a lot in technology. It’s the lone-wolf trope of a guy who’s a hacker in his basement…We have this vision in our mind about how you make an impact as an individual, especially around technology and science. And I beg to differ. I think that it’s about the people you get to work with, and…[e]ach experience you have from the past helps you craft a better version of yourself for the future. Every step you take can be a better step.”
Veronica concurs. “There’s no expiration date on when you can have a career peak, or flash of brilliance, or huge impact,” she says. “Believing that there is hurts nontraditional careers and paths, and even family structures. I have two young kids at home, there’s a limit to what I can reasonably do in one day. So that just becomes part of the process, thinking about whether something is really important and needs to take priority over other projects. And deciding I’m going to do it over 10 years rather than five.” Echoing Kasia’s earlier advice, she adds, “You never know what the next step you take is going to inform, or the step after that, or what you’ll be doing 20 years from there. So the only thing you can do is put one foot in front of the other.” It illustrates that “you don’t have to choose a career path thinking ‘this is the one that is successful.’ You have to find the one that fits you.”
A final word of advice: “Go toward the thing that gives you energy,” says Kasia. It won’t always be easy, and you will have to work hard, “But if you are moving forward, constantly questioning, and doing things that give you joy and are giving back to you, that, to me, is a direction.”