Her Spark asks Damien Perez, Program Manager & Educator at Ascend Leadership Academy, Five Questions. Here's what he had to say!
Q1: Who is your favorite female role model and why?
Because of my upbringing, I have never been the one to idolize celebrities and/or famous people. I respect them, but do not idolize. Instead, I get inspiration and motivation from those I know. I'll start with my grandmother, Gloria Diaz, who provided a strong and positive influence in my life. She was our family's central point for tradition and gatherings! My mother, Jeannette Cimbalak, would be next. She spent much of her young life as a single parent to three boys, and that was not easy in the tough area of New Jersey! But through it, she modeled hard work and perseverance to rise above and give us a better life! I have to give respect to my wife, a NC State DHHS section chief, and my four daughters who have all been successful in their way!
Outside of my family, I have worked with strong women of all backgrounds while serving in the United States Air Force. From jet mechanics to avionics technicians, I have worked alongside some of the finest airmen! Finally, I will mention those around me serving as volunteers at nonprofits. Her Spark is a showcase of impressive women who implemented a dream! Additionally, I have served alongside women leaders such as Denise Baker who served as Project Management Institute North Carolina Chapter President, with a membership around 4,000. Each of these examples are impressive and serve as role models. I use their achievements and stories to help inspire my middle/high school students everyday!
Q2: What are you reading right now? OR What's next on your reading list?
As a student of management, I am currently diving in Project Management Book of Knowledge (PMBOK). I use this reference to help guide me in nonprofit, school and personal work. Next up, in preparation for my next professional course, is The Green Belt Memory Jogger: A Desktop Guide for Six SIGMA DMAIC Success written by Sarah Carlton. I used to be a more avid reader for relaxation, though lately it has all been focused on development.
Q3: What's the best career or academic advice you ever received?
Growing up in New Jersey was challenging, and there was negative influence in every direction. The best advice I received was from family who consistently encouraged me to push myself. It was my daughters who inspired me to start my second career in education!
Q4: Her Spark's mission is to equip girls with the STEM skills and opportunities to succeed in the careers of tomorrow - dedicated to solving gender disparity in computer science, engineering and technology careers. What does the Her Spark mission mean to you?
The mission is a powerful statement that reinforces the message of "you can do it!". Every day, I talk with my students and push them to dream bigger. No matter your background, your economic situation or your gender – you can do it! As a father of four wonderful women, I never allowed limits, I constantly encouraged them to seek or create opportunities. In STEM, there are so many exciting opportunities to help change the future, and it gets me excited to push the next generation!
Q5: What is your favorite part of Summer Summit? If you haven’t attended before, what are you looking forward to the most?
My first experience with Summer Summit was as an instructor highlighting Project Management Skills a couple of years ago (pre-pandemic) and it was amazing! The class was very friendly and eager to learn. They were having a great time with all the different activities during the week. After that experience, I was hooked! I reached out to Her Spark to see how I could continue with the program and they invited me to be a board member, both exciting and humbling! I want to continue to find ways to equip girls with STEM skills and prepare them for the future!
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About Her Spark
Founded in 2017 by professional women and business leaders, Her Spark is dedicated to solving gender disparity in computer science, engineering and technology careers. Her Spark’s mission is to equip girls with the skills and opportunities to succeed in the careers of tomorrow. For more information, to learn ways to get involved or to make a donation, please visit HerSpark.org.