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Artist Valeria Molinari Has An Important Message For Survivors of Abuse, Assault, Rape

Artwork by Valeria Molinari

Dr. Ramanujam discusses this process and allows us to dive deeper into all the things that make her a lady gun: her strength in the face of adversity, her belief in and love for people, her desire to build inclusive communities, and the obvious work she is doing to change our world for the better. She also shares with us her love of music and how she is trying to integrate its principles into engineering. She speaks about success and self-promotion, and reminds us to ask ourselves, “Who do I want to impact?”


Get your free download on Valeria's website here.

Get your free download on Valeria's website here.

ON LOOKING BACK AT HISTORY TO REDESIGN FOR OUR WORLD TODAY: I like history and I look back at why things were done the way they were. We are, as a society, people who build off of previous contributions, previous innovations, and previous discoveries.  But what we don’t realize is those previous advances were made in different environments that are not like ours today. An invention that was made at the time of slavery might have a different set of design criteria than one that is made today. One great example that has really transformed the way I think is the speculum. It was developed as a surgical instrument and later on was further developed [to be used] on slaves. It became something that made its inventor a historical figure, but none of the slaves ever gave permission and were completely dehumanized for the sake of medicine. Moreover, it was designed by a man who viewed a woman’s reproductive anatomy as disgusting and filthy.  I asked myself if we were to redo these things, how would we do it today? And that’s what inspired the pocket colposcope.

ON INSPIRATION: My love of music is undeniable and I’ve played music all my life. I’m learning a new instrument to rekindle my interest in music. Music is my greatest source of inspiration in that it forces me to constantly be exposed to something new and different. It forces me to grow, to have tension and discomfort, and it also makes me think of something very fundamental to me: communities. I always think of music as the anchor that brings people together. And I always ask the question, ‘why doesn’t science and engineering do that?’ How do you make engineering something like music that builds a sense of community? I want the work that we do at the Center to be pervasive, to be personal and to be something that people can relate to and understand.

ON SCRUTINY AND SELF-WORTH: The biggest thing that I’ve accomplished is having a sense of self-worth. It’s a very hard thing for me to always feel like the cup is half empty, because in our field we’re scrutinized -- not that you’re not scrutinized in everything else in life, but [engineering] is about being critical, it’s about being right, it’s about being exact. And I’m realizing that through that process I lost a lot of my sense of self-worth, when that was what got me to the level where I was respected. It is ironic, it is a paradox. That process of constantly drilling and putting myself in a place of scrutiny made me finally evolve to a point where I now feel like when something gets rejected, or something doesn’t work, or there’s a problem, I tell myself it’s not about me. It’s about the process, it’s about something specific, and I am above that. That was an important revelation for me: that every failure or every success doesn’t define me. That was one of the major barriers for me for many years. It’s like imposter syndrome: when something good happens it was somebody else, but when something bad happens it was all me. It’s tragic.

The key to addressing challenges is to be able to identify people who are going to work with you in the face of adversity and help you move forward on a unified vision.

ON SUCCESS, SELF-PROMOTION AND IMPACT: [Success] is about people. If you’d asked me this six months ago I probably would have said I don’t know, because I could never quite identify with accolades. People always say you have to go out there and share your successes, but it’s very hard and it’s something that I don’t do enough of. This idea of self-promotion is an interesting one. I always thought, ‘gosh, why would anybody do that?’ That’s how people define success -- by your awards, by your funding, by your papers -- and some of it is done too by social media. Now I see it differently, I think self-promotion is very important, not for the reasons of success, but to have an impact. So for me success is about who I can impact. I can impact myself, my family, my students, a broader group of learners, women’s health, health providers’ view of women’s health, the community at-large. It comes down to people. When we leave, when we look back on our lives, it’s about how we touched the lives of others. I do think as a Center we have big aspirations and we want every single thing we do to have impact and that, in turn, will be viewed as success because of the fulfillment that comes from it.