This Q & A is with Frances Colon, Government Advocate for Science and Innovation in Public Policy and Diplomacy. Frances is innovating her field of work by utilizing expertise as scientist to build bridges between science, technology and innovation and high-level decision-makers in the U.S. around the world.
1) What was a pivotal momentum of reinvention for you?
Two years ago I decided to dedicate my time outside work to giving back to the place that shaped me, Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico is in the midst of a severe economic crisis yet there are 5 million Puerto Ricans in the US mainland from all walks of life- thriving, persevering. I felt that there had to be a way to organize and use our talent, expertise and connections in the diaspora to help improve Puerto Rico’s outlook. Cenadores Puerto Rico, now a non-profit, was born as a platform to harness that talent to empower civil society on the island to take Puerto Rico’s future into their hands. I left 20 years ago to pursue my education and I didn’t really look back until now. It means everything to me to use every tool I have and put at my community’s service. I believe in Puerto Rico’s future and I am going to ensure I play a part in making it as bright as possible.
2) Who has been a valuable mentor or sponsor?
Dr. Bill Colglazier, the Secretary of State’s Science and Technology Adviser from 2011-2014, really showed me what it means to be a servant leader. While 30 years my senior, he never hesitated to challenge me beyond what I thought I was capable of doing. I had the role of his deputy and he had full confidence that I could represent him and the United States scientific community in any forum. I stepped in for him on many stages that most would have felt were still a number of years away for me. He not only opened doors but showed me how to handle conflict with grace and intellect. Most important, I learned that mentors should be of both genders and of all ages and races because that is how we begin to see ourselves in others’ shoes.
3) What is your biggest goal right now?
I want to find the sweet spot for using my background as a scientist and my decade of policy experience to make a significant impact for the advancement of women and minorities. I know I have the tools to give these groups a voice and I want to choose my next step wisely.
4) What time do you typically wake up? What do you do every morning?
I wake up at 6:00am every morning except when I see my trainer, then it’s a 5:00am wake up call. I am an absolute morning person. It’s when my neurons are at their most creative and everything comes together for me. I can plan the day, write a blog and send 10 emails in that first hour of my day. The rest of the day is just implementing the overflow of ideas from the morning.
5) How do you unplug? How often do you unplug?
I travel internationally a fair amount for work and that gives me time to unplug on airplanes and the time differences play well to allowing for some me time. I always build in some extra days to explore and let myself be adventurous. As I write this I am about to set off on a 4-day trip to Machu Picchu as a break from a work trip to Lima, Peru.
6) What challenge / achievement are you most proud of?
Becoming the first Executive Branch official to meet with the Science and Environment Ministry in Cuba in over 50 years to bring our scientists from both countries together again.
7) What cause do you most want to advance?
I want to empower a new generation of Puerto Rican civil society leaders that I believe, with the right values and access to opportunities, can catalyze a bright future for Puerto Rico.
8) What is the best piece of advice you ever received?
You can’t move up unless you help those that will take your place and expand on your work. Always reach back and pull up those following in your footsteps.
9) What is your keep me going quote?
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” by Margaret Mead
10) What is your secret indulgence?
Cuban salsa is my vice. I go to as many concerts as I can, alone or with friends, wherever in the world I am. Dancing just takes me away.
Check out Frances Colon’s full 40 Over 40 profile here!