You were the youngest person ever to participate in a NASA mission. Can you tell us more about this?

I was part of a joint NASA/SETI/JAXA team who did an airborne observation of the reentry of a Japanese space probe, called Hayabusa. Hayabusa is literally the little engine that could. It traveled to an asteroid and collected amazing data, including, it was hoped, samples from the surface. But, three out of its four engines failed on the way home, and no one knew, if it would make it! Lucky for us, it did, and the team was based at Dryden Flight Resource Center in Lancaster, CA as well as just outside Melbourne, Australia. Our goal was to collect spectral and spatial data to check the efficiency of a carbon heat shield on the capsule, which ended up containing the asteroid dust. The carbon heat shield is important, because it can be used instead of traditional shuttle tiles, which, as we’ve seen, are not always reliable. If one tile comes off, the entire spaceship will blow. If I’m not mistaken, this style of heat shield is being utilized for NASA’s new Parker Solar Probe and their mission to Mars.

What is Pearl Star Entertainment? What is your background and what made you to start the company?

Pearl Star Entertainment is a multi-media company, inspired by my experience as a scientist, an activist and a filmmaker. Our main focus is virtual reality, and we are mobile forward. I originally wanted to go into filmmaking, but in my opinion, success felt predicated on a long series of other people saying, “yes.” I didn’t like the odds, and I missed math and science. Virtual reality is a way for me to take a whole host of random experiences I have acquired, and make sense of them in an exciting arena where the terms are constantly changing.

You are currently working on a groundbreaking healthcare, VR program. What is it about and what makes it unique? What inspired you to start it?

When I was fourteen, I wrote the book, Dorie Witt: A Guide to Surviving Bullies and spent the greater part of the last decade working with students, legislators, police officers, parents and educators across the country to build proper anti-bullying curricula and to create support systems for children. But, it’s not enough. WHO calculates suicide as the second leading cause of death worldwide for youth ages 15-29. Two thirds of American youth and nearly half of adults admit to being severely depressed and not seeking treatment due to costs. By 2030 the world’s mental health costs will reach 30 trillion dollars! But, who is going to pay for it? There is a serious access and cost issue, which my team and I are setting out to fix with VR. Along the way, we’ve learned our patent pending program can be used not only for mood and personality disorders but also to cure or treat, previously thought untreatable, neural developmental and degenerate disorders.

What has the process of creating the program looked like for you so far?

It’s nuts, in a good way. Everyday is a new adventure, but I am so inspired by the incredibly talented professionals with whom I work. We just want to make the world a better place!!

When can we expect it to be released?

We begin testing within the next few months and will have our mass market app version available end of next year. Following that, we’ll begin expanding the program!

You are an author, filmmaker, CEO and founder, inspirational speaker, among many other titles. What are you most passionate about? What do you love about your work?

I’m really passionate about everything I do, and it’s probably why I don’t sleep much. I have a rather intense personality, so when I commit to something, I give it everything I have. I think you guys had a talk on time management – something about work, friends, gym or sleep – choose three. I was super bummed to have missed that; I’m always trying to squeeze an extra hour into the day!

What advice do you have for young students interested in STEM, particularly young girls since STEM is a male-dominated industry?

Do. Not. Give. Up. I was mercilessly harassed for being a science nerd (call me at KB1UHI). It’s so important to know there are support networks out there for you, and if there aren’t, be loud, be strong and speak up. The only way we can change this system is by standing together. I also encourage young women to look at various forums and tutorials online. You’ll find amazing and supportive communities available for you, and I think it’s really important to remember, whatever you’re going through, you’re not alone. Over all, there definitely needs to be wide spread changes in education that are more supportive to women in STEM and to building gender allies from a young age. Pathways to understanding, building empathy for the experiences of others: this is crucial. It’s a culture shift. It’s happening but not fast enough. I receive emails from young women being bullied, usually for interest in science, and I really mean it, if you know someone struggling, tell them to reach out to me! I’m always here!!

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