The Humans of the Wyss (HOW) series features members of the Wyss community discussing their work, the influences that shape them as professionals, and their collaborations at the Wyss Institute and beyond.
Growing up in the Dominican Republic, Ana Carolina Villar de Jimenez showed her creativity through art projects and acting. As she matured, she channeled that passion, along with her people skills, into a career in hospitality. Now, she plans, organizes, and hosts a wide variety of events at the Wyss Institute that support researchers in collaborating and developing their ideas into technologies with real-world impact. Learn more about Ana and her work in this month’s Humans of the Wyss.
What types of events do you plan?
I plan anything from community-building events, to lectures with invited guest speakers, to professional development seminars, to board and scientific advisory board meetings, to visits from international delegations, to whatever else helps to move the Institute forward towards its goals.
Tell me about some of the events you host that are unique to the Wyss?
Diagnostics Grand Rounds, spearheaded by Core Faculty member David Walt, is a forum where clinicians from our partner hospitals can talk about their work, present their most pressing clinical needs, and share how their patients would benefit from technologies that our researchers could develop. Right now, it takes many steps to diagnose some diseases, so we’re hoping to inspire researchers to improve those processes for the betterment of patient outcomes.
The Business Blueprint Series is a bootcamp open to researchers working on Institute and Validation projects. The sessions are structured to allow participants to learn about different aspects of what it means to have a startup. They’re empowered to create a company that will successfully raise funds and be sustainable and successful once it leaves the Wyss.
How do the events you plan support researchers in collaborating and developing technologies with real-world impact?
We bring key opinion leaders to talk about their work and frame it in a way that inspires our researchers to think differently, look at problems from a variety of perspectives, and learn the actual needs of patients and real-life end users.
Even the social events are important in facilitating collaboration. Researchers at the Wyss are broken into platforms and initiatives and they’re working on different projects, so they might not get the chance to interact every day. These events help them to meet, share their work, provide expertise to each other, and move forward or pivot in a new direction if need be.
What is the Wyss 99s? How does this group support the Wyss’ goals?
The Wyss 99s is an employee resource group spearheaded by our COO and Technology Translation Director Angelika Fretzen. I am part of the steering committee with Adama Sesay, Deirdre Hume, and Lindsay Brownell. The name is a reference to Amelia Earhart’s 99s, an organization she founded (and still exists today) that provides opportunities for networking, mentorship, and scholarship to female pilots.
The Wyss 99s was started at the Wyss to highlight the work of our female researchers and help them thrive in their work, but also to serve as a resource for all the things that we as women experience that might not be the same for our male counterparts. We provide leadership opportunities and act as a social and collaboration hub.
The group supports the Wyss’ goals by highlighting women in STEM and helping inspire our female researchers and their allies to think about women’s experiences in a holistic way – it’s not just what happens in the lab, but also what they face in the workplace or at home as they spearhead a project to completion and get it into the hands of a patient or consumer.
What inspired you to get into this field?
Well, I’ve always been very creative. Although I’m not an artist, you could find me at home tracing the pages of coloring books to create special cards for every holiday you can imagine. I always had a knack for decorating, making something more beautiful or visually appealing. When I was in high school, I thought maybe I’d be an architect or interior designer, but then I realized that those careers did not involve as much daily contact with clients. My mom worked in hospitality as a housekeeper and had direct contact with guests. Hearing her stories made me want to go into that field. It allows me to be creative while having positive interactions with the people I’m helping.
I spoke with friends, and they saw my potential and suggested I work at a travel agency. Through that job, I worked on conferences and organized events for pharmaceutical companies, government, and even the European Union. That led me to the meetings and events world. When I immigrated to the United States, it was a no-brainer to stay in that field.
Explain your journey to the Wyss and to your current role.
I started as a staff assistant here. I was interviewing for different jobs, and I actually had another offer, but I liked the opportunity at the Wyss better. The people and the culture really attracted me. When I came for my interviews I could see the camaraderie amongst the different teams, and that things were open and not siloed. I’m a very collaborative person. I understand we can go to great lengths by ourselves, but we can get further and faster if we are working together.
As a staff assistant, I had the opportunity to not only do basic admin tasks, but also share my passion for travel with people and help them showcase their discoveries and research in different ways. If a conference I arranged for them to travel to or a poster session I helped get their materials printed for went well, I could see their project get grant funding or the beginning of an important partnership.
My friend and fellow Wyss employee Sim Piergentili told me to apply to the Events Coordinator job, and I took her advice. I’ve been incredibly happy since making the transition. It’s great to work closely with Jacob Watts and the communications team, as well as everyone else I have the honor of collaborating with.
What continues to motivate you?
We have the opportunity to innovate, not only to showcase the strengths of our ecosystem as an Institute, but also of our people and how they’re making changes in human health and the environment. I’m hopeful for what the future brings, and despite everything going on, I believe there’s still good in people.
What excites you the most about your work?
Every event! Also, just having the opportunity to work with different teams is the highlight. I get to know people on a bit of a deeper level than I think I would if I were in another role.
What are some of the challenges that you face?
There are plenty – supply-chain issues, staffing, or if a venue is not available on the date we need it. But I think if you are proactive and have a creative and open mind, you can make anything work. It’s just acknowledging the potential challenges, but not letting them overcome you.
What is unique about the Wyss, and how has that impacted your work?
People have the freedom to be an ambassador or advocate for the ideas they’re passionate about. Other places are more bureaucratic and less democratic in that sense. I like having that autonomy. I also enjoy being allowed to think outside the box.
How have your previous work experiences shaped your approach to your work today?
In the hotel industry, I had the opportunity to work in different areas, both in the front and behind the scenes. This allows me to better understand what it takes for our partner venues when we do events and how to run events most efficiently. I can gauge the type of help we’re going to need. My experience also prepared me to be multiculturally savvy and more personable and gracious.
When you’re not working at the Wyss, how do you like to spend your time?
You can find me doing so many things – my mom says I’m a very adaptable person and I like to accommodate those around me. I might be doing something my daughter enjoys, which changes every day, or watching football, which I learned about from my husband, or hanging out with my friends. Cooking, especially baking desserts, is something else I love. I even submitted a recipe for a cooking show back in the Dominican Republic once, and it got accepted. I didn’t win, but it was a cool experience.
I also enjoy art and could live in a museum and never tire of it. I sing with the passion of an artist and I’m an amateur photographer. I dance to anything that makes a beat.
Travel is another passion. You can tell me let’s go anywhere and I’ll get on that plane, bus, or train. It’s incredible to get to know different cultures and understand why people do what they do and the history behind those things. It changes your perspective on the world, makes you a better global citizen, and helps you gather new ideas.
My favorite place to travel is my home country, the Dominican Republic. Everyone should go there. After that it’s Vancouver because of everything it represents – it’s walkable and there’s nature and great people. I also love Amsterdam because it’s so romantic and there’s so much great art. Spain is amazing too because the food is so good. Whenever I go to a new place, I love to try the local beer and local food.
When I’m not planning Wyss events, I’m planning someone’s travel or birthday.
What’s something unique about you that someone wouldn’t know from your resume?
When I was in school, I thought I was an actress. I was in every play you can imagine! My mom and her friend used to take us to kid’s TV program tapings. One was called Sábado Chiquito or Small Saturdays in English, which was a children’s variety show. Another was a show entirely conducted by kids. I would get to compete in activities, like dressing as Wilma from The Flintstones or passing balloons around. I even won prizes.
If you had to choose an entirely different career path, what would it be?
Maybe I’d go to culinary school to become a pastry chef, or I’d be a diplomat, or something else having to do with international relations.
What does it feel like to be supporting people developing cutting-edge technologies that have the potential to have a real and significant impact on human health and the environment?
It feels so great. It makes me proud to talk about the things our people do, and that I am connected to them in a small way. This work is very rewarding.