An interview with ISU alumna Emeline Paat-Dahlstrom, SSP 1989

When I caught up with Emeline Paat-Dahlstrom (SSP 1989), she was preparing to go to Maker Faire, the ultimate do-it-yourself conference, to represent Singularity University. This was SU's first year at Maker Faire, an opportunity to introduce themselves to new friends in Silicon Valley, to explain how new technologies will be used to solve the world's pressing needs. Several faculty from SU were there, and SU executive director Salim Ismail gave a special talk on Sunday 23 May.

Before Emeline takes us a little further into what she does, what is Singularity University? I will borrow their mission statement: "Our mission is to assemble, educate and inspire a cadre of leaders who strive to understand and facilitate the development of exponentially advancing technologies to address humanity's grand challenges."

Emeline, a fixture in the ISU DC scene for years, moved to Mountain View, California, in spring of 2009, along with her husband Eric (SSP 1991) who now serves as Team Project Director at SU. Bob Richards approached her in the final months of preparation for the inaugural SU Graduate Studies Program because of her experience in setting up ISU Summer Session Programs. She started out as the academic director for the summer, then moved on to manage all of SU's programs. Since then they have run two successful nine-day executive programs in the fall and spring, and are planning to expand to four or more executive programs per year. There is, as they say, no rest for the weary.

This year, Emeline is the GSP10 Program Director. For those of you who are SSP alumni, you can appreciate the challenge of trying to fit the numerous topics related to space development into a single summer. Now, multiply the topics for a GSP session, where space is just one track out of ten. "It is a challenge to boil it all down, but we're really giving them just a baseline of what they need to know for a certain topic. Then we concentrate more on the breakthroughs that are coming up in that technology within the five to ten year timeframe."

In 2010 the GSP expanded from nine weeks to ten weeks. The final nine weeks mimic the ISU SSP, starting with lectures, then workshops and site visits, finishing with a team project. The extra week is what Emeline calls the Grand Challenges Week, an overview of the team project's "problem space" to be covered during the summer. "We're trying to bring in big league specialists and speakers that can talk about humanity's grand challenges like food, energy, waste etc..  They will discuss what the problem is, what's been done, what didn't work, what their wishlist is for how to solve the problem. It gives an overview for the students about what exactly is happening out there from the people who have been on the ground."

One of the changes she helped work on for this summer was the composition of the student body. Last year there were forty students, the majority were from North America. This year there will be eighty students, and about sixty are from outside the US. "We made a real push to try to get female students and also students from developing countries, especially those people who have seen the problem and can contribute more instead of a theoretical notion of what the problem is."

Finally, what does it take to be a GSP student? Emeline arrived late last year, but was part of the admissions process this year. "There are three things that we look for. One is of course their academic background. The second, which is different from ISU, is that we do look intently on the leadership and entrepreneurial experience of each of the students. The third part is what they have done regarding grand challenges. We're looking for people who are aware and really want to help as opposed to entrepreneurs who just want to make a buck."

When she's not working at SU, Emeline is Payload Flight Manager for Odyssey Moon. It's a small world, though: Odyssey Moon has an office in the same building at NASA Ames as SU.

Now, Bay Area ISU alumni you have a mission. When Emeline was in the DC area, I recall hearing of her adventures in kayaking, rock climbing, and hiking with other ISU alumni. Emeline suggests that a lack of free time keeps here from indulging in the same activities. I suspect that's true with final preparations and then execution of the SU GSP. However, once that's over, it's up to you to take Emeline outside and get her properly acquainted with beautiful northern California.

Thank you, Emeline, for your time and patience and for sharing your story with the rest of us alumni. Good luck with the finishing touches for GSP 2010. If you would like to contact Emeline, check out her profile on isu-usa.org.

Keeping with the spirit of the game, Emeline has selected the next three alumni that you -- yes, you -- will pick as the next ISU alumni interviewee: Adam Baker; Jim Keravala; and Taber MacCallum. Go forth and vote for Adam, Jim, or Taber.

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