So You Want To Be An Astronaut – With Nina Hooper

Listen to the full episode here

In this episode of Beyond the Green Line, Shonelle Gleeson-Willey talks with Nina Hooper, an Australian woman, Aerospace Engineer, Harvard and Stanford graduate and Education Entrepreneur.

Nina is a female mentor and the co-founder and CEO of Abrility – an online presentation platform to help educators bring their material to life and deliver interactive classes and workshops.

Nina has always loved adventure and is fascinated with outer space – how the universe worked and where it came from. She was very good at, and rather competitive in maths & science – so much so that she got obsessed with astrophysics and the idea of becoming an astronaut.

Nina tells us about the role various mentors had played in her career, and how her mom’s signature question helped opened doors to her path to becoming an astronaut.

Shonelle and Nina discuss the importance of career choice and that its okay to take risks but you have to be prepared work harder than you ever expected. They highlight the importance of surrounding yourself with people that believe in what you do and share your values. We learn that it is important to not be afraid to ask for help and utilise any resources that are within your grasp.

Finally, they discuss the impact of Abrility and how they are aiming to expand the program to help as many children as possible.

Intro – 0:04

Hi, and welcome. Buckle up for a new episode of Beyond The Green Line. The only podcast hooking you up for a virtual coffee date with some of the leading changemakers industry experts and everyday activist in environmental and agricultural sciences, hosted by Shonelle Gleeson-Willey and her team of Earth advocates at Moss environmental, we cracked down on the big topics like sustainability and conservation and break them into bite sized chunks of inspiration and actionable steps that you can use to unleash the Eco warrior inside you. So pop in your headphones, go for a walk and get ready for inspiration, ideas, insights and real life stories Beyond The Green Line we balance along.

Shonelle Gleeson-Willey 0:50

In this episode, we’re talking about striving your dream career in STEM, and why the sky is not the limit. Why you should take the advice of your careers advisor with a grain of salt and trade your own path in this exciting industry.
Hello, and welcome to this episode of The Beyond The Green Line. Podcast. I’m your host Shonelle Gleeson-Willey. With us today, we have Nina Hooper, an Australian woman, Aerospace Engineer, Harvard and Stanford graduate, and Education Entrepreneur. Nina’s latest venture is as the Co-founder and CEO of Abrility, an online presentation platform to help educators bring their material to live and deliver interactive classes and workshops but Nina didn’t start her career as a business woman. She wanted to be an astronaut! Hi, Nina.

Nina Hooper:41
Hi there, Shonelle. Thanks for having me.

Shonelle Gleeson-Willey 1:44
It’s great to see you today and have a chat with you. So, you wanted to be an astronaut as you’re growing up? Let’s have a chat about wanting to be an astronaut. It’s a dream for so many kids but you took it a step further, so let’s talk about that.

Nina Hooper 2:00
I definitely did, there was, you know, I think a lot of people think of the teeny is like the 16 years as the time when kids start to get interested in relationships and partying and kind of being teens. It was the time that I just got totally obsessed with really space and astrophysics and ideas about how the universe worked and where it came from and ultimately, what was our place as people in this really crazy huge thing called space. I was good at maths in high school at the time but I certainly wasn’t at the level of a research scientist, so I watched all the popular documentaries, Brian, Brian Cox, Brian Green and Stephen Hawking and I started reading all the different books and I just found a totally fascinating. I think it was for me like a kind of a coming of age, passion of like, understanding what our role is in the universe and also, then just like an academic interest. I used it as a way to channel my interest in Maths and Science towards kind of that direction of like. I care about these tools, maths and science, so that I can go and explore these problems and for me, I’m a pretty adventurous person so the pinnacle of that felt like actually going to space. It wasn’t the same thing as the research that was motivating me, but it was certainly one of them is kind of adrenaline juicing adventures that I wanted to undertake at some point in my life so I set it out to be a life’s goal to go to space and certainly at that time, the only possible way to do that was to actually become an Astronaut! so that was that was my plan. I went about trying to figure out that process, which I can definitely tell you more about.

Shonelle Gleeson-Willey 4:00
So I read a little piece that you wrote, on the [oarsmen printer website] [04:09] looking for feedback but you said in this little piece of information that your careers advisor at school had actually told you to become a Landscape Gardener when you ask them for advice on where you should be heading with your career. Now I find that absolutely fascinating because that was exactly what I was told and I found it to be the most insane career choice for me at the time. Why do you think you were told that was a good career path for you?

Nina Hooper 4:42
So, I think… I hope that there aren’t too many careers counsellors listening they are going to get really offended by this but my perspective is that there are certain tools and surveys that you can use to try and understand people’s aptitudes and point them towards careers that they might be successful in and that’s often not always but often a limit of the capability of a careers counsellor to engage with a student and it’s partly the school system, they have 15 or 30 minutes, once every six months to a year with a kid they really do not know these students for the most part and they have this test that shows them some kind of aptitudes and they just put the kids in a bucket. and so I really think that’s what happened to me. It wasn’t that there was some major failure of understanding it was the system wasn’t even set up to really give me deep and meaningful advice but the second piece that I say is, really if a careers counsellor has been a career counsellor their whole life, how could they ever possibly with no discredit to them as an individual human, how could they ever possibly give a wide variety of kids advice on what careers to have when they haven’t had any of those careers themselves? It doesn’t make sense to me, the whole system seems flawed and so instead, what I think these careers counsellors should be teaching is, how do you go and identify what you’re passionate about? How do you go and find people in those fields that can be better guides for you? But instead, what they tend to do with kind of is bucket you off, they have a certain amount of time they’ve checked you off their list and that’s the definition and responsibility. So, I actually think it’s like a totally systemic problem that this happens to someone like you and having someone like me, everyone that I speak to has these experiences with career counsellors. I think it just isn’t designed to work the way we think it should work fundamentally.

Shonelle Gleeson-Willey 6:43
Yes, I wholeheartedly agree with that. As a 16 year old, this had a pretty profound effect on you in really galvanizing your ideas about your future career. So tell me, as a 16 year old what, what was it that this advice actually did for you?

Nina Hooper 7:03
Well, I am definitely stubborn and competitive and so that advice kind of made me think like, you don’t think I can do what I say I can do, I’m going to prove you wrong and it certainly wasn’t just the careers counsellor. I had classmates at school that would kind of poke fun at my idea of wanting to go to space or wanting to be a high achiever. I had a teacher of mine also mentioned that it was more likely that I would win the lottery that I would become an astronaut and he liked me and it wasn’t with the intent to stop me in any sense but it’s just like, I think it’s really common in Australia, this realism and not really wanting to see beyond the boundaries of what’s possible but every time someone gave me one of those pieces of feedback. I always be like, well, I’ll show you. Let me make it happen. So, I went out and did what I just said that I think careers counsellors should be set up to do which was I went and sought out somebody who had done what I wanted to do, and then ask them what the path was. I think it’s really, really hard to figure out online, not knowing anything about a career where to even start. So, the first point should be to have someone who has some kind of map of that industry to help navigate where you would want to be. I just so happened to see in the, the age when I was in Melbourne, in high school that there was an astronaut coming to Melbourne to do a talk. And I took I think, I honestly, I think I skipped like the last class of school one day for the session that he was in, I just left the school and went into the city. And when this auditorium, it was right in Ben Square and he gave his talk at the end. I went up to him and I said, I love astrophysics. I want to be an astronaut, what should I do? His name was Rex Walheim and he’d be displaced twice at that point. He basically just said: “well, you need to find the best possible school for what you want to study, have a look at Harvard and MIT, you want to be at the best place because you want to be the best in the world around the best people so that you’re the most competitive possible applicant, you probably also want to learn Russian or Chinese and you just want to be the best”. So do the thing that you love and find the people and the places that are going to facilitate that. And so that’s where I got it into my head that I wanted to go to Harvard because Harvard had this fantastic astrophysics department. And I still really wanted to explore my passion for how space works and all the physics of it. And at Harvard, there was like 200 researchers, but only five students per year who study the subject so you could pick from mass researchers who do the coolest things. If you remember a few years ago, this image of a black hole came out. So that was one of the research teams at Harvard that I got to work with while I was there. Another one that I worked with was versus studying asteroid mining. What if we sent mining equipment out to space and find asteroids? So, I got the pick of the bunch when I got there but that was that was the main motivation, I got it into my head at about 16 off talking to this astronaut, I need to go to the best school in the world, I have the best experiences. So, I’m really, really competitive when it comes to this astronaut program, because they get 10,000 applicants and I choose 6 people, how else could you possibly stand out? That’s really what stated that conversation with the person who had done it before.

Shonelle Gleeson-Willey 10:34
So you ended up wanting to apply to Harvard as an Australian students and there was these five positions that you could apply for at Harvard?

Nina Hooper 10:49
No. So they take 1600 students or there abouts every year, of which less than 200 are international students so I was applying for those 200 international students’ spots and frankly, of which, probably about half are a student athletes who have been recruited by the athletics team to join certain teams. So it’s to be an international student is suddenly it’s pretty hard to stand out.

Shonelle Gleeson-Willey 11:18
So talk me through that process. How did you stand out because that’s an amazing achievement?

Nina Hooper 11:26
Thank you. As I mentioned, I really did like maths and physics, and I was good in school, I got a good ATAR when I graduated, I also did the US LSAT exams, which required at the time to get into the school. So I did like everything, right and by the book, but there are a lot of people who got slightly better scores than me and did everything right by the book as well, but didn’t get in. So the things that I think, really stood out were two components. One is the personal essay so you have to submit an essay about who you are, when you apply to college in the US, which isn’t the case here. It’s meant to be a much more holistic process. They want to get to know you what you care about what your passion is and because I had a really well-developed passion at a young age, I think I was able to articulate that and kind of make the admissions Council believe that I was on a mission and that I was someone that they should get behind and support. And so I think that’s the big area of differentiation, you can really add your voice to the grades. But even more impactful, and this is the craziest thing that happened to me really ever at a young age, I just got an incredible reference letter from someone in our like, extended network that I think really tipped the scales. And this is basically what happened, my mom is the biggest networker I’ve ever met, she’ll go to dinner party and event and she’s always kind of just excited and proud about what my sister up to and will tell people about it and rather than just saying. This is what’s happening, she’ll always add an ask at the end of it. Do you know somebody who has this thing that could help my daughter on this thing? So she I don’t know where she developed this skill? I think she kind of just like worked it out herself. And she doesn’t even she wouldn’t even articulate that this is what she’s doing. But she always just adds on an ask at the end of a conversation. And it’s never something that’s laborious, just like oh, do you know anyone who has this kind of instrument? Or do you know anyone that does this, that my daughter could talk to you or whatever. And all the time she gets these pretty crazy introductions. So one of them that around this time when she talked to this biologist and said, My daughter wants to go into astrophysics do you know anyone who’s in astrophysics at Melbourne Uni with you? That would be someone to connect with. And he I don’t think he did off the top of his head. He basically just invited me into his office and said, I think you should do biology. And I was like, I want to do biology on new astrophysics. And he gave me a list of five astrophysicists. And this is just some guy that Mom, from a friend or a friend that you’ve met at a party, right? Like totally random. So I’m at his office in Melbourne Uni and he gives me a list of five astrophysics professors, at universities in Australia and not even in Melbourne. And I picked one of them off the list. The reason I liked him, he was doing research, I thought was really cool and he had gone and done his PhD at Harvard. So I was like, I want to host this guy like he’s been to the school I’ve been to he’s studying the things that I think what I want to get introduced to, and this professor was at Australian National University, he agreed for me to come do like an internship with him for a week as professor so my whole family drove to Canberra and I’m getting back to the habit of [xo] [14:52] of relevance, very long winded story, but we drove to Canberra sat in on one of these lectures. I was sitting there like Oh my god, I got this amazing but also this is so complicated, there’s so much math that I don’t understand. We went back to the hotel we were staying in that night; he won the Nobel Prize in Physics. Completely, randomly like, I’m now his intern for the week following him around from party-to-party to celebrate his Nobel Price. We didn’t do very much physics at all that week. It was just this like ridiculous celebration of achievement in science, which was crazy. I mean, obviously, that’s not what it’s about. Everyone wants to have that moment of achievement, but the research has come much earlier but as a 16 year old, I’m just like oh, my gosh, this is so cool. There’s a celebration of knowledge and science and space. And like, this is amazing so he ultimately wrote me a reference letter. And really, I think that’s one of the major things that made the difference.

Nina Hooper 15:57
That said, I don’t want to like, you know, I don’t want someone to come away from this podcast and just go, Oh, she was really lucky, because I certainly was. But we also weren’t wealthy, I grew up on welfare. So low income, single parent kid, we didn’t naturally have some exclusive network to be part of, it was really just this habit of mom asking for introductions to things. And then we planted a lot of seeds and this one happened to be really, really lucky and didn’t make a huge difference. But if my grades and things haven’t been good as well, of course, that wouldn’t have worked. So it’s a whole coming together and many things but I feel extraordinarily lucky and grateful to everyone that supported me along the way.

Shonelle Gleeson-Willey 16:43
That was an amazing story. I actually got goosebumps listening to that final part that was just amazing. So you’ve got this amazing reference letter, and you’ve accepted to Harvard. What it is, as being a student at Ivy League university in the US actually, like, did you live on campus?

Nina Hooper 17:03
Yes. So in the first year at Harvard, everyone lives in The Harvard yard, which are these beautiful old red brick dorms around the main courtyard. So, you’re all these like 18-19 year olds living in these 350/ 60 year old buildings that, you know, past presidents and being in actually the very first day you arrived, you get a list of all the people that have ever lived in your very door, and some people had like crazy, like famous names. That was really, really cool but it’s the most, it’s the most kind of incredible experience, especially coming from a culture in Australia that I knew live at home and you just commute to Uni and you take a class is pretty casually. There you’re thrown into, it’s really like Hogwarts. I don’t know that sounds so silly. But it really does feel like that you’re thrown into this camp on this beautiful campus with all this history with all these smart and ambitious people and so much life and activities going on and you’re learning together and on the hall. It was really amazing. And I’m super glad I did it. Harvard is not like a crazy party school like what you see in in some of the movies about college, college crazy stuff happening. It’s definitely fun but it’s not it’s like a really wild party campus. You can get that another place. It’s not there. But it was it was an awesome experience.

Shonelle Gleeson-Willey 18:33
You mentioned your mom a lot and how her trait to have an ask at the end of I guess, meeting people, such an entrepreneur, you skip. And your mom is an entrepreneur, so she and the rest of your family, the founders of smoothie bombs. Now I love those things. They do make great smoothies, and my kids can use them without making the kitchen look like the crisper drawer just exploded. So for me, they are fantastic. So, what was it like to work as a business development consultant for your family business? I believe it was a really fast paced start up that grew from nothing to being on it or supermarket shelves very, very quickly can you talk us through that?

Nina Hooper 19:23
Absolutely. So the business really started around the same time when I was 16. My mom had done a Nutrition Degree as like a mature student, and she had always loved health. And one of the ways she tells a story about this business is she done a degree in nutrition. She was consulting, nutrition clients telling people how to be healthy and then my youngest sister was this really fussy eater and even Mom had all this knowledge about nutrition. My sister just wasn’t actually eating well so she felt kind of like, Oh My Gosh, like in my own home I haven’t somehow figured this out. Her solution was to create these smoothie boosters, this new kind of idea that she knew my sister like smoothies, can I shove kind of all these nuts and seeds and nutrients into it. So if I rush out early for work, she can make a smoothie in the morning, she’s going to like the taste of it, it’s going to be really healthy. So that was already happening when I was in high school. I remember having those movies and then when I got to college, they really productized it and made it like a brand rather than just kind of selling clinics and a few cafes. Within a few years, they were in chemists’ warehouse all over Australia, tons of other health food stores and eventually, they started this online store at Wollies. So all of this was happening as I was going through my education and I would work with them on the side to write grant applications, competition applications to help them create systems in the business and so it was primarily my Mom with my sister running this. My sister actually joined the company right after she finished high school as well, so this is kind of their full time gig and I’ve learned so much from them. I think when people hear family business, they have certain connotations of like maybe a cake store on the corner, which was actually the context where my Mom grew up in her business skills because her parents run a cake shop on the corner; but my family was like doing an E-commerce business and they learn how to use Facebook Ads. They were developing and growing so quickly. I think that as much as I was happy to contribute what I was good at kind of writing, copywriting skills and kind of strategy. I was learning a lot from them along the way as well, which was really awesome and very inspiring.

Shonelle Gleeson-Willey 21:53
So your first official STEM role was with the company called Swarm over in the States, and you consider that this launched your career? Can you tell me more about how that worked and how, how you feel that that actually set you on the path to where you are today?

Nina Hooper 22:13
Absolutely. So when I finished Harvard, which was four years, I went over to the West Coast, and I started a degree in Aerospace engineering at Stanford. And pretty like I would say, a month into that degree started; I was introduced to a man named Mike, who is now a very close friend and mentor of mine. He had done an aerospace engineering degree as well and was working at Google. He had a friend, basically, we met and we just kept showing me around Google. I was in this Silicon Valley Tech start-up of everything that helped feel for the first time and he himself had started and solid five companies totally crazy now working at Google. And I was like, “Oh my God” I admire this guy, super smart and he basically said: “I have this friend. She’s just started a company building satellites, is there any chance you would be looking for a part time job while you’re studying or just interested in getting involved?”. He introduced me to this woman, Sarah, who had started this company Swarm and at the time, it was just her and her business partner, Ben, who was an engineer, both aerospace engineers, Sarah had been working at NASA and she’d also been at Google and Ben was a Professor at Michigan University in aerospace engineering. And then he started a company that was sold to Apple. These are just these people that did like did five (5) and a bit years older than me, and like so much has happened in their life in the aerospace industry. I’m like, wow, this is amazing. These people are so cool and it’s a female CEO in Tech, which is unheard of. At Stanford in my classes, though, I think there were seventy-five (75) People in my cohort in aerospace engineering, and less than 10 of them are women. So, I was studying in a context where I’m totally prepared for my industry experience to just be like me and the boys but actually, the first job I thought was like, CEO, female, had the technical background, has this amazing vision to bring these tiny satellites into space, put them all over the world, and enable kind of IoT connectivity everywhere in the world at a really low cost, which is amazing for, you know, agriculture, but also for development purposes to help bring lots of people that aren’t online yet online in developing countries. I was just like, super, super inspired by the opportunity to work with this woman to work on this kind of problem and then it was the kind of skill sets that I had so Initially, I came in doing some Orbital modelling, like really quite technical work but for anyone who’s been in a small business, you know, you end up kind of just doing everything and anything to make things work. So I ended up jumping in and doing some grant writing for them as well and then in the first six (6) or so months, I won them like this $750,000 government grant towards the company so that was really exciting. I was kind of feeling success early on even though I was still a student. And then I started doing kind of more business development work where I was interviewing potential customers understanding what they needed, trying to figure out how I could pitch our solution for their interest, so we could adapt what we were doing on the engineering side to meet their needs that was the first time that I’ve done that kind of early business development. In this Smoothie Bombs, I had done a lot more kind of [back] [41:00] of office strategic planning, organization, content writing, when Mom and Lana had been doing all the product development and customer development. In Swarm I was really doing that business development stuff, but first time myself, and then connecting that with the engineering work and seeing like, what can we do from an engineering perspective? What do people want from a business perspective? How do we meet them in the middle with some kind of product or solution that they’re excited about? So that was really, that was really cool, the company got funded by very well known investors and the team started growing while I was there, doing my degree on the side. And it’s only four (4) years since the company started this year. But actually, this year, they got bought by SpaceX. And I’m not allowed to tell you how much money they got bought by but it was a lot a very, very large amount. So it’s been this extraordinary experience of joining a company right at the beginning, and just within four years, seeing them kind of get folded up under one of the largest space companies that’s out there and knowing that this company is going to have this kind of huge future and the whole team is now part of SpaceX. It’s super amazing and it’s really built my confidence and sparked my passion for start-ups. So you can see like, someone could just come up with an idea, build a team around them, get people excited, and then and then kind of go on to create something that can become really, really huge. Yeah.

Shonelle Gleeson-Willey 27:09
That must have been an amazing, absolutely amazing experience to have, especially whilst you were studying to, and to get such job satisfaction and really connect with your industry before you even graduated. That’s just phenomenal. So you left Swarm; and you moved on to your own venture. So, Abrility is your current venture, and now it’s an online presentation development platform for educator and I know this is one of your passions, especially considering your background with striving to understand, where you wanted to go and really wanting to be the top of the top as early as a 16 year old. So, who is Abrility aimed at and was that why you actually developed it or was there another reason?

Nina Hooper 28:03
Yeah. So I can tell you the story, because it’s a bit of a pivot from time space technology. As I was leaving Swarm; I got really passionate about kind of two things. The first(1st) was more of this business development work, I realized I actually just really liked doing people facing work. I love understanding the engineering and technology but when I was like in a day-to-day work context, actually just really enjoyed talking to people. I’m not so much a personality that’s like, good to sit in a room on a computer writing code all the times so I like to understand how it works so that was one thing that I realized that just like, practically my day-to-day work, lifestyle was a little bit more suited to business then the hard engineering work. And then I was also feeling really, really strongly about how can we improve education so more people can have experiences like this? And there were two directions I thought I could take it; one(1) of them was content, like can I actually teach kids more about life skill and networkingand like the things that have helped me get here that I’ve identified, while we’ve been chatting like this kind of asking people for help and putting together a goal and goal setting? Should I teach that because maybe I can enable people to have these awesome experiences through that? Or should I create some kind of tool that allows every teacher to be a more effective communicator? So those were the two(2) things that I was thinking of, really with this motivation to like, give back in some way through education so that other people could kind of feel the way I felt about learning. And what we ended up doing was actually creating both. So I spent all last year delivering online, soft skills and entrepreneurship classes to kids and teens and while we were doing that we were developing the tool to make that content delivery more engaging and fun. The experiment we were running was, which of these has the biggest business potential delivering this content or kind of selling this App that that can deliver any content? but we weren’t doing the two (2) of them at the same time. So that both of them could be kind of as high quality as possible. So we’re delivering the content to like test out to people resonate and it was so fun to run these classes. Kids are extremely insightful if you kind of probe them around these questions. And then, we wanted to make those classes as good as possible by creating this interactive platform as an alternative to zoom that had like buttons, like calling, and drag-and-drop, and whiteboards, and all of this thing, this stuff in the video conferencing tool, instead of having to have tons of different tabs open, because a lot of the kids, they struggled technologically when we had a zoom open and then some quiz on another web page and then we had to share our screen and then like, there was lots of clunkiness. So we wanted to create this really high quality experience for our own classes and I thought, if we make it good enough for our own classes, then eventually maybe we’ll sell this platform. And if this platform isn’t interesting to other people, then we’ll just keep running these classes and have more of them to kind of do kind of balancing this these two different approaches at the same time. And in the last three (3) or so months, we’ve realized that the kind of demand for that online platform, or the number of people that are experiencing frustration with having so many different things open while they’re running a session is like really high, and people are quite excited about it.

So what we found when people do presentations online, right now, usually they’ll have Google Slides, they might use a tool called Kahoot, or Mentimeter, or one of these other interaction tools. And then if they want to play a video, at any point, they’ll also have a tab with YouTube open where they’ll share their screen, that video. And with each of these different integrations, there are really common issues that keep arising when people get kind of frustrated, or the audience gets disengaged. And if they aren’t using these interactivity tools, like at all, then usually it’s a really one-sided presentation. And it’s awkward for the presenter, and they’re trying to get input out of the audience. No one is responding at all and I’m sure most people listening have experienced one side of that being the protector of the audience. So for the people that are already using those tools, we just wanted to simplify it by bringing them all into one place and that’s what we were doing with our own classes like it’s a video conferencing tool, you can make the slides interactive, and we get much, much more engagement out of the students. And for people that weren’t already using all those different tools. We’re trying to make it easy for them to switch rather than having to learn tons of different platforms and set up tons of different accounts, showing them that it’s really easy for them to make their sessions more engaging and interactive, as well, without too much extra work. We really just want to make it simple and easy and fun. And yeah, we’ve got our first few customers on board testing it out at the moment, what is teaching Chinese classes and other ones doing college application coaching, actually, so teaching people how to get into US colleges, the way I like the way I was just talking about in more detail. We have some kind of start-up incubators, we have a whole range of different people delivering content to both kids and grown up for professional audiences, Blockchain training, trainings, tons of different things. So we are still in the early days of learning, and we’re looking for new people who would be interested in testing it out. Yes, so it’s really exciting. I guess one of the other exciting parts about the App is that you can like brand it to suit your own company. So people have having a lot of fun, like having been online classroom have their own kind of colour scheme and logos being a little bit less generic than what you..what you see on Zoom.

Shonelle Gleeson-Willey 34:14
Those are all definitely issues that we’ve experienced in online training that have delivered over the last 12 months. Yeah personally, I’d love to use your platform that sounds like exactly what we could use because, we had the Kahoot and the zoom and all of the issues and …

Nina Hooper 34:32
Yeah, and they’re great tools, right? It’s so works when you’re in person, and that’s all you need but when it’s online, it just adds this friction and awkwardness. Yeah.

Shonelle Gleeson-Willey 34:45
Yeah, definitely, especially when your audience might be from government that adds just another layer of complexity. [laughs] [34:53] So, I’m sure a lot of our listeners would probably also you know, be founders and entrepreneurs in, in this phase to trial, these this platform to use it when you launch it properly. I think it’s definitely where the industry needs to head so I’m very excited to hear about Abrility and where you’re heading with that. Let’s take a step sideways, just for the moment. I’m so impressed with your passion for experiences and life and what you’ve done and your I guess your energies around STEM and engineering. What drives you to keep going and get to your next venture?

Nina Hooper 35:40
Good question, I think part of it is momentum, right? Like when you do something and it works, you have this momentum to keep doing things, I think it’s confidence momentum to some extent. I don’t know if anyone ever used that term, we can coin that, but you have success in one, project or endeavour and then the next one feels possible as well, rather than some other really, really hard thing. And I know what it feels like when everything goes wrong for a long time, as well as how much harder that is to maintain that momentum or enthusiasm but when I do feel kind of confident and driven, it’s because I’m thinking about all the things that have worked in the past that I should be confident and excited about. I think one part of it started really, really young, which was learning music. I think I had this moment, like two years ago, where I realized that I studied Piano 15 years and actually can’t play piano anymore like I couldn’t remember a couple of tunes. I had this moment of like, why did I waste 15 years studying Piano when I can’t play anything anymore? And I was reflecting on it for a while. I was like, why does everyone do this, put their kids through music lessons, if none of them end up, like so few people become classical musical full players? but I think actually the real value as a kid is so satisfying to play a song that sounds good. It gives you this confidence, reinforcement when you can [visit] [37:20] or it’s auditory. And you know, when you listen to a song you just love and it’s like he just gives you this feeling. When you play a song really badly you’re practicing and you finally have that moment of getting through the whole piece and feeling that just like visceral reward signal from it sounding good and right. I think that’s like, really good training for kids to like, become self-learners because they get into this habit of like maybe once a week they learn a new song, they get into this habit of knowing the bit of effort turns into this feeling of satisfaction, in a way that’s much harder to consistently feel that with, I don’t know, I can’t think of other examples of activities as kids that gave me that level of like confidence that I’ve gone from not knowing to knowing something. So, I think it’s this kind of meta education of learning how to learn that music gives you. So that’s part of it. And then yeah, I’ve just I’ve done a lot of kind of random, crazy things that have worked out really, really well and so I have this just kind of confidence now that like, if I take on some other initiative, it’s probably going to work similarly. I really like to package it into projects as well, rather than having an ongoing never-ending activity, I think it’s much better when I can quantify, have I succeeded this thing? like, I want to be able to measure it to feel that satisfaction. So I set up my projects in that way so I am self-reinforcing the confidence and enjoyment of the process.

Shonelle Gleeson-Willey 39:00
That is such a different way to look at your career and how you structure your career because I look whilst a lot of people these days who jump around within their career, I’ve never heard it described in that way that you have packed it as a project or just create a period of time or a thing that you want to achieve and then move on to the next thing.

Nina Hooper 39:20
Yeah, within the career as well. So like one, like you could think of it as like it’s even before.. it’s on a personal level so it’s not like what I’m doing within a team but in a team quarterly plan. I have a personal kind of initiative plan that often coincides with what I’m doing for the business, but sometimes it’s separate so while I was at school, for example, before I left and I started investigating this education angle, it’s been three (3) months, on a road trip around US visiting schools trying to understand what was going on. So the way our packages project was produced I’d like visit 50 schools understand what’s going on in the classroom, why it is or why isn’t working, try and find some inspiration but that quantify like when I visit 50 schools, I will feel like I’ve reached some kind of success metric. So,I spent, I put together a few posts in Facebook groups, post them in these teachers’ groups in the US asked if anyone would let me just observe them in their classroom today got tons of responses, when coordinated with all these people put into a spreadsheet made this route over three months, and then literally just drove around the country. In my Toyota Prius, mostly slept in a B&B sometimes actually slept in a car. It was a bit nuts but I went to 50 schools and I like got to sit in on these classrooms and every time I talk to teachers, one, it’s totally legitimising, they’re like, whoa, I’ve never seen 50 different classrooms, that would be so cool to have that kind of overview of the education system. So it is in for other non-classroom teacher; a classroom teacher will usually trust me knowing that I have that experience. So that’s really helpful but also, really just develop my understanding of what was going on and what I cared about what I wanted to solve. And it’s this package where I, I have like a really clear vision of like, I drove my car, I went around, and I did all these things. And now she has this really nice story that I can tell myself and I can tell other people and I can analyze everything that happened. And I can categorize it like all the interviews that I have with teachers from that trip. It’s in one folder, it’s really neatly organized, I can bring up the details of that trip in more or less detail for the for the use case and informs my future. But it felt like every part of that process felt excited, rather than just like saw the work that I was doing, because I knew it was going to end at some point. Does that make sense?

Shonelle Gleeson-Willey 41:54
Yeah, it does and probably mad that you could put in more effort and sustain that effort for longer because you had that enthusiasm, and you knew that there was the endpoint.

Nina Hooper 42:05
And it’s a goal, like it’s a goal that you’re working towards. I just love being goal oriented. I’m very much someone that advocates like Project baselining. I think that if you have a goal, something that you’re trying to achieve, you find the energy kind of as you were saying to do the parts of the project that you don’t care about, because the end state is motivating you through the kind of sludge of it.

Shonelle Gleeson-Willey 42:28
Yeah. So Nina, you’re an astronaut in training, a business woman, entrepreneur and engineer your carpenter abilities helping young people understand their educational passion, and learn in a more engaging way. I have loved chatting with you today and wish you the best with Abrility. Thank you very much for your time.

Nina Hooper 42:56
Thank you as well I’ve.. it’s been a pleasure to be here.

Shonelle Gleeson-Willey 43:01
Join us for our next episode for more inspirational stories, actional tricks and unleashing the Eco warrior inside you. Until next time, thanks for listening. Please subscribe to our podcasts and head over to our socials to explore a little more about us. This has been Shonelle Gleeson-Willey for The Beyond The Green Line Podcast.

Outro 43:22
Thanks for listening to this episode of Beyond The Green Line brought to you by moss environmental. Subscribe to our podcast for your weekly invitation to join the conversation. Until next time, keep thinking green

About The Host

Shonelle Gleeson-Willey

Shonelle Gleeson-Willey

Shonelle Gleeson-Willey is the highly credentialed Director of Moss Environmental. With over fifteen years’ experience working in the environmental sector as a Contaminated Lands Consultant and Environmental Manager on medium to large construction projects across Australia, Shonelle specialises in climate change risk assessments, contaminated land management, construction environmental management and sustainability.

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