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Spotlight

Theresa Johnson

PhD ’15
Aeronautics and Astronautics
I believe in using technology for change. My goal is to build products that allow us to connect more deeply and authentically. I grew up in rural Illinois and Missouri and am a first-generation college graduate.

I really want to bring the world where I grew up and a place like Silicon Valley together. My greatest achievement would be to build a high-tech product that my great-aunt in the Midwest would use. She won’t have every app on her smartphone, so what are practical ways that technology can improve her life?

I think that answer lies in the power of technology to bring people together. I took my experience as a Stanford Engineering aeronautics and astronautics PhD with me to work at Airbnb – a platform for helping travelers connect with the places they visit through homes, hosts and experiences. At Stanford I worked with satellite data – talk about cloud data! I looked for teeny-tiny anomalies in satellite electromagnetic fields. Now, I use data to help people find a place to feel at home when they’re on the road. I’m still looking for hidden patterns, but now those patterns are opportunities to connect people.

As a Stanford graduate student, I traveled with my advisor and lab mates on research trips and to conferences. It was always far better to stay with our research colleagues than in a hotel. We experienced the local culture and formed deeper bonds with our collaborators. So what if no one ever had to stay in a stuffy hotel again if they didn’t want to? What would the world look like if every time you went to a new place, you truly met and interacted with locals? How might that change the understandings we develop of far-off places and people?

I also do what I do to build a better, more tolerant world for my daughter. I am an engineer and I am a mom. It’s great to be able to express multiple sides of myself through my work.

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