Dean, School of Design • International Women's Day 2021

Elena Pacenti, Ph.D.

What does International Women’s Day mean to you?

Celebration of female talent, achievements, and role in society. And encouragement for young generations to pursue professional and personal dreams beyond boundaries.

What woman inspires you and why?

Marie Curie and Rita Levi Montalcini for the sciences. Miuccia Prada, Patricia Urquiola, Paula Scher, Paola Antonelli, Neri Oxman just to name a few in the world of design. I’m inspired by women driven by passion and with extraordinary creative + innovative thinking.

What highlights and challenges have you faced in your career?

In all my life, I have been very lucky to work with talented and visionary individuals, men and women, driven by the same passion for design. I have been particularly lucky to meet extraordinary men, as mentors, who believed in me and empowered me, and to whom I owe my professional growth. By traveling and working abroad, I have experienced different cultures and ways of thinking, sometimes obstacles, and learned that nurturing and respecting diversity is the most important value (in design and in life).

What’s something interesting you’re currently working on? Personal or professional.

As a past member of the Board of DFA (Design Forward Alliance) I’ve been following the preparation of an important proposal that could bring San Diego on the map of the design capitals of the world, and kickstart a series of initiatives to improve the SD-Tijuana Region with human-centered design initiatives.

I’m also excited to be part of the advisory group of the next (and second) edition of SDDW – San Diego Design Week – with prep meetings starting soon.

I’m reviewing papers for an Italian Journal of Design and developing many ideas for new courses and classes at NewSchool!

What do you believe will be the biggest challenge for the next generation of female architects, designers, and construction managers?

The risk of discrimination is always present, not only against gender, but also ethnicity, culture, and creativity (change) itself. But I’m optimistic, and I see in the challenges of these times the opportunity of making big changes, for the good. I always recommend my students to focus on their knowledge and skills and on their ability to discern what makes sense for society at large. In the next generation of designers, the “why” we design will lead the “what” and “how.”

What is the most important lesson you’ve learned in your career to date?

To listen, understand and learn. Every day.

Why should women and girls pursue a career in the architecture, design, or construction management industry? Why is it important to encourage women and girls?

Women who are interested, passioned, or talented in design should definitively pursue design and have a very high possibility to succeed and also become leaders in the field. The field of Interior Design is already dominated by women, but also in the field of product, media and graphic design the number of female designers, leaders and entrepreneurs is growing. Do not place boundaries on your talent!

What advice would you give your 18-year-old self?

Listen, learn, apply. And repeat. Be humble and bold.

What has you most excited about the future?

The unknown. And the opportunity of design for a better world.

On International Women’s Day, what is the most important message you want to send out to young women thinking about their careers?

Be curious, courageous, humble and bold.

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