Andrea Belz

Andrea Belz - 2018 SPIE Women in Optics Planner

Vice Dean of Technology, Innovation and Entrepreneurship
University of Southern California Viterbi School of Engineering, USA

Andrea Belz

Country of Birth: Chile
Country of Residence: USA
Educational Background: BS in Physics, University of Maryland at College Park; MBA in Finance, Pepperdine University; PhD in Physics, California Institute of Technology


I always loved math and science and was lucky to come from a mathematically oriented family with several doctors and architects. In the third grade a teacher encouraged me to learn about Marie Curie and I was hooked. In college, I was fortunate to work with Dr. Sally Ride and I am still close to Dr. Philip Roos, who taught my first quantum mechanics class.

When I was first admitted to graduate school, many of my college classmates told me that I was admitted because I was a woman, not because of my skills. Fortunately, my professors continued supporting me. I have always actively sought out mentors, both men and women, and they have supported me tremendously, both in general terms and advice in specific situations. You cannot succeed unless other people want you to do so.

My role now at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, bridges the technical and business communities and identifies commercialization opportunities for novel technologies. My work includes teaching customer discovery to engineering entrepreneurs through a program run by the National Science Foundation.

When I first started working in the angel investor community, the groups would send me business plans describing baby clothes rather than lasers. Later, when I was joining my first corporate board, a colleague said to me, "They don't let kids or girls play." With each step forward, I have been forced to have difficult conversations.

You don't have to map out your entire career today, so don't worry about the outcome in 20 years or even in 5. If you are smart and determined, you will have more opportunities than you have time. There is no substitute for preparation. Take as many advanced classes as you can and maximize your time with great professors and mentors. Most people, and especially women, are happy to carve out time to help those who follow.

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