On the edge of discovery

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IB programmes gave one high-flying young scientist the courage to follow her dreams.

Despite only being in her early twenties, Divya Nag is already a force to be reckoned with. Her pioneering research into the potential benefits of stem cell therapy will, she hopes, make it faster and less expensive to develop vital life-saving medication. Her cutting-edge work is the realization of years of childhood dreams; from an early age, Divya aspired to becoming a doctor.

“Being able to change people’s lives in a way that others couldn’t was a very exciting ambition,” she says. Divya attended Mira Loma High School in Sacramento, California, USA. There she completed two years of the MYP before studying the IB Diploma Programme.

“Studying IB programmes has made me a much more well-rounded person,” says Divya. “Being part of an IB World School is truly the best opportunity for you to surround yourself with people who are much better than you,” she says. 

“My class had some of the coolest people I’ve ever met, from athletic superstars to robotics and mathematics geniuses.” Her favourite school memory is competing at the 2008 State Science Olympiad competition. “The score was neck-and-neck between us and another Californian high school,” she recalls.

“When the judges announced our rival, Mission San Jose, was in second place overall, we cheered louder than anyone else in the gymnasium because we knew it meant we had won first place.” After graduating from high school, Divya initially studied human biology at Stanford University.

But in 2011 she bravely decided to leave the prestigious university to co-found her first company, Stem Cell Theranostics. “It was truly a yin-yang experience,” she explains. “I felt liberated and terrified at the same time! It was both one of the hardest and easiest decisions I’ve ever had to make.”

Her courage paid off. Not only is her firm working to advance our understanding of stem cells, Divya has set up a second company, StartX Med, which helps life sciences and medical entrepreneurs start their own businesses. Her efforts were publicly rewarded in 2013 when Divya was named in Forbes’ annual ‘30 under 30’ list. “It was one of the most humbling experiences of my life,” she says.

“The best part of being on the list, especially in the science and healthcare category, was receiving messages from girls all around the world who told me that my success had inspired them to study science at school or pursue a career in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).”

But Divya doesn’t let success go to her head: she is an active member of a number of charitable projects. She attributes her continued interest in volunteering to the IB Diploma Programme’s emphasis on CAS. “It’s really easy to get wrapped up in start-up mentality, especially in a place like Silicon Valley,” she explains.

“Giving back to the community has been a great escape for me in many ways. It gives me some much-needed perspective on life, and helps to keep me grounded.” So far Divya has volunteered as a youth development coach for the Palo Alto Homeless Shelter and at the Sacramento Abused Women’s Shelter. In the future, she hopes to tackle the issue of the lack of women working in STEM fields.

“The STEM industry is really missing out by not having more women’s perspectives in it,” she says. “And, on the flip side, girls are missing out on the opportunity to truly advance STEM fields by not studying these subjects in school.”

 “I’d love to see a world where more women work in STEM, where there are more women on company boards, and there are more women at the top levels of politics and business.

Everyone can play an active role in making something like this happen – whether it’s by being a mentor or a role model, encouraging girls and young women to consider STEM fields, or opening up internship opportunities for students so they can explore what careers are out there.” ammes gave high-flying young scientist the courage to follow her dreams.