Trisha Yearwood Kicks Off Inspire Project Speaker Series

Platinum-selling, Grammy-winning artist and best-selling cookbook author Trisha Yearwood challenged SMA cadets to exceed expectations as she kicked off The Inspire Project Speaker Series for 2018-19. Ms. Yearwood is known for her moving vocals, her love of storytelling and her delicious southern recipes. SMA cadets responded to the down-home and down to earth charm that has become a trademark in her professional life. The focus of this year’s campus-wide initiative is Project Equality and Trisha Yearwood was gracious enough to spend some time taking questions from SMA Prep cadets.

When asked why she picked music to pursue over other interests, Mr. Yearwood responded, “music picked me, I just knew I wanted to be a singer, but if I hadn’t become a singer I might probably have become an accountant”. Ms. Yearwood was simply always passionate about music.

What drives Ms. Yearwood to keep up with all her success? She admits to being very competitive even if she isn’t good at something. She credits her mom and dad for being a  risk-taker, and her sense of adventure in trying new things. Her dad is the reason she fell in love with music, played guitar and sang. Her mom was the driving force that let me know as a woman she could do what she wanted and be happy. Ms. Yearwood stated that her parents are her “heroes”.

As far as being a woman in business, Ms. Yearwood pointed out that there are some challenges but you need to work hard no matter what and don’t let any excuse get in your way. As she was entering the music business, she is thankful that she had Reba McEntire as her mentor to help navigate as Trisha Yearwood began her early music career.

Cadets also received some words of wisdom on time management. She admitted to not really have time for everything she has going on in her life. “There are baseballs in the air and some fall on the ground. I try to choose what I can do well and learn how to say no. You can’t be a people pleaser because then you won’t do anything well.”

Responding to the question of liking school or not, Ms. Yearwood gave an honest answer. “I hated it and I liked it. My mom was a teacher and she was my teacher in the 3rd grade in a very small school. I was a self proclaimed nerd and an “A” student who got involved in everything.” She clarified that it was music that was what she had always loved to do.

A large part of what The Inspire Project is about is to offer young people 1st hand accounts of what it is like to pursue your dreams. Cadets are always curious if people who become successful ever had to deal with failure. Ms. Yearwood mentioned that she is competitive and doesn’t enjoy failure. However, a person begins to appreciate failures as the successes become sweeter. “Learning what doesn’t work is just as important what does work. It is what you do after that that matters.”

Perseverance is a character trait that many cadets work to build every day. Mr. Yearwood shared that she never thinks about quitting, but that the true answer is there are moments when you just want to give up. You get past those moments and deep down even with a bad experience you have to know you don’t give up.

Sharing her strong sense of humor made this a relatable and fun experience for cadets. Ms. Yearwood stated that if she were not able to sing, she might be in prison. Even though her cookbooks have turned into a completely different career she says that she would always pick music. “If I weren’t successful in other things, I’d still find a way to sing in my local honky tonk.”

Phineas and Ferb creator, Dan Povenmire, Shares His Story and Keeps Cadets Laughing

ferbSMA cadets had a fun and interesting exchange with yet another great speaker as part of SMA-MAJ Todd Brown’s The Inspire Project. Dan Povenmire is best known as the co-creator of Disney’s Phineas and Ferb, which was the #1 kids show for 7 years.

Cadets asked some great questions to Mr. Povenmire who has a broad and successful background as a television director, writer, producer, storyboard artist and voice actor. Cadets were surprised to learn that the inspiration for Phineus was to see what character he could create based on a triangle. It was from there that his wife asked who’s that? He replied it’s Phineas and this is the show I am going sell.

Many cadets grew up with the show and laughed out loud when Povenmire did the voice of the shows villain Dr. Heinz Doofenshmirtz. When asked about his favorite episodes he told cadets: the Roller Coaster Perfect and the Act YourAge Episode.

Cadets are always interested in what success and failure mean to the various speakers who have made their mark on the world. Mr. Povenmire shared his take on the idea as well. “There is this path and sometimes this one just got closed and so I open another. Success and failure are not a binary thing. If I go this way I will be a success. If I go to this other one I will be a failure. You never know how many paths you’ll take before it goes right.”

He informed cadets that it took that it 13 years to sell Phineas and Ferb and 16 years to

One of the 1st sketches of Fineaas

get it on the air. “If you have something you believe in and you think it is fun don’t take no for answer.”

As far as the story behind the show, he and co-creator Jeff “Swampy” Marsh were reflecting on their youth and how kids today miss out on the physical things like playing in the woods. Phineus imparts “the imagination of a 9-year-old boy inspired by [our] time growing up and not hampered by reality”.

Throughout The Inspire Project speakers series this year, cadets have learned that many of the people they speak to started out on a different path then where they are now. Mr. Povenmire didn’t want to be an animator. He made a living as an artist but he really wanted to be a filmmaker. Now he enjoys many creative endeavors.  

Mr. Povenmire compared success and failure to a tree with many forks in the various branches. There are many different directions you will go in, it is never only a one or the other journey.



World Renowned Scientist, Dr. Pardis Sabeti Returns to Make Science Infectious for Prep Cadets

Dr. Sabeti returned again this year for another interactive session with SMA Prep cadets as part of The Inspire Project WebEx speaker series. The Q and A with cadets was timed to coincide with “Outbreak” a unique infectious disease outbreak simulation that has become a student-driven event and a campus highlight for 4 years running. This year’s simulation received extra support after Dr. Sabeti received one of ten L’Oréal “For Women in Science” grants and teamed with SMA Prep.

Many cadets were curious about Dr. Sabeti’s views on failure and success. Her advice for the short-term was to “deal with failure by going through the emotions,” however, long-term you have to remember you are going somewhere bigger then you may be able to see now. She also reminded cadets that as a scientist most of her days are filled with failures. “Science is a continuous disappointment. It’s a career that is made on the few times you succeed but most of your work are failures.”

As one of Time Magazine’s TIME 100 most influential people in 2015, she was asked if she feels pressure to always be successful.  She replied that nothing really matters that much if you are living a good life and caring for those around you. Recognition and success are, “not what makes a person because all of it you don’t have any control over anyway”. Time Magazine was a surprise but once you do it, it’s no big deal. “Spending more time with the people who you surround yourself with is more exciting.”

Cadets were also curious about what kind of student she was. “When I got to MIT, I struggled because everyone had grown-up with science all the time and I didn’t.  Nobody thought I would succeed.” Cadets assumed her science fair projects must have been amazing. She admits to having horrible projects, procrastinating on completing them.  “You don’t have to win the science fair to become a professor of genetics.” You need to remain curious your whole life. She credits her parents with pushing her to be who she is and also surrounding herself with people who enjoy what they are doing as well.

She explains to cadets: “People will pull you down. Have three buckets of people: 1) truly good in any context do good by other people. 2) Rotten nature or nurture, miserable and want to make you miserable. 3) Middle of the road, want to be good but struggle. Seek out mentors colleagues and friends in the first bucket and avoid the rotten and try to help those in the middle to find their way.” Surround yourself with really great people. If everyone feels supported everyone has a better experience.

Her final words of wisdom: “Be successful in school. Not as much in how you study, but about your own quality of life. When you are happy and healthy your brain works better than other peoples. “If you are doing it right work shouldn’t feel like work. Find something you enjoy doing”.

About Dr. Pardis Sabeti and The Sabeti Lab

Dr. Pardis Sabeti is a Professor at the Center for Systems Biology and Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University and the Department of Immunology and Infectious Disease at the Harvard School of Public Health. She is an Institute Member of the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT, and a Howard Hughes Investigator. Dr. Sabeti is a computational geneticist with expertise developing algorithms to detect genetic signatures of adaption in humans and the microbial organisms that infect humans. The goals of The Sabeti Lab are to use computational methods and genomics to understand mechanisms of evolutionary adaptation in humans and pathogens. We are pursuing these goals through 3 research foci:

  • Developing analytical and experimental methods to detect and investigate natural selection in the genome of humans and other species.
  • Examining host and viral genetic factors driving resistance to Lassa Fever in West Africa.
  • Examining signals of natural selection in pathogens, including Lassa virus, Ebola virus, and Plasmodium falciparum malaria to understand how they rapidly evolve and studying their genetic diversity to guide long-term intervention strategies.

Dr. Sabeti completed her undergraduate degree at MIT, her graduate work at Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar, and her medical degree summa cum laude from Harvard Medical School as a Soros Fellow. Dr. Sabeti is a World Economic Forum (WEF) Young Global Leader and a National Geographic Emerging Explorer and was named a TIME magazine ‘Person of the Year’ as one of the Ebola fighters. Her awards included the Smithsonian American Ingenuity Award for Natural Science, the Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise, the NIH Innovator Award, the Packard Fellowship, and an Ellis Island Medal of Honor. She has served on the MIT Board of Trustees and the National Academy of Sciences Committee on Women in Science, Medicine, and Engineering. Dr. Sabeti is also the lead singer and co-songwriter of the rock band Thousand Days. Find out more at

About L’Oreal USA For Women in Science

The For Women in Science program was created out of a simple belief: the world needs science, and science needs women because women in science have the power to change the world. The L’Oréal USA For Women in Science fellowship program awards five women postdoctoral scientists annually with grants of $60,000 each for their contributions in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) fields and commitment to serving as role models for younger generations.  To learn more visit

About The Inspire Project 

Guest speakers changing student lives 30 minutes at a time…  a simple, individual 30-minute video conferencing session by every age, walk of life and occupation that have followed their dreams and succeeded.  The session will take place one at a time at the choosing of the participant’s availability.  The series derives its strength from the people that provide inspiration for the young students to not only believe in themselves but in their dreams. To find out more about the 2017-18 Project Earth speaker series visit

Outbreak! 2017

Zombies, Epidemiologists and more contribute to the Outbreak! simulation at SMA Prep. SMA-MAJ Todd Brown announces that help is on the way . . . Dr. Tracy Fanara of Mote Marine Laboratory, Tamera Robertson – Chemical & Biomolecular Engineer AND . . . Dr. Pardis Sabeti, head of The Sabeti Lab at Harvard University. WOW!!!

50/50 Day at SMA Prep 2017

On May 10th, 2017, over 11,000 events happened around the globe in companies, organizations, schools, museums, libraries and homes for the first ever 50/50 Day — a global day of film screenings, discussions, and a global Q&A around how to get to a more gender-balanced world in all sectors of society, from the economy and politics to culture and home. 50/50 Day had over 500 million press and social media impressions, including coverage of the Times Square billboard, recent ABC News article, NPR interview, Variety, Bloomberg, Time Magazine. (2017 Let It Ripple)