Full name: Rebecca Wentworth
From: Monson, Maine, United States but also lived in China, Nigeria, Tanzania, Rwanda and Kenya
Studied: Mechanical Engineering at Union College in upstate New York
Job: Special Projects Director at BURN
What do you like about your job?
I see us as an incubator for new things like products and business models, and we get to see if the ideas will hatch into little chicks or whether they’ll turn out to be rotten! We get to try riskier ideas and products to test them out.
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I’m a nerd, I’ve always known I wanted to be an engineer. Twelve year old me was pretty handy, I used to build hideaways and knew I wanted to help people, but not in a medical sense, I wanted to build stuff to help people. That’s what my mum said engineers do. My family has links to engineering and technical work – my grandfather and mother are both very practical, and grew up doing things for themselves, which was pretty necessary and we live in a tiny village far from anywhere so you’ve got to try and be self-sufficient. I’ve always been curious about how things work and how to fix them
Who has been an inspirational person in your life?
My workshop class teacher when I was in middle school. We used to make and build all sorts of things and he really fostered curiosity.
What was your favourite subject at school?
Latin – I found that deconstructing it showed me how language works in general, and has different layers to it, like a machine. It piqued my interest to learn about how it worked, plus I had a great teacher.
What is your favourite animal?
A panda – I’ve always been fascinated by China and Chinese, it actually influenced my choice of university course – I looked for an engineering course which would let me study abroad, and so I took a Chinese minor alongside my Mechanical Engineering and in my third year I did an exchange with Fudan University in Shanghai.
“I’ve always known I wanted to be an engineer. Twelve year old me was pretty handy, I used to build hideaways and knew I wanted to help people, but not in a medical sense, I wanted to build stuff to help people.”
Who inspires you?
Malala Yousafzai – she spoke out passionately; I have so much respect for her conviction and the fact that it drove her to put herself out there and in danger to say what she believes to be right.
I am also inspired and driven by my liberal branch of Judaism which has a fable telling us that when the world was created, it was considered perfect like a pot, and man’s downfall broke it. Our job as humans is to restore the pot to perfection. It’s too big a challenge for one person but it’s our individual duty. I want to use the skills I’ve learned to drive me on and guide me in my contribution. I feel like I’m a missionary without a bible, motivated by trying to achieve social justice.
What languages do you speak?
English, French (home is close to Quebec), Hebrew, Latin, I dabble in Spanish and now Swahili is my second language.
What would your alternative career have been?
I’d be an opera singer – I still practice and sometimes perform.
What are your hobbies?
I raise ducks and I hope to get some chickens too. The word for duck in Swahili is Bata, so my ducks are named Batabing and Bataboom. I love sewing, fun food projects like making kimchi, pickles and preserves. I’m a reluctant runner and I used to ski-race and row.
What is your favourite food?
North African and Thai cuisine, bold flavours. I actually just won a bottle of whiskey as a prize for winning a chili eating contest this month, I ate 20 in under a minute. My mum is from New Orleans so I grew up eating gumbo and jumbalaya at home. I really am a foodie. At my wedding we had food from New Orleans, Maine, Greece and Italy.
Tell me an interesting fact about yourself.
I’ve eaten scorpion in China. It was very crunchy and that’s the only good thing I can say about it.
What’s your coolest achievement?
I’m from a little podunk town 1.5 hours from anywhere and I worked hard to get a tough engineering degree to be able to make a career in countries where I have to learn the language and work out how to react when the lights go out and the water goes off. Being able to make a career where I’m able to follow my dreams and make a difference – it’s been such an incredible journey to get here. Lots of people where I’m from don’t even leave the state, and they maybe head to a city once a year – it’s amazing that a girl from there can end up here. I’ve swapped blueberries for avocados and squirrels running along the roof for monkeys.
BURN develops affordable, energy-efficient, life-saving stoves.