From the outside, Janet Phan is unfazed. She tells us, “all I can say is every day I wake up very thankful to be in this position.” She's a global tech consultant who lives in Europe. She travels and loves life.
But the real story, the one you don't see, is what got her here.
"My parents are refugees from Vietnam and the Vietnam war," Phan said.
As a kid, Janet had to teach her parents about life in America. Adjusting wasn't easy.
Neither was applying to college.
“In the Asian culture, sharing your financial information is very taboo and for the FAFSA, I needed their salary information. I had to fight to get that - I asked so much I got yelled at,” Phan recalled.
So, she tells us, she left.
“I decided to start couch surfing. I have a lot of friends and essentially I was living out of my car.”
She worked at KFC. She pulled double shifts to stretch until she could pull a night shift at Hollywood Video.
“I feel so grateful to be able to travel the world and be in the situation where I don’t have to worry about living paycheck to paycheck and where I’m going to sleep tonight,” Phan said.
Janet says she credits her mentors for helping her land a career in tech.
“I wanted to do something to give back and help the students that are growing up in the same situation that I was in. So it doesn’t have to be so hard,” Phan said.
Thriving Elements was born out of that effort. It's a one-on-one, long-term mentoring program that pairs high school girls with professionals like Anella Yahiaoui, who, when she's not mentoring, works as a cancer research scientist. She specializes in “breast cancer, leukemias, acute myeloid leukemia specifically.”
Yahiaoui was drawn to the mission of Thriving Elements, and to Phan's story.
“Women bring a different perspective and innovative ideas to the table and in various STEM fields, male-dominated fields, women can add a lot to the conversation and propel the field forward in a positive way," Yahiaoui said.
She believes in the work, believes that relationships close the gap and bring women closer to a future in STEM.
“What programs like Thriving Elements do, is really empowers women and arming them with confidence and knowledge and making sure success in the stem fields is accessible to them and it's not something that can happen overnight, but I strongly feel that programs like Thriving Elements are contributing to the overall progress and achieving that goal," Yahiaoui said.
There are about 50 pairs now, and Phan says, they're just getting started.
“I’m often the only person of color at the table and often the only woman," Phan said.
She tells us it's her mission to make sure that those tables will soon be filled with women and women of color.