“I love the concept of dreaming big,” says Andrea Chaves (M.S. ’06). “When I was a teacher, I dedicated myself to not only practicing it, but even more importantly, to teaching it to my students.” Chaves’s big dreams and impactful teaching did not go unnoticed. In 2016, out of 75,000 teachers in New York State, she was one of the first teachers to receive the Empire State Excellence in Teaching Award. That same year, she was also selected as one of President Barack Obama’s Champions of Change for Computer Science.
According to Chaves, her grandmother is the most influential person in her life. “She is one of the few people that has never stopped evolving,” she says. “Even at 94 years old, she still finds time to teach something valuable to someone and, most importantly, herself.”
Perhaps it was this experience of looking up to her grandmother that caused Chaves to notice something important missing during her years as a teacher. “It became obvious to me that the girls were more receptive to women that have similar backgrounds to themselves, so I started being more intentional when looking for role models,” she says. “Latinas made 40 percent of the student body in the school. Therefore, I started looking for more Hispanic models, but there were not nearly enough. I began searching outside of the United States and attempted to create a pen pal Hispanic role model network, but even then, they were hard to find.”
In 2016, Andrea Chaves was selected as one of President Barack Obama’s Champions of Change for Computer Science.
Despite the apparent dearth of Latina role models, Chaves knew that inspiring women were out there, so she founded PineApple Women, an online community for Hispanics around the world. The site showcases real stories of Hispanic women, with the mission to inspire and create awareness of the vocations available to girls and women. “I believe, and many studies from almost every Latino American country shows, that Hispanic females are underrepresented globally,” she says. “I believe that exhibiting the stories of successful Hispanic females will start breaking this pattern.”
Part of the PineApple Women project is something called: “El diario soñar.” It is a dream diary on the website that helps people to dream big. It is free to access and designed to help women organize, plan action steps, and make dreams into reality. Chaves is also in the process of organizing a workshop on self-compassion for and with the PineApple Women community. “I believe we are our worst bullies, and we need to work on it,” she says. “How amazing would it have been if someone had explained to the teenager me that the harsh voice in my head also exists for everyone else?”
Chaves is also writing a book about this project and all the things she learned during her time as an educator. “Hopefully, my grandma gets to see it before she goes to the other dimension,” she says, “She is 94 years old and still writes me an email almost every day commenting on the PineApple Women’s story she reads or what is happening in the world.”